What do educators look for in providing the most effective e-learning experience possible?
In the big picture, there are two choices: If your paramount concern is flexibility of schedule, you will want asynchronous learning. This amounts to an online environment where students can learn and work by a schedule most convenient for them. They download reading, assignments and maybe recorded lectures, and upload their homework. Their interaction with their classmates consists mainly of threaded discussions. Students post comments as their schedule permits.
If, however, you’re looking to provide a more engaging learning environment where students feel a deeper connection to their classmates and professors, who will respond to questions and comments immediately, and where students come as close as they can to being in a traditional classroom without warming a seat, synchronous learning is the choice.
We at Watchitoo are making a significant contribution to the latter with a Web-based virtual classroom platform that enables up to 25 participants (more than other group conferencing platforms) to talk to one another and see one another’s faces simultaneously – all while sharing multimedia classroom content.
Preparing for interactions in the real world
Synchronous learning has distinct advantages, according to one study of graduate student e-learners, “Examining Interactivity in Synchronous Virtual Classrooms”: “The importance of students’ ability to receive immediate feedback and their experience as presenters was highlighted across the various kinds of interaction. The instructor’s teaching style and visual presence were instrumental in engaging students with the content. The results suggest that student interaction, and hence learning, was aided by the live communication that occurred through the virtual classroom.”
If education is largely a preparation for the real world, we think it’s important for students to interact with classmates and teachers in real time. This way, students become comfortable working with sophisticated knowledge in the team (classroom) context under the guidance of a project leader (like a professor). In the real world, you need to contribute as part of a team to be useful. It’s doesn’t matter whether you’re the smartest person on the payroll.
Synchronous learning may also help bring introverts out of their shells. “I have taught Internet courses for over a decade now,” said Ed Lyell, a professor at Adams State College. “My interaction with students is often much more involved and significant with the online students than with the classroom students who avoid interaction.”
We also think face-to-face learning motivates. It takes an unusual level of dedication and stamina – sheer will power – to learn in a fully asynchronous environment, plugging away in solitude with a static Web page as your only companion. Yet if you’re bandying about a hot topic in civics with a class of 20 or 25, it’s much easier to engage with the material and truly learn. Classmates’ views, uttered spontaneously, help you refine your own. They set your thinking straight. You learn to have a civil discussion, work out disagreements, find common ground, and work toward common goals.
Many institutions are combining asynchronous and synchronous learning in hybrid classes. Students spend a portion of their time working asynchronously, then occasionally come together to discuss and debate in real time. This format can include a video lecture to kick off the week.
Whatever the form, the possibilities for synchronous learning are intriguing. We’re committed to helping higher education institutions expand them.