Asynchronous E-Learning and M-Learning

So what is asynchronous e-learning? Chief knowledge officer for Allen Interactions, Ethan Edwards wrote an article in which he describes it as:

“asynchronous e-learning occurs in an environment where a single learner interacts directly with content via a technology system, maximizing flexibility in timing and access for the learner by allowing learner control of pace, schedule, and location”. Edwards (2009)

The eLearning Guild describes itself as “the oldest and most trusted source of information, networking, and community for eLearning Professionals”.  It is a member-driven organisation that produces and presents media related to e-learning, they define asynchronous e-learning as:

“asynchronous e-Learning refers to “on-demand” learning materials that the learner can access and use whenever and wherever he or she wants.”

Learning accessed anytime, anywhere on a desktop computer, this is partially true and on a laptop this is even more of a possibility but with mobile tablets and phones the potential of asynchronous e-learning can truly be realised.  These devices are designed to be carried around so that users can access information and media at a time and in a place that it suitable to them.

Mobile learning, often referred to as m-learning is a topic that I have discussed in a previous blog (see here: and a in May 2010 article, the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative provides a description of mobile learning that is strikingly similar to the eLearning Guild’s definition of asynchronous e-Learning, they say “Mobile learning, or m-learning, can be any educational inter­action delivered through mobile technology and accessed at a stu­dent’s convenience from any location.”

Mobile applications, also known as mobile apps, are pieces of software designed to run on smart-phones and mobile phones, they can be designed for a wide range of purposes including education, entertainment and shopping, they often use the technology available within the mobile device to aid or enhance the user’s daily lives.

The mobile application market has evolved at a staggering rate, in December 2010 the International Data Corporation (IDC), a global provider of market intelligence said that 300,000 mobile apps had been developed in just over three years and in 2010 these 300,000+ applications were downloaded 10.9 billion times.  The numbers are truly staggering and as soon as this year’s statistics are released I will post them for comparison but it is seemingly obvious that people are using apps, this is a direction I am that leaning towards for my project.  It would allow me to apply teaching theory to a platform or medium that offers a wide range of possibilities in terms of interaction and content, whilst also being at the forefront of the current technological evolution.

To make my project a success I still believe that my research into teaching theory and E-learning design and principles will help me to gain an understanding of user/learner needs and thus this will help me to produce a more effective product.

If I choose to create a mobile application for my project the asynchronous e-learning model seems to be appropriate for the product platform but there are certain keys to achieving success according to Ethan Edwards (2009), he believes that traditional instructional design principles are required in combination with a consideration for the unique requirements of computer-delivered instructions and interaction.  He believes that there are three essential factors when designing asynchronous e-learning:

1.       Motivate the learner to learn,
2.       Focus on behavioural outcomes,
3.       Create meaningful and memorable experiences.

Motivate the learner to learn

Edwards (2009) believes that learners need to be motivated, energized and engaged in the learning experience and that traditionally this element of learning is provided by the “wit and personality of the instructor, social contact and expectations from peers, and real time adjustments by students and instructors to the immediacy of the teaching moment”.

In the book Learning in the Digital Age by John Seeley Brown the author recognises the social interaction element of the learning process, he says “learning is a remarkably social process. In truth, it occurs not as a response to teaching, but rather as a result of a social framework that fosters learning.” Brown (2002)

In an asynchronous e-learning model this social or personal interaction would be absent, so it is the responsibility of the designer to try and design experiences in which engagement in interaction can generate emotional responses that motivate or capture the interest of the learner in educational experiences.

Edwards (2009) goes on to say:“Any e-learning that fails to account for these elements will fail to connect authentically with the learner, and ultimately fail as a teaching tool, no matter how perfectly the content is crafted.”

Focus on behavioural outcomes.

The communication of information traditionally involves two way communications between the educational facilitator/teacher and the learner/student, and the quality of that educational experience often depends upon the effectiveness of that communication.  Replicating this social and instructional interaction is a problem for designers, Edwards (2009) says “designers of e-learning are at a severe disadvantage to create meaningful interactions simply because the methods for gaining information from the learner are so limited.”  The appropriation of user feedback is always going to be a an issue for designers, Edwards (2009) suggests that “Designers must work dedicatedly to overcome these limits by designing challenges in which the learner’s actions require active processing and represent real-world actions.”  This notion of learning through doing is featured in different learning theories, Pete Senge the founding chairperson of the Society for Organizational Learning and a senior lecturer at MIT said “The most powerful learning comes from direct experienceSenge (1990, p.23).  Experiential learning is learning through the undertaking or reflection upon undertaking a task.

