Asynchronous Learning Simply Put: Definition, Benefits, and Tools
Asynchronous learning involves self-paced training activities that learners take when it’s convenient for them from anywhere in the world. It doesn’t involve getting immediate feedback, nor does it require attendance at a scheduled time.
The boost of asynchronous learning came with the development of internet-based technologies. If you have ever watched a video tutorial on YouTube or taken a course on an online platform, that was asynchronous learning.
Definition of Asynchronous Learning
Asynchronous learning is a type of training in which students access learning content, take assessments, and communicate at their own pace. They don’t have to be in the same brick-and-mortar classroom nor the same online learning space at the same time to study. There can also be no instructor in touch.
The flexibility of time frames, however, doesn’t mean going loose and falling off in the discipline. Asynchronous learning may have strict deadlines. Providing the freedom to choose the approach to learning and time for it, asynchronous learning often demands the result (completed course, score, status, etc.) before a certain date.
What Can Asynchronous Learning Be Like?
Having left snail mail coursebooks in the past, asynchronous learning nowadays mostly occurs in a digital format.
eLearning is the most advanced type of asynchronous learning. Being a computer or web-based training program, it usually requires a learning platform where facilitators upload training content, and where learners sign in to see what was assigned to them.
Using such learning platforms has an undeniable advantage: the learning process can be automated, at least to some extent. For example, you can create a learning program where a learner unlocks some content only after having completed the preceding units. Or, the platform can automatically manage deadlines, as well as send reminders to those who are falling behind.
Also, you’ll need an authoring tool to create eLearning courses to fill the platform with high-quality content: interactive e-courses, assessments, and video lectures.
As for the cost, you need to be ready for some investments when launching eLearning. For reference, a bundle containing iSpring Learn LMS and the iSpring Suite authoring tool will cost you as much as $900 per month for 300 active learners (which is $3 per user, far not the highest price on the market). Yet, for some companies, buying a platform for eLearning and an authoring tool may seem too pricey, but this is, perhaps, the only way to get the maximum out of asynchronous training.
2. Email courses
An email course is just a sequence of emails that cover a certain topic. Each email is one lesson, and all of them make up a course.
In addition to writing content for each lesson of a course, you also need to think about two things:
- How are you going to gather your learners’ email addresses?
- and How will you deliver training into their inbox?
For the first thing, you’ll need a mailing-list database. If you’re going to train your employees, you likely already have their work emails or can easily get them from intranet or HRs. Otherwise, you’ll need a website with a subscription form. If you don’t have it yet, you can explore online services for code-free website creation such as Tilda or Readymag.
As for the second, we wouldn’t recommend even trying to send each email manually as well as sending out mass emails. These are bad ideas, just take our word. What you’ll need is an email marketing service (have a look at Mailchimp or GetResponse). Such a service will allow you to automate the whole process and also track performance and create better content as you go.
Sure, not every topic can be fully covered or taught from scratch by means of email. You won’t be able to deliver interactive tasks right in the mailbox since email courses mostly consist of text. But what is a disadvantage for one, can be an advantage for others. Email courses can be a good choice if you’re looking for a budget-friendly alternative to full-fledged eLearning and don’t need any bells and whistles.
3. Training video
As we’ve already said, using a learning management system is often the most convenient way to manage training content, including training videos. At the same time, you can simply upload your video lessons on YouTube and share the link with everyone to whom you deem it useful.
See also Instructional Video Made Easy: Tips, Hacks & Tools
4. Blogs, wikis, and other readings
A wiki is a web resource that is created, supported, and updated by multiple users. The most famous example is Wikipedia, the world’s largest digital encyclopedia. At the same time, many companies have their own internal wikis that serve as a knowledge base in particular fields.
Unlike wikis, that everyone can contribute to, there is usually an editorial team that works on a blog. For inspiration, have a look at Open, the Buffer’s fantastic internal blog.
The main issue with this type of asynchronous learning that often occurs is low user engagement, so it’s better to know the answers to these questions before you start:
- Will the users be willing to contribute?
- Why would anyone read articles in the blog or wiki?
- How will I draw attention to the content?
Advantages of Asynchronous Learning
There are three main reasons why learning and development specialists choose asynchronous learning:
1. It provides more flexibility to learners
Allowing your learners to study at their own speed makes dealing with busy schedules easier. Some people are early birds; others can only study late at night when all the work is done and the children are sleeping. Asynchronous learning covers it all.
It also supports different learning styles, so you can try tailoring an optimal experience for each learner. The same goes for training people with disabilities. Not only can you accommodate whether the learners are visual or audial types but design accessible learning, to begin with.
2. It can be easily scaled
Once you have created your asynchronous training content, you can use it as many times as necessary without additional work. Or, at least, you can focus on getting feedback and improving it. If you’ve recorded a video tutorial on how to use a popcorn machine, all you need to do is to share a link, not re-record it again and again if there are new employees.
Plus, with the asynchronous format, there is no big difference whether you train five people or five hundred. The content works to the same extent in both cases. This leads us to the next advantage.
3. It’s often more cost-effective than classroom training
Brick-and-mortar sessions are expensive, especially if your team is large. It’s even more expensive if the team is also remote.
With asynchronous learning, it is the opposite. The more learners you have, the lower the cost of the course per head. Let’s say you spent $1000 to develop an e-course. If there are 10 learners, the cost per view is $100; but if you have a thousand learners or more, its cost is under $1.
The Pitfalls of Asynchronous Learning
Not every skill can be taught asynchronously or online in general. No one would like to have an operation done by a surgeon whose only training was through online courses. But aside from such extreme examples, there are few things that require consideration when deciding on asynchronous learning.
1. Communication and feedback
Since self-paced learning occurs in a, well, self-paced mode you need to think beforehand how you’re going to provide feedback. Will there be performance reviews on a regular basis? Will you ask learners to do an assignment by a certain deadline? Or maybe your course doesn’t require giving feedback to users at all?
The other side of the issue is that you wouldn’t want your learners to feel isolated. How will you address questions the learners may have? Will there be forums, groups, or other social elements so that they can discuss topics and you could, therefore, grow a community?
2. Learner engagement
In an ideal world, all the learners are self-starters who don’t need anything more than just the opportunity to learn something. In reality, especially in a digital one, there are plenty of detractors competing for people’s attention.
Unlike live classes, where an instructor sees the reaction of learners or can additionally explain if there are questions, you’ll need to carefully design the interest curve for an asynchronous lesson.
See also How to Make Your Online Course Interactive: Full How-to (and Why) Guide →
Asynchronous learning benefits both learners and teachers by eliminating limits created by schedules and the human factor. It’s often more affordable, especially if your team is large. It’s also a great opportunity to make learning inclusive. These are feasible arguments to give such a training delivery method a try.
At the same time, it’s unlikely technology alone can ever replace the skills and experience an instructor employs to create effective learning. But who’s ever said you must stick to just one training delivery method?
What do you think about asynchronous learning? Can it beat live classes? Please share your opinion in the comments below!