• Business_distance_learning

    By M. Jeffery Tyler, PMP
    School of Business and Information Technology

    Much is being made of the use of asynchronous teaching as a result of the popularity of Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) offerings. Can MOOCs, or any online asynchronous teaching method be the best approach in teaching students?  These forms of lectures—in webinars, podcasts, webcasts, YouTube videos, and the like—address the pedagogical criteria for the transference of knowledge to students, but to what extent? 


    There are critical voids that purely asynchronous teaching vehicles fail to provide as a source of viable learning. That void is the lack of synchronous interactivity with the source of learning as well as the relationship between the learner and the teacher.

    MOOCs and Asynchronous Course Teaching Practices

    According to Tamar Lewin (2013), MOOCs are online course offerings aimed at large-scale interactive participation and open access via the web. Lewin feels that MOOCs provide interactive user forums that “help build a community for the students, professors, and TAs. MOOCs are a recent development in distance education.” It is the ability to provide synchronous learning opportunities to thousands of learners that becomes questionable.

    There’s a “brick-and-mortar” precedence for large asynchronous course teaching practices. Remember your ubiquitous auditorium class? There you were, in Freshman History, with 499 of your closest friends and classmates listening to the droning of the lecturer while the graduate assistants took roll walking up and down the aisles. Correspondence courses weren’t much better. Read the material, answer some questions, and send off your packet to a faceless grader that returned ambiguous rationale as to your incorrect answers. “But, can you tell me how I missed this answer and how does it relate to what I am learning?” you ask. Silence is the response. Then, there was the Computer Based Training (CBT) modules. These consisted of a number of questions with differing answers that moved you though the course material, but still lacked context. 

    We came closer with email course offerings. Read the material, email your questions, and the instructor will email his or her responses. Delayed synchronicity and often when you received the answer, you forgot the question. Finally, we had the online modules, which are still being used in some form today and are the basis of many online courses. So what does a MOOC offer that any of these dated teaching methodologies might lack?

    Asynchronous Advantages

    There are a number of advantages to using large asynchronous course teaching practices as education vehicles. First of all, there’s a cost factor for the learner to consider.  Lewin (2013) tells us that large asynchronous course teaching practices typically do not offer academic credit or charge tuition fees. This can change if the learner wants credit for their learning. What about easy access? Stanford’s Lytics Lab, in an April, 2013 report, found that 58% of learners that take advantage of large asynchronous course teaching practices come from developed nations while 42% come from underdeveloped nations. 

    The informality of large asynchronous courses can provide a form of unstructured learning. Burnes and Schaefer, as far back as 2003, found that informal learning can take place through a form of simulation exercises like large asynchronous course teaching practices. However, they also found that success rates in unstructured environments depend on the level of previous experiences, and that learners without a strong experiential background in the course of unstructured study have a high probability of failure. These disadvantages can be catastrophic to the mastery of the learning outcomes by the learner.

    Again, Lewin found that only about 10% of the tens of thousands of students who may sign up for a MOOC complete the course. Completion rates are typically very low, with a steep drop-off in student participation starting in the first week. In the course Bioelectricity, Fall 2012 at Duke University, Yvonne Belanger and Jessica Thornton found that of 12,725 students enrolled, only 7,761 ever watched a video, 3,658 attempted a quiz, 345 attempted the final exam, and 313 passed, earning a certificate. Open Culture conducted an online survey listing the "top ten" list of reasons for not completing a course. These most common reasons were that the course required too much time, was too difficult, or conversely, too basic. Reasons related to poor course design included "lecture fatigue" related to a perceived tendency to simply recreate the bricks-and-mortar course, lack of a proper introduction to course technology and format, and clunky technology and trolling on discussion boards. Hidden costs were cited including by those who found that required readings were from expensive texts written by the instructor. Other non-completers were "just shopping around" when they registered, or were participating simply for the knowledge rather than a credential. There are some serious pedagogical conclusions that can be drawn from an objective look at large asynchronous modes of distance learning that advocate for synchronicity between the learner and the instructor.

