Asynchronous Instructional Strategies for Learner-to-Learner Engagement

As instructional designers are tasked to provide just-in-time support for online learning and instruction during this critical time, here are a few recommendations that come to mind for the asynchronous (paced) learner-to-learner engagement in online learning environments. Also, here’s a slide deck from a faculty development presentation, Engaging Students in Discussion, that I have given in the past about this timely topic.

Affordances:

  • Asynchronous online discussions to bridge the gap of social interaction to construct, apply and develop knowledge while enabling learners to texturally communicate, interpret, reflect, and learn with their peers.
  • The asynchronous nature enables learners to interact across time and location preferences, therefore offering more equitable learning experiences for a diverse student population.
  • Online discussions support collaboration in both small-group or all-class discussions.
  • Asynchronous online discussions afford learners a more active and reflective personalized experience.
  • Research has shown that group learning helps build active learners rather than passive recipients of teaching; it helps distribute cognitive load among group members through the exchange of ideas. 
  • Learner-to-learner asynchronous activities encourage student-centered learning, which enables learners to be active in their knowledge transformation and to apply their personal experiences, beliefs, values, and practices within their discipline and shifts away from teacher-centered learning.

 Limitations:

  • Learners often report a sense of isolation in online learning environments and are challenged to establish interpersonal contact with other students and form a community of learners through asynchronous means.
  • Written communication skills are critical for students to articulate their knowledge and their needs.
  • Canvas all-class discussions and group discussions can be challenging to navigate.
  • Discussion forums require instructor moderation to ensure students are engaging in constructive collaboration and healthy discourse.

Instructional Strategies: 

  • Identify your expectations on how students should engage in asynchronous discussion spaces by offering social respect, sharing personal and social information, creating safe and open learning spaces, establishing social identity, and developing authentic intimacy. Community Groundrules is an Open Educational Resource (OER) that can be utilized in your course to articulate your expectations at the start of the semester.
  • Unlike face-to-face learning environments, effective online learning environments must rely on instant messaging functions like Microsoft Teams, audio and video media technologies like FlipGrid or VoiceThread, email correspondence like Canvas Inbox, and discussion boards like Canvas, Yammer, Packback or Padlet as communication platforms.
  • Facilitate a learning community; it’s not the instructor’s responsibility to carry the discussion; it encourages learners to actively and thoughtfully participate to improve the collective knowledge of the class. 
  • Discussion forums should be assessed as quality over quantity and can be employed as a course artifact that demonstrates a student’s knowledge transformation to meet course objectives.
  • Encourage learner-to-learner interaction through four dialogue strategies that they can employ in their discussion reply posts to promote critical thinking. 
    • conversational (cooperative and seeking mutual understanding), 
    • inquiry (answering a question and coming to a resolution), 
    • debate (critical questions with a need for agreement) and; 
    • instruction (utilizing questions and statements to come to resolution).Dialogue: Engaging Students In Discussion
  • In an introductory lesson to your course, create a practice discussion forum for students to introduce themselves to the class and to familiarize themselves with the discussion tool.
  • In addition to practicing discussion forums in an introductory lesson, develop informal learning spaces like a student lounge or a class cafe to enable learners to connect or collectively resolve course-related issues (i.e.sharing a lesson reading that another student wasn’t able to access.) 
  • Develop open-ended, problem-based discussion prompts that challenge students to think deeply about the course content and make meaningful connections.
  • When creating small groups, try to select group members that are diverse in skills and knowledge and limited in size (3 low, 6 high, and 5 ideal).
  • Groups need clear goals and should be enabled to have the autonomy to self-regulate and define norms within the framework provided by the instructor.
  • Groups can collaborate to develop final projects, case studies, presentations, or papers by utilizing Box, Microsoft Office 365, or GSuite.
  • There are many ways to encourage learner-to-learner interactions in asynchronous learning spaces, including book clubs, debates, and Canvas supported peer-review exercises. 
  • The efforts happening in a group should not be siloed from the rest of the class, instead tie the group work back to the all-class discussions to present how each group is contributing to the shared body of knowledge.

Have something to add? I’d love to hear your recommendations and best practices! Please leave a reply below to keep the (asynchronous, peer-to-peer) conversation going.

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