Friday, April 27, 2012

Teaching and Learning Online Series - Part 5

Provide for interaction using synchronous and asynchronous activities

By Dr. Vanae E. Morris

Adult learners have a distinct orientation to learning (e.g. life or task centered), and they approach learning as problem solving. Adult learners also need motivation to learn.  Providing asynchronous activities in an online learning environment can help many adult learners learn best in their preferred style of learning and this type of learning environment can also encourage problem solving and critical thinking.  However, as Knowles (2011) discovered and added a sixth assumption to the theory of andragogy, adults need encouragement and need to be motivated to learn. Having a few synchronous activities in an online learning environment could encourage that motivation needed. Think of these synchronous activities as a form of cheerleading because all of the class would be together at the same time discussing, asking questions, and encouraging each other. 

I have taught in an asynchronous learning environment for many years with minimal synchronous activities being a part of that learning environment. However, as I have started teaching in a new online learning management system with students who are more accustomed to face-to-face classroom environments, I have found myself researching different ways that synchronous activities could be added to my online learning environment that would encourage more interaction between myself and the learners, and learner to learner. 

What I do know is that I need to provide activities that provide for three types of interaction, learner to content, learner to instructor, and learner to learner (Moore, 1989).  Of the three, the easiest for an online instructor to provide is generally the learner to content. The learner to content interaction has roots back to “independent study” courses where the learner did, for the most part, only interact with the content with very little interaction with the instructor or other learners.  In the online learning environments of today’s classrooms, this type of interaction is important but in order to be considered an effective online learning environment, providing the other types of interaction becomes critical to the learning process of the online learner. 

What does this type of interaction “look” like in the current online learning environment?  According to Ko (2005) the interaction between instructor and learner includes “being in the classroom on a regular and frequent basis−through announcements, discussion boards, and emails to the whole class” (slide 5). Ko also suggests that the instructor provide a variety of assignments that encourage this type of interaction as well as those that provide for learner to learner interaction such as peer reviews, discussion threads (facilitated not dominated by the instructor), and learning community interactions and assignments. 

Boettcher and Conrad (2010) recognize the importance of synchronous activities just due to the nature of the online course management systems that are available for instructors and learners to interact such as “virtual live classrooms, spontaneous collaboration tools, and an almost infinite number of Web tools and smartphones that support synchronous chat, video messaging and more” (p. 42). However, there is an important reason why students take online courses (and instructors teach online courses)  and that is generally due to the asynchronous aspect of the online learning environment. Providing for both types of learning, synchronous and asynchronous, gives the learner the best of both worlds (f2f and online) because “Sometimes, there is nothing better than a real-time interactive brainstorming and sharing discussion; at other times, the requirement to think, plan, write, and reflect is what makes learning most effective for an individual” (Boettcher & Conrad, 2010, p. 42). 


Boettcher, J.V. & Conrad, R. (2010). The online teaching survival guide: Simple and practical pedagogical tips. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 

Knowles, M. S., Holton, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2011). The adult learner: The definitive classic in adult education and human resource development (7th ed.). New York: Elsevier.

Ko, S. (2005). Student-centered online teaching: Best practices. Retrieved from

Moore, M.G. (1989). Editorial: Three Types of Interaction. The American Journal of Distance Education (3)2.

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