    It’s been found that synchronous e-learning can improve the capabilities of large asynchronous course teaching practices and learning experiences. Stefan Hrastinski, in his study of asynchronous and synchronous (read that direct interpersonal interaction between teacher and learning) e-learning methods found that each address differing purposes large asynchronous course teaching practices work well with learners who need more time to process the content of the course material, but if they are to remain engaged, Hrastinski found that the use of synchronous activity between the teacher and/or fellow learner and the learner, greatly improves engagement because the learner is motivate top perform and is more committed to the learning.

    Use of large asynchronous course teaching practices to provide learning content to very large audiences of learners, but they can keep the learners engaged with synchronous activities that require their involvement. In doing this there needs to be live interactive learning for use as large asynchronous course teaching practices to simulate the classroom environment. The worst type of a large asynchronous course is to have the talking head lecturing to the learner without visual stimulation. Studies by experts in child development show that the different types of sensory stimulation children receive through their environment can have a profound impact on their ability to learn. If this is true for the K-12 learner, it can also hold true for the adult learner. Pascal Fries, in his study of the effects of visual stimulation and selective visual attention shows us that interactive visual stimulation results in “higher-level brain areas and ultimately to behavior.”


    So, what conclusions and recommendations can we draw from the experts to improve the ability of the learner to master the learning outcomes through synchronous learning elements in asynchronous e-learning courses?

    1. They fill a need. The use of large asynchronous course teaching practices model has the potential of addressing certain educational inadequacies prevalent in society today such as providing access to over-fill on ground classrooms. (Troop, 2013)

    2. Easy to access. As indicated by McKay (2013), large asynchronous course teaching practices offer the learner a global access to a more diverse education that cannot be duplicated competitively in any brick and mortar school.

    3. Low cost. Being free or with low tuition, large asynchronous course teaching practices can provide every socio-economic learner the opportunity for educational achievement.

    4. Low ROI. Even at such low costs, large asynchronous course teaching practices used in educational programs have been shown to produce low results for the number of learners who initially take advantage of this opportunity. (Lewin, 2013) Even at a low cost rate, student churn has its de-motivating aspects to the learner. Time wastage, sense of disappointment, loss of confidence.

    If the student learner has the capability of cognitive reinforcement, they tend to remain engaged and have a higher instance of achieving the outcomes of the courses they are attending. As Joel Foreman tells us in his book Distance Learning and Synchronous Interaction (2003) “As the efficiencies of high-speed networks transform the predigital structures of a place-based academe, we should expect to see many student teams using the kind of synchronous tools discussed above to self-manage the more complex learning tasks of higher education. VOIP and application sharing in particular can create inexpensive cyberspaces where geo-distributed students can perform their learning work through the preferred medium for intense communication talk.”

    Time has shown from the first correspondence courses to the latest MOOCs, large asynchronous course teaching practices must be reinforced with the ability of the learner to conduct synchronous interactive reinforcement of the material they are assimilating on their own.

    M. Jeffery Tyler, PMP, is a full-time faculty member at Kaplan University. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent the view of Kaplan University.



    Lewin Tamar-2013-Universities Abroad loin Partnerships on the Web-New York Times

    MacKay RF—2013-Learning analytics at Stanford takes huge leap forward with MOOCs-Stanford Report

    Burnes and Schaefer-2003—Informa| |earning An exploratory study of unstructured learning experiences—l1TE

    Belanger, Y & Thornton, J-2013-Bioelectricity: a quantitative approach Duke University’s first MOOC. Duke University Libraries. Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/10161/6216

    Hrastinski_2008_Asynchronous and Synchronous E-Learning Educause Quarterly (Number 4) 2008.

    Fries,P. Womelsdorf, T. Oostenveld,R. and Desimone, R.-2008- The effects of visual stimulation and selective visual attention on rhythmic neuronal synchronization in macaque area V4. The Journal of Neuroscience, April 30, 2008 28(18):4823– 4835 • 4823

    Troop D-2013-An Entrepreneur Reaches for the Holy Grail of Online Education-Chronicle Higher Education, April 29, 2013. Retrieved from: http://chronicle.com/article/An-Entrepreneur-Reaches-for/138841/

    Foreman 2008 The Technology Source Archives · Distance Learning and Synchronous Interaction. The Technology Source (March 07, 2008).

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