The online learning environment is a better suited match for asynchronous learning than it is for synchronous learning. Of course, synchronous learning can be done through real-time video, such as video conferencing or web conferencing. However, given the nature of online learning, asynchronous learning with tools such as forums, chats, and the utilization of a CMS for assignment postings works a lot better. This is because online learning allows for learners from all over the world to come together and learn and not have to worry about high-speed Internet to support video or time zones to make sure that the real-time communication is happening synchronously.
The main advantage of having asynchronous learning techniques inside the classroom is that of reflection. Reflection is the ability for the student to act, observe, reflect and then repeat the cycle (act, observe, reflect). By doing so, reflective learners are able to critically examine various ways of interpreting their experiences (Bye, 2009). This allows for deeper learning and also the ability to learn from experience. Having mix this with group collaboration, the student is able to learn not only from their own experience, but others as well. This is an amazing feature of online learning.
An instructor can promote the reflective process in an online course by simply “asking the student if they are certain” (O’Hanlon & Diaz, 2010). O’Hanlon and Diaz suggest that students need to be ask questions that have them gather information and give them an opportunity to improve. When a student is answering the question of whether or not they are certain, what they are actually doing is looking back to ensure certainty and they are going through the process of reflection. It may not always be as easy as asking a single question, and in order to build reflection into the course and into group activities, planning and preparation need to be done.
Reflection cannot be an afterthought and cannot be tacked onto a course. There is a lot that has to be taken into account, such as the students characteristics, the technology that is being used for the learning, and the training that has been done for both the student and the teacher (McQuiggan, 2007). Once these issues are addressed, the instructor can then start to promote the use of reflection. Herrington and Oliver (2007) write that by designing a course to promote reflection enables teachers to encourage students to exam the past and reframe future actions. In the aforementioned paragraph, it was stated that reflection can be promoted with a single question. However, it might take more than that for the course. The use of wikis and blogs are a great way for students to reflect. Some students though are not comfortable in using these tools and this is where the instructor can intervene. If a student needs to write a reflection about an assignment or about a course, the instructor can start off by asking leading questions. The question must be more than just ‘reflect on this’ and instead must be worded such as ‘tell me a time when’ or ‘looking back at’.
Reflection may also occur on the forums. The use of these discussion forums may also increase communication between students and the facilitator/instructor (Bye, 2009). For example, the student can perform a reading or download a lesson and then discuss this on the forum. By doing this, it give the students time to reflect on the reading or assignment and then act on the forum. This does not end after they post their response to the instructor, but instead the process starts over again. Now they are able to read other students responses, reflect and then act again by posting a response of their own. Students are then able to engage in a cycle of reflection and action and enhance the students chance of becoming a lifelong learner (Herrington & Oliver, 2007). Again, in order for this to be successful, the instructor needs to make sure that the forums are moving along. This may mean a very good discussion topic, or it may mean that the instructor has to post replies as well to students so that it gives different opinions.
Also, by using an online discussion board as the platform for reflection, it expanded the authenticity of the reflective writing task by expanding the audience and opening the potential for dialogue (Rocco, 2010). Self-reflection allows the students to look back at their own work and potentially see improvement or gain insight. When their reflection is public, such as on a forum, it allows for group interaction. An example could be that a students reflections mentions how something was not fully understood. There is a chance that another student could help fill in the blanks and help out.
Reflection through wikis/blogs is also a great way for groups to reflect as individuals. While the wiki/blog is a single page, it can be updated by all of the group members. Students would be providing reflections and it would provide evidence of group development and also a feeling of ownership in the class (Glowacki-Dudka & Barnett, 2007). Students are also able to see how their group members are feeling and how they are moving along with the work. It is also great for the instructor because it gives a better sense of who is doing what in the group and how much work is actually being accomplished.
Both forms of reflection, single (wiki/blog) and group (forums, group messaging, group wiki/blog), allow for deeper learning. Reflection itself has proven to be a critical element in any online course. Whether the course has some elements of synchronous, or fully asynchronous, there are always ways for the instructor to build reflection into the design of the course. If done properly, it will let students become lifelong learners.
Bye, L., Smith, S., & Rallis, H. (2009). Reflection Using an Online Discussion Forum: Impact on Student Learning and Satisfaction. Social Work Education, 28(8), 841-855. doi:10.1080/02615470802641322
Glowacki-Dudka, M., & Barnett, N. (2007). Connecting Critical Reflection and Group Development in Online Adult Education Classrooms. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 19(1), 43-52. Retrieved July 24, 2011, from http://www.isetl.org/ijtlhe/pdf/IJTLHE141.pdf
Herrington, J., Oliver, R. (2002). Designing for Reflection in online courses. HERDSA. Retrieved July 23, 2011, from http://elrond.scam.ecu.edu.au/oliver/2002/HerringtonJ.pdf
McQuiggan, C. (2007). The role of faculty development in online teaching’s potential to question teaching beliefs and assumptions. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, 10(3). Retrieved July 25, 2011, from http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/fall103/mcquiggan103.htm
O’Hanlon, N., & Diaz, K. (2010). Techniques for enhancing reflection and learning in an online course. MERLOT Journal of online learning and teaching, 6(1). Retrieved July 24, 2011, from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol6no1/ohanlon_0310.htm
Rocco, S. (2010). Making reflection public: using interactive online discussion board to enhance student learning. Reflective Practice, 11(3), 307-317. doi:10.1080/14623943.2010.487374