It's tough to keep students motivated and engaged when they can't get together. So its not surprising that asynchronous activities, which have been the mainstay of online-only courses, are increasingly being incorporated to make traditional courses more satisfying at a time when students may be feeling demotivated or disappointed with their university experience.
Well-planned asynchronous learning can even maintain student interaction and provide some of the advantages of group learning – even though students are engaging at different times. Find out how you can use asynchronous learning to enrich your face-to-face or blended learning courses.
Student engagement tips
• Make it easy for your students to get started by including clear instructions, providing access via your learning platform, and letting them know who they can contact if they get stuck.
• Consider how your students will be engaging – for example the devices they will use and any bandwidth issues they may run into – and design your activities accordingly. This can be as simple as ensuring that students can download videos and eTextbooks for use offline.
How pre-class activities can enrich your lectures
Pre-class activities act as scaffolding and can increase engagement levels in class. Completing activities can familiarise students with basic concepts, spark their curiosity, and help them identify and manage gaps in their learning. This means that when they reach your lecture or seminar, they are ready to contribute.
Student engagement tips
• Add variety to pre-class assignments by including videos, pre-recorded lectures or podcasts alongside reading activities. Include an estimated duration as this helps students schedule their study-time.
• Asynchronous activities needn’t be passive. Include quizzes or other active learning elements to increase student engagement. At this stage students may feel insecure about their knowledge and more likely to participate in low risk, anonymous activities such as creating word clouds. If your students have access to digital textbooks, encourage them to use the social learning tools, for example sharing questions and comments in advance of the lecture.
How post-class activities can build on your lectures
Set your students follow-up activities to consolidate their understanding and allow them to reflect on what they have learned, to practice techniques and apply their learning. Use asynchronous activities to encourage them to explore further, either alone or with their peers.
Student engagement tips
• It is fine to use the same tools for follow-up activities as for preparation. It can be useful, for example, to ask students to retake a quiz so they can see how they have improved.
• The tools may be the same, but activities can be more demanding and require students to apply what they have learnt. This might be through a quiz, a discussion forum or creating and sharing a short video.
• It is essential that students are provided with feedback so they can identify ways to improve. Depending on the subject and the type of activity, feedback may be through an automated courseware solution, via a teaching assistant or from their peers.
How to maximise the benefits of blended learning
Asynchronous activities may be your starting point for thinking more widely about how blended learning (also known as hybrid, or mixed mode), can benefit your students.
You may be able to provide a more rounded learning experience with a wider variety of opportunities for students to engage with content and with one another. This can be particularly helpful for students transitioning into higher education who are less used to independent study.
Pre and post-class activities provide additional scaffolding for your lectures and seminars. They allow students to absorb concepts in their own time and to consolidate their learning. Some lecturers find that a blended approach allows them to be more creative with their precious face-to-face teaching time, and to focus on deeper learning.
Students may also return to activities later in the course, either as a refresher when they are studying related concepts, or as a way of incorporating active learning into their revision strategy prior to exams or final assessments.
While you may begin with bolt-on activities, a well-designed blended learning course will feel coherent. For the best results, collaborate with your institution’s EdTech team, if you have one. They have knowledge of the specific technology used by your institution and wider expertise in learning design which will help you meet your goals. If you don’t have access to experts, start simple – introduce short activities that support your learning goal, and monitor their effect. What matters is finding out what works for your course, your style, and your students.
VitalSource ensures your students have anywhere, anytime access to the course materials they need for asynchronous study, and provides the tools to support active and collaborative learning.
In BookshelfⓇ, you can add notes and highlights, and share these with your students. This can add value for them by making the content more relevant to your course. You can tailor your approach to the needs of your students – for example, where students need support with complex material, you can highlight the key passages, or add an explanation. For higher level students you may also want to pose questions or direct them to additional material. Students are also able to share their notes and highlights with each other, allowing for easy collaboration.
In addition to notes and highlights, you can use flashcards to prepare for a lecture or presentation, lead a group study session with students, and as a study guide assignment for students. You can include videos and images in the flashcards to further enrich the learning experience. Students are also able to create their own flashcards to help them get to grips with core principles, support self-study, and revision. When a deck is complete and your students are ready to study, they can quiz themselves using 'Play Flashcards'.
One of the benefits of the shift to digital in supporting online learning is the powerful analytics that can track student engagement and mastery of the content. With the learning data available to instructors through our analytics tool, you are able to identify at-risk students and guide office hour conversations around areas of struggle.