Create effective asynchronous online learning events

WHAT and WHEN this tool/approach is to be used

While most face-to-face teaching involves synchronous activities such as plenary discussion and in-class group work, the digital teaching environment widely uses asynchronous activities. This guide outlines a range of activities which can function well in asynchronous learning contexts.

WHY would a teacher use this approach/tool, and link to the 4C features

A teacher might use online asynchronous activities for reasons such as:

  • Engaging students with active learning;
  • Gaining insight on how students are progressing and how far they are engaging with the module learning outcomes;
  • Creating opportunities to provide formative feedback to the students;
  • Fostering student community and collaboration;
  • Enabling students to actively, independently and collaboratively produce learning objects and resources as part of their learning experience;

Ensuring more choice in how to take part in learning activities for students less able to take part in synchronous sessions.

HOW to use this approach/tool

To facilitate these online asynchronous learning activities well, we recommend the following approach. 

Setting the activity

Clarity: Explain the activity clearly. Consider using a short talking-head video or voice recording, in addition to a written explanation, as this will increase accessibility and clarity. 

Ensure you are clear about the scope/breadth and depth of the response required. Indicate how long you expect a student to spend on the activity (recognising this may vary). Clarify what extent/frequency of student input is required. Ensure required activities are included in the module study plan or equivalent. 

Unlike a synchronous learning experience, students cannot get quick answers to questions seeking clarification on the task. Anticipate and mitigate this with an ‘FAQs’ section and a dedicated discussion forum for queries (use this rather than individual email as it enables all students to note the question and the ensuing clarification).

Rationale: Explain why you have set this activity and what students will gain from it / how it relates to the module learning outcomes.

Sample responses: Provide a sample response to each activity. 

Choice: If appropriate, provide a choice of activities/formats, through which the student can achieve the same learning outcomes.

Uploading/Sharing: Consider if and how you want the student to upload/share their work and whether or not their work will be made available to other students (e.g. via the Moodle workshop tool, Moodle wiki, or a shared folder). If the students' work will be visible to their peers in a staggered way, consider factors such as risks of copying, late participants benefitting from sight of a range of peer responses etc. 

Here are some suggested types of online asynchronous learning activities: some are individual activities, some collaborative, and others work in both contexts.

Interactive content (H5P)

H5P is a plugin within Moodle that enables you to  create interactive content like interactive videos, presentations, games, quizzes and more. There is a good demonstration of interactive videos in the 24 June 2020 Talking Teaching webinar on how to make the most of Moodle.

Online quizzes (using the Moodle quiz tool) can be efficient and engaging learning activities. Learning gains depend on effective quiz question design and are more significant if some questions require deduction, reasoning and application of knowledge rather than, for example, searching or recall. 

The most familiar asynchronous tool is the discussion forum (via the Moodle forum tool), effective use of which involves codes of conduct/contribution, proactive moderation and use of forum notifications.  

A worksheet, similar to a textbook-style set of questions, can function as an online adaptation of a seminar handout. Each question/task must be clear (see earlier point about clarity). If gathering responses, a worksheet can be presented as a Google form, providing an easy way for students to submit responses and offering an automatic collation and overview of student responses. Google Docs can also be used, but give clear instructions about downloading and later sharing.

Blogs and wikis can function as online equivalent to an individual or group presentation. If collaborative, students can contribute discrete parts to a collective whole. Blogs and wikis also enable the incorporation of more media content than a discussion forum. The Moodle wiki tool can be used, or students can create independent or collaborative blogging sites. Teach students the basics of blogging as a discourse style to support this activity. 

An annotated bibliography can provide an opportunity for students to demonstrate critical reading and also to learn collaboratively. This can also be created using the Moodle wiki tool.

Moderation and feedback

Active e-moderation: Just as the in-class teacher monitors and responds to activities and levels of engagement in the classroom, so the online teacher needs to ‘e-moderate’. Schedule regular times in your calendar to monitor progress and uptake of tasks, giving prompts to completion where necessary. Clarify to students if, when and how you will be doing this.

Clarify feedback process: Explain if, how and when students can obtain feedback on their responses.

All these tasks, timings and expectations of students should be clearly indicated in the Student Study Plan for the module in question.

Inclusivity and Accessibility review

Explaining the activity in multiple ways/formats and providing choice in the activities students can undertake enhances inclusivity and accessibility.  

When specifying the anticipated amount of time a student might spend on a task, be mindful of learning differences and that students with Dyslexia or another Specific Learning Difficulty may require more time to complete certain tasks. 

Use the Blackboard Ally tool to help check the accessibility of the content you have prepared available within Moodle late July - early August 2020).

If time allows, ask a colleague to check the functionality/accessibility of features.

Ensure all relevant activities are added to the Student Study Plan for the module in question.

All online resources should be compatible with the UK Digital Accessibility Standards 2020. See Creating Digitally Accessible Learning and Teaching Materials Brookes Moodle course.


Roger Dalrymple and Andrea Macrae