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EdD Course Insight: Creating an Effective Asynchronous Online Learning Environment

Get a glimpse of this required reading for strategies you can use in your online classroom—and learn how Walden University’s asynchronous online learning environment could help you advance your teaching skills.

Colleges and schools across the U.S. have had to make the sudden switch to online teaching and learning, thanks to COVID-19. If you’re like many educators making the transition to distance education, you may be wondering: What’s the best approach to teaching classes online?

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Online Learning

Online classes are typically delivered in synchronous or asynchronous formats. With a synchronous approach, students learn and interact with teachers and classmates in real time. If you teach class live over an online video-chat platform such as Zoom, then you are using a synchronous method.

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Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, gives students more flexibility to learn the online course material on their own time. With this format, students might watch or listen to a recorded lecture, participate in discussion boards, and complete coursework posted in a virtual classroom.

What Is a Teaching Strategy I Can Use in Asynchronous Learning?

Doctoral students in the Doctor of Education (EdD) online degree program at Walden University study how to create effective online learning environments in the course Designing Instruction for eLearning. As part of the online class, students complete the required reading “Strategies for Creating a Community of Inquiry Through Online Asynchronous Discussions.”1 Below are excerpts from the article. Read along with online EdD program students to discover ways to improve your approach to asynchronous learning.

In the report, researchers discussed how educators can build asynchronous discussions based on the Community of Inquiry (COI) framework:

“It is helpful to employ a framework to understand the concept of community in online discussions. Originally designed with asynchronous text-based discussions in mind, the COI framework has been used to conceptualize community in many online discussion studies. There are three essential elements that contribute to a successful educational experience: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence—which make up the COI framework.”

The authors go on to outline strategies teachers can use to create effective asynchronous discussions in their online classroom:

“Applying the COI framework to the design and facilitation of online discussions can guide teachers to create effective, engaging, and meaningful activities. The research focused on the effectiveness of specific strategies that appear to confirm the framework's conception of the three presences as interrelated. It was found that teaching presence set the social climate and supported critical thinking, serving as the foundation for a quality online discussion. Therefore, selecting strategies with this in mind is recommended. Certain strategies, such as protocols, peer facilitation, modest instructor facilitation, and audio feedback, were shown to influence multiple presences. For instance, allowing peers to facilitate not only enhances social presence, but also the cognitive and teaching presences of students—all while decreasing the pressure on the teacher. This position paper clearly illuminates the need to conceptualize online discussions as a multi-faceted, interactive, evolving activity.

Based on the review, the following strategies are proposed to guide teachers as they design and facilitate online discussions in order to build and support an online community:

  • Model social presence. To increase social presence, the instructor can model social cues, such as being more personal or maintaining social norms, that can encourage students to follow suit. Increasing social presence may help support an atmosphere that encourages increased cognitive presence.
  • Select a discussion prompt that encourages structured interaction and critical thinking, while also supporting the specific learning objectives. Problem-based, project-based, debate, and protocol prompts have been found to be effective in this regard. As previously stated, we stress that all phases of cognitive presence are important as long as students are prompted to ask questions, explore, integrate, and apply ideas within the course context.
  • Provide prompt but modest feedback. Expert facilitation is often necessary to elicit higher levels of cognitive presence. Exhibiting instructor presence in the online discussion is important, but modest feedback encourages students to take ownership of the discussion, which results in more student-to-student social interactions.
  • Facilitate purposefully. Specific techniques, such as questioning and assuming a challenging stance, were found to stimulate critical thinking. Just as with the design of a prompt, we suggest basing the facilitation technique on the overall purpose of the discussion. Using a variety of techniques to support the overall purpose may be beneficial and reach more students.
  • Provide feedback through multimedia. Traditional text feedback in online discussions is effective, but richer forms of media, such as audio and video, enhance multiple presences. We recommend experimenting with multiple kinds of feedback. For instance, if providing feedback that is more critical in nature, video or audio may better capture the nuances of what one is attempting to express.
  • Encourage peers to facilitate. The act of facilitation does not have to be solely assumed by the instructor. Peer facilitation appears to stimulate discussion among the group, freeing up the instructor to focus on sharing expert knowledge.

Improve Your Teaching Strategies With an Online Degree

Want to learn more ways to improve your teaching online and in the classroom? Consider furthering your college education by earning a master’s or doctoral education degree online from Walden.

Walden is a leader in online learning—providing higher education at a distance for nearly 50 years. As a student in an online education degree program at the university, you’ll not only learn how to become a more effective educator, you’ll also benefit from the college’s decades of experience and expertise in delivering effective asynchronous learning environments.

EdD graduate Steve Gardiner, 2008 Montana Teacher of the Year, said he especially appreciated the flexibility and convenience the asynchronous online learning format provides at Walden.

“I attend class from anywhere. I’m participating in discussions, adding my posts, submitting my lessons, and it’s working perfectly,” he said.

Put Walden’s online learning expertise to work for you and advance your teaching skills by earning an education degree online.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral education degree programs online. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

1Source: Walden EdD curriculum source: “Strategies for Creating a Community of Inquiry Through Online Asynchronous Discussions,” MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, March 2014.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission, www.hlcommission.org.

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