Asynchronous = Time and space learning

A common topic of conversation amongst educators when discussing learning technologies is the time and space they need to find out about the various tools in the VLE and redesign their courses.  It is no secret that in my context of HE time and space is sadly lacking.  What they are saying is that they need time and space to learn.  Online, many of the standard communication/collaboration tools available to educators are best used asynchronously.  Asynchronous learning activities are time and space learning activities.  Well designed courses using such tools to scaffold students' learning through a series of activities which give them time for reflection, time for critical thinking, time for articulation and clarification.  The communication can, therefore, be more meaningful and of a better quality all round.  Within the sessions, within any synchronous learning event, the quality of any dialogue is compromised by the immediacy of the responses.  There can be little time for reflection in such an environment.  Some cope better than others with this but overall it's just not as good.  I should put potentially at the end of this of course as other factor impact on the learning.  But, in essence, the potential for critical thinking and deep learning is better within asynchronous learning activities because...

Asynchronous = time and space learning.

Wordcloud of my blog

I've updated the word cloud of this blog which you can see in the column on the right. It's interesting to see how things have changed over the last four months from:


Although things are largely the same, the biggest word is now learning whereas previously it was tools.  There's also evidence of my reflections on activity templates and recent learning design teaching sessions I've been running.

One question I'm asking myself is:

Does this word cloud give a fair reflection of my role as an E-learning Manager?
(for the London Centre for Leadership in Learning (LCLL), Institute of Education (IOE)) 

The answer is probably not.  I reflect on what's interested me from what I've been reading and what's been challenging me and been valuable learning experiences in my job.  The mundane stuff doesn't get in there like the setting up of online course areas and the repeated process/navigation demonstrations.  E-learning/learning technology jobs are about maintaining and setting up structures and systems and negotiating opportunities and events where you can show that you can offer much more than this.  For me, I've done this by setting up sessions on Web 2.0 technologies and online learning design.  Showing people how to use a particular VLE tools is the halfway house between the two extremes.  It's ostensibly about process but you can shoehorn in pedagogy if you careful about it.

A VLE is like a gym membership - bought for show and used by a handful

Breaking off from my previous train of thought....

A VLE is like a gym membership - bought for show and only properly used by a handful of hardy souls.

For a few years now the Virtual Learning Environment is a must have for any self-respecting educational institution. For HEs, it's a behemoth of a walled garden where integration with registration and administrative systems takes more time and effort than the teaching and learning integration it's supposed to be about. The use is patchy at best. It's like a gym membership. Both are purchased with the best intentions. There is recognition that change is necessary for proper and fulfilling use. However, this recognition is tacit at best and romantic at worst. Realisation and readily to change the culture of your organisation or the way you live you life is often lacking. When the turmoil of such change comes into view the hard decisions are shied away from and the status quo continues with minor aberrations.

This metaphor just about works, but what's the point of it. It's useful to think about how HE is approaching the use of learning technologies. Where this metaphor is useful is that it highlights how institutions like to play up their use of technology without really understanding or intending to enact the changes necessary to realise what they say is happening or will happen.

Aiding online learning design - more thoughts....

I'm often engaged in the business of breaking things down for academic colleagues so that the process of designing an online learning course seems less challenging. Sometimes it feels like I'm going against the grain a bit and distilling the academic rigour of the e-learning research that I read and hear about. Actually, its more than a feeling, its a reality and a deliberate policy. I do this because its needed. Its needed for the great mass of educators not convinced by the virtues of teaching and learning using internet-based technology. The hard part is to distill and not water down or dumb down. The aim is for simplicity or to explain in simple terms that which can be seen as too complex and unwielding.

I've blogged previously about example activities templates which I've started using in face-to-face training to give educators a starting point when engaged in designing learning activities using the standard VLE communication/collaboration tools. These templates are as simple and succinct as I can possibly get them. This is one part of process.

Another stage would be to aid educators with a process that is commonly faced - using a face-to-face course design to design a purely online version of the same course. Here you have a starting point, you have content, you have knowledge and understanding of how you taught in each face-to-face session but how would you engage students in the same way online. This is where I will develop ideas. The concepts are simple - discuss face-to-face - discuss online. For those in the know this is simple. For those with no experience and don't really want to do it in the first place, I could support the process by describing the process. More to follow....