Flexible Times at Ridgemont High—The Benefits of Asynchronous Education
If you know anything about high schoolers, then the idea of giving them the ability to create their schedules probably makes you laugh, then ask if the person that is suggesting it is insane, and look at them like they're crazy. Why would freeing up the structures placed on young adults be a good thing, when one of the primary uses of school itself is to impose structure on a population that naturally resists it? Isn't one of the best reasons for school is to have a place to send kids, where we know what they're doing, where they're going to be safe, out of trouble, and learning? But as the world goes remote, it's worth investigating what the benefits might be to giving greater independence to students.
One of the significant challenges of 2020 is the task of having to embrace a remote lifestyle. This challenge is being faced not only by office-workers but by young people from Kindergarten to college. While the world grapples with streamlining work and learning from a distance, one of the significant distinctions is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous structures. Asynchronous work, or asynchronous learning, is a concept that is already used by the minority of the population that works remotely or takes online classes on their own time. But this year, 'asynchronous' is becoming a household word, as more people realize how an asynchronous approach can help people realize the benefits of working and learning remotely. So what does it mean, and how could it aid students and teachers?
An asynchronous structure means that activities are not done together in real-time. Attending a classroom lecture and going to a business meeting are examples of synchronous activities. When online, synchronous activities are live video-chats or watching a live-streamed lecture. An asynchronous class is recorded and left for students to access it on their own time.
At its core, asynchronous learning aims to provide more flexibility than synchronous learning structures. These structures offer the ability to access learning material and complete assignments on your timeline, which is an excellent benefit. But think for a moment about the strict limitations placed on the learning population when everything relies on being in the same place at the same time. The best schools are then only accessible to those who can reasonably commute there, who can afford to block out that time. For high-school and college students who have myriad responsibilities in their life outside of education, this can be a high barrier to access. Allowing students to learn at their speed and at an independent location frees up who can receive a quality education. Liberating learning from an asynchronous style is a crucial element in reducing the gaps between learning populations.
Asynchronous learning doesn't just grant more accessibility through flexibility; it also allows students to learn at a pace customized to their needs. Learning styles vary wildly from mind to mind. People grasp concepts at different speeds. Hoping an entire classroom can digest a lecture in real-time at the same pace is a pretty big gamble and one that is almost certain to leave some students behind.
Of course, this all comes at a cost. There is an excellent synchronous class and a terrible one; there are both good ways and bad ways to asynchronous education. Just as there is a price to pay for needing to adhere to the rigid structures of traditional, real-time learning, there is a price you must pay to create your independent schedule and study from a distance. That is: you have to do it. Most parents and teachers become skeptical that high schoolers can benefit from an asynchronous structure.
Creating a remote learning schedule is indeed a skill one must practice. But nobody is without hope. It's a great misconception that punctuality, self-discipline, and organization are qualities that some people have, and some people don't. They aren't character traits- they're skills. If you don't have them now, you can build them. And building skills that you will rely on throughout your life is why we have school in the first place.
If you're either a student or an employee looking to optimize your remote work-habits, check out our guide.
In some ways, teaching students now to create their path is one of the best ways to prepare them for their adult life in the 21st century. It's looking more and more likely that their time beyond school will resemble this time in many ways, including placing a very high value on people who can work reliably at their own pace.
But the risks of asynchronous learning can't be ignored. One of the highest costs is the risk of emotional isolation. Particularly for teenagers, who already rely too much on screens to get a sense of connection, in-person interaction is vital. It isn't easy to foster a community online. But it is not impossible. Ways to foster community online include: using discussion boards, pairing students together to complete projects, and interactive document editing.
Several schools have begun using 8x8 work to meet these needs. With 8x8 Meet, lessons can be either live-streamed, pre-recorded, or recorded while streamed and saved for later. Then, in the 8x8 Room, students have a facilitated room to act as a forum for discussing the content amongst themselves. 8x8 Team Messaging fosters collaboration and connection by streamlining dialogue and using shared files and images.
To be sure, there are unique challenges associated with asynchronous learning. But there are unique challenges to synchronous learning as well, and the systems of old have been exclusionary and rigid in ways that deserve scrutiny. As the world becomes remote-friendly, we should prepare the next generation to foster the skills that will allow them to take advantage of the freedom a connected world offers.