Strategies for Asynchronous Online Learning

A topic of interest in higher education these days is the future of instructional modalities. Educause describes a trend in students’ preferences for modalities that are mostly or entirely online because of the many benefits for students. Online asynchronous courses are characterized by self-paced flexible design to accommodate the needs of students. Students access course material and learning activities, such as pre-recorded lectures, readings, and assignments, from different locations with no fixed meeting time for class – they work at their own pace, on their schedule. Instructors provide students with activities that can be done independently. It may also be appropriate for students to work collaboratively in small groups or mentor each other.

Benefits of Asynchronous Learning for Students

Asynchronous strategies in the online learning environment offer many advantages:

  1. Research suggests that asynchronous instructional strategies promote higher cognitive learning outcomes than synchronous strategies because students have time to process ideas and concepts to develop in-depth thinking.
  2. A key benefit is that student learning and thinking become more visible. With asynchronous online learning, learners are part of a peer learning network offering diverse perspectives and insights, with all of this happening in text or video form. Students can engage asynchronously with content raised by course readings, discussions, lectures and videos and all of their responses are visible to the faculty member.
  3. Asynchronous learning strengthens subject matter knowledge and transferable skills such as communication, critical thinking, adaptability, time management and self-discipline.
  4. Some studies highlight how asynchronous learning can be used to meet the needs of individual learners. For example, Universal Design for Learning practices can support a broad range of diverse learning needs.

Choose Asynchronous Strategies Intentionally 

While asynchronous learning has many strengths, it is also essential to consider the limitations in choosing strategies. Students may have negative feelings about asynchronous strategies because it requires stronger self-motivation and time management skills. Also, students may need help seeing the value of interactive discussions and regular faculty contact to stay organized. To improve students’ experience, it is essential to plan your presence and engagement with the class, and build community in the online classroom. Let students get to know you and invite students to share who they are. Creating community is not just a ‘feel good’ goal: when you successfully create your classroom community, your students focus on common goals and have a sense that they are not in this alone. Your course learning objectives or outcomes should guide your chosen learning strategies. Consider the following questions when selecting learning strategies:

  • What skill should students be able to perform by the end of the module or class?
  • Which active learning strategy will allow students to practice this skill?
  • How will students engage with information and interact? 
  • When will students reflect on what they’ve learned? 
  • How will you make your presence (or teaching presence) visible to influence students to participate, engage with peers and facilitate students’ learning?

Active Learning

Active learning strategies have students do something (physical or cognitive) to apply concepts and challenge students to take responsibility for their learning. In addition, active learning activities help promote higher-order thinking skills and engage students in deep understanding by exploring diverse perspectives, arguments and issues. Bonwell and Eison described active learning strategies as “instructional activities involving students in doing things and thinking about what they are doing.” Examples of active learning techniques include case studies, group projects, peer teaching, discussions, debates and reflection. Remember that students will need an appropriate timeframe to complete asynchronous group work because extra time is necessary for communication and coordination as compared to face to face classes.

Case Studies

A case study is an active learning activity in which students interpret data, or consider a scenario or application. Good case studies do not have an obvious answer and require students to gather additional information, ask critical questions, and sort through complex situations or ideas.

Group Projects

Group projects allow students to challenge more complex problems than they could individually. In online courses, group projects have two added benefits: (1) helping students connect and (2) providing student practice in developing teamwork skills.

Peer Teaching

Peer teaching is a collaborative learning approach where peers work together to learn from each other. Like group projects, peer teaching can help to build a community of learners and lessen feelings of isolation.


Discussion forums are often an important component of online learning. Discussion gives learners a chance to articulate their thoughts and opportunity to share their experiences. They also allow students to gain appreciation for diverse points of view.


Debates activate critical thinking and can be a highly effective way to actively engage students in research in the online classroom and offer a different response format than the usual online discussion forum.


Learners can be prompted to shift their attention inward to contextualize learning and establish personal relevance. There are many ways to incorporate reflection, for instance, by writing in response to questions or asking learners to analyze a video.

Practical Course Design Recommendations

When designing an asynchronous online course, keep the following principles in mind.

  1. Keep it simple: use learning tools that students are familiar with. 
  2. Make sure your intended outcomes, learning activities, and assessments are aligned. 
  3. Ensure your course site is clear and well-planned. Nurture student motivation with clear instructions and guidelines to increase a sense of competence – help students understand what they need to do and the resources to succeed. Without face-to-face cues, it is important to direct students’ attention before reading, watching or listening to something. 
  4. Include a weekly course schedule to map out the term for the students.
  5. Foster a sense of instructor presence and communicate with your students regularly.
  6. Provide flexible ways for students to demonstrate achievement of the learning outcomes.
  7. Asynchronous instruction extends beyond watching videos. Avoid recording complete lectures; instead, break your lectures down into 5-10 minute mini-lectures, and include opportunities for active learning. 
  8. Consider targeting your feedback to manage your workload and prevent students from being overwhelmed. Peer feedback offers another strategy for providing timely feedback. For example, you can guide student feedback with a simple framework such as describe–evaluate–suggest.

Which tools can I use for asynchronous teaching?

There are many tools available to help you engage learners in asynchronous learning. You can learn about some of these tools in the table below.

Tool/ActivityDescriptionSupport Resources
VIUTubeRecord and share video content such as lectures, demonstrations, quizzes, tours, interviews etc.VIUTube Tutorials VIUTube Video Quizzes
Quiz Tool Self-assessment, formative assessment, quizzing and exams.VIULearn Quizzes Tool
Self AssessmentsCreate untrackable quizzes for students to test their knowledge and to provide immediate formative feedback. VIULearn Self Assessments
GroupsUse group activities to help build community in the virtual classroom.VIULearn Groups Tool Create Group Assignment Submission Folders Create Group Discussion Forms Create Group-Enrolment Release Conditions to release course materials only to members of a specific group. 
Discussion Forums Asynchronous discussions as a class or in smaller groups. Files and images can also be attached.VIULearn Discussions Tool 
Assignments Provide a place for students to submit work and for instructors to review and provide feedback on submissions.VIULearn Assignments Tool
VIUBlogsCommunicate and share skills, experiences, learning (artifacts and reflective writing), either individually or collaboratively by creating eportfolios, blogs, and standalone websites.VIUBlogs Tutorials 
AnnouncementsPost updates and new information about the course.Create Announcements in VIULearn
ChecklistsHelp learners manage their time and focus their attention on important objectives.Create Checklists in VIULearn
EmailCommunicate time sensitive and important updates and information to specific students, groups, or the entire class. Using the Email Tool in VIULearn VIU/ Outlook Email Support Resources Send an Email to the Class using the SRS
SurveysUse Surveys to gather feedback from your students about the course or other circumstances. Download Midterm Survey Template Download End of the Term Survey Template Create Surveys in VIULearn Access Survey Results in VIULearn
H5PCreate interactive experiences & activities.H5P Website Install the H5P Plugin on VIUBlogs H5P Support Resources
Other: Chat tools (for example, MS Teams), Google Docs, Mind Mapping, etc.Facilitate collaboration.Microsoft Teams for Classes & Cohorts Google Docs Editor Support Resources Create Mind Maps using Miro

Please note that some of these tools may not be compliant under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FIPPA). For more information about FIPPA and how to stay compliant please email or visit VIU’s Access and Privacy webpage. 

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And, as always, we encourage you to contact us for a conversation about this or any other teaching and learning topic.