What Is Asynchronous Online Learning

Our latest virtual reality article delivers an update on this emerging technology.

There’s an opening act to the pregame show in school. Educational organizations organize writing workshops or teach debates. Before they know it, the public school students have already arrived at the high school stage, and the debating freshman is slouched over at the side of the stage. At that point, only an early-threshold jump will give us the suspense we need for the dramatics to unfold on stage, and by then the final audiences may have been too disengaged by the pregame show to make a judgement about the performance.

It was in the late-’80s when I first saw a gaming house whose attitude reflected this dichotomy of the pregame and the postgame. Most of the teachers at that house worked at home, but they called this an LFL—which stands for “leisure lifestyle learning.” It was class from home, closed-circuit gaming rather than schools, and people with varied skill levels, learning while playing. They even taught traffic safety using players’ questions as a sample of what could be asked in a real traffic stop. For some people, including the engineer at this house, LFL is now a badge of professional distinction—the kind of thing you do if you’re a vulture shark with a mouthful of razor teeth. You bite and you rake. But for others, it’s just a hobby, nothing more, to fulfill an unfulfilled curiosity.

Asynchronous online learning is one way LFL has evolved since its beginnings, but its emphasis on education does not diminish its hard core. The test at the end of LFL consists of only 13 questions, yet gets the players involved in competition with each other. I won’t even mention how I ended up passing.

In LFL, physical interaction does not mean the equivalent of reaching for a bottle of Game Boy memory at one’s seat in class. This model is as asynchronous as it gets. Data logs are logged out after one session, the participant’s actual lines of computer code is mapped over his or her screen as the program runs, and the time is overlaid on the level or score being checked. The game is streamed in real time, with each video frame capturing every millisecond of activity.

Why so many? If gaming studios applied the same technology to their storyboard-making and advertising, it would be quite an intriguing, if sad, combination of achievement and discomfort. Usually in the gaming world, game-playing lends itself to surrender, frustration, and humor. This is by design. Sometimes the game asks for more attention than the player is willing to give; other times, the game merely asks for real to be absorbed.

Video games apply that time-honored model of social interaction to a completely different domain: education. For the gamers participating in Asynchronous Online Learning, in which time is the main driver, the only significance in this community is the application of knowledge. The game changes by the second or the fourth, but the potential for advancement is the same, with individual best practices and similarities in creativity, insight, design, and communication that provide a roadmap for how we do education. For LFL, the assumption is that every effort could produce better results and be backed by a basis in knowledge. Education theorists cite that perspective as the jumping-off point for the long-term development of an education strategy.

Asynchronous online learning is clearly gaining acceptance, and the stage set for all types of educational growth. The consumer-pricing model of education, where the most capable and most mature subjects are selected for the highest-paying seat in schools, has led to a poor market for quality education. Students, parents, and educators across the world are leaving school to find out what the wider world has to offer in higher education.

For some, this is the next step on the road to a business degree; for others, it is the basis for career changes or the starting point of a new career track. For us educators, the technology in which we teach, in which we collaborate, and in which we interact makes education appealing and vital in the same way that video games are entertainment.

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