Asynchronous learning is a general term used to describe forms of education, instruction, and learning that do not occur in the same place or at the same time. The term is most commonly applied to various forms of digital and online learning in which students learn from instruction—such as prerecorded video lessons or game-based learning tasks that students complete on their own—that is not being delivered in person or in real time. Yet asynchronous learning may also encompass a wide variety of instructional interactions, including email exchanges between teachers, online discussion boards, and course-management systems that organize instructional materials and correspondence, among many other possible variations.
Digital and online learning experiences can also be synchronous. For example, educational video conferences, interactive webinars, chat-based online discussions, and lectures that are broadcast at the same time they given would all be considered forms of synchronous learning.
It should be noted that the term asynchronous learning is typically applied to teacher-student or peer-to-peer learning interactions that are happening in different locations or at different times, rather than to online learning experiences that do not involve an instructor, colleague, or peer. For example, the popular language-learning software Rosetta Stone is often purchased and used by individuals who want to acquire new language skills, but it is also increasingly used by world-language teachers in schools. When teachers use the software as an instructional tool to enhance language acquisition or diagnose learning weaknesses, this process would typically be considered a form of asynchronous learning. If someone uses the software on their own—i.e., without additional instruction or support from a teacher, and not as an extension of a formal course—it would likely not be considered asynchronous learning.
For a related discussion, see blended learning.
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