Create meaningful and memorable experiences.

Designers should be aiming to deliver more than just information and visuals they should be designing an experience in which learners can acquire information Edwards (2009) says “Learners need assistance in attaching meaning and significance to new content.”  He believes that the learning experience is often more important to the effectiveness of educational delivery than the content that is being delivered, “ When asked about successful learning experiences, almost all people acknowledge that those learning events were a success more because of how the learning occurred rather than specifically what was learned.”  Brown (2002) also draws attention to the need to think about more than just the content you wish to convey he says “To succeed in our struggle to build technology and new media to support learning, we must move far beyond the traditional view of teaching as delivery of information. Although information is a critical part of learning, it’s only one among many forces at work”.  He recognises the need for  information and context in the delivery of learning  experiences “It’s profoundly misleading and ineffective to separate information, theories, and principles from the activities and situations within which they are used.”

When designing experiences, consistent design is important for a number of design reasons which I will elaborate upon at a later date but that should not mean that it should affect the learning experience.   Edwards (2009) say’s “When everything looks the same, it is hard to remember any specific detail.” but this does not mean make everything look different, it means that the designer needs to take into consideration how they intend to allow the user to make a distinction between different elements of the information that they are presenting them with, so that the user will be effected in the required way.  Edwards (2009) view is “While it is important to create standards and processes to make the development of e-learning efficient, the design still needs to create distinctiveness and purpose so that the learner has some hope of taking a long-lasting experience away from the training.”

Asynchronous e-learning is often characterised as boring, simplistic and ineffective due to the lack of social interactions.  The lack of interaction with instructors and peers may be a deficiency of Asynchronous e-learning but there are benefits too, benefits that increase when you start to bring mobile devices into the equation.  Asynchronous m-learning truly provides the learner with new freedoms , the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative  article from may 2010 draws attention to one of the benefits of m-learning “Because m-learning utilizes a variety of devices, many of which are ubiquitous in the lives of students, it can foster student engagement and offer opportunities to make learn­ing integral to daily life.”  They also point out that potentially, anytime, anyplace technology may lower physical boundaries to learning and extend the classroom.  So we know that there are possible deficiencies and benefits to asynchronous m-learning but through carefully considered design and well-organised research the potential of asynchronous m-learning is exciting.  It will require new methods of practice, an appropriation of new ideas and a bricolage of existing theories brought together to form a robust methodology appropriate to this new practice.

Edwards (2009) recognises that the design process for asynchronous e-learning needs to be different to the processes of traditional instruction, he says: “Because there is no instructor present in the learning moment, the design process for asynchronous e-learning must include specific plans for engaging the learner in targeted learning actions in a way that designers of traditional instruction have not had to use.”

A new process of instructional design, or possibly more appropriately design for instruction needs to be formed, a new methodology that meets the demands of a new generation of learners through the use of new technologies; technologies that offer us new possibilities for learning experiences. Designers are not trained instructors, so they will need to gain an understanding of how education is delivered, either by theoretical research or by incorporating the knowledge of real world educators through symposium into their design process.  The designer must then take the educational information and convert it into digital interactions using their own specialist knowledge pertaining to their own subject, and try and create a user centred design appropriate for instruction.

Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline, United Kingdon:Random House Business Books.

Edwards, E. (2009) Designing Asynchronous E-Learning, T+D; Vol.63, Issue 2, p84-85 Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 5th November 2011

Brown, J. S. (2002) Learning in the Digital Age [online] Available at: (accessed 6th November 2011).

The eLearning Guild (04/07/2010) Getting Started in e-Learning: Asynchronous e-Learning [online] Available at: (accessed 5th November 2011 15:24).

IDC Press Release (Dec 2010) IDC Forecasts Worldwide Mobile Applications Revenues to Experience More Than 60% Compound Annual Growth Through 2014 [online] Available at: (accessed 6th November 2011 13.33).

Educause (May 2010) 7 Things you Should Know About Mobile Apps for Learning [online] Available at: (accessed 6th November 2011)


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