Thursday, December 28, 2006

You just had to be there....

Sandra Dickenson, in her post What does an e-learning community look like, describes an experience where she and a group of online learners collaborate on an image modeling how learning works. The group used a combination of chat and the collaboration tool to create the image above.

I’ve shared this image with a few other people - they don’t even think its interesting, let alone feel the powerful emotions and insights expressed in this image. Now that its static and preserved - so much of what it really means is gone - and we can only get that back if/when we do it again. When we got done making this picture — I absolutely had to preserve it — I was on such a euphoric high over what we had just made together.

If Sandra showed this picture to one of the participants of the class, the picture will have meaning and context. Looking at it as an outsider, the picture looks like a colorful collection of scribbles.

This had me thinking about the difference between synchronous and asynchronous eLearning communities.

In a synchronous learning community, in many instances, the process is the point. As Sandra points out, a tremendous amount of learning occurs in the push-pull of conversation. The downside is that these communities, by their nature, are exclusive. The objects that the community leaves behind oftentimes make no sense to anyone outside that community. They are missing the context.

Asynchronous learning communities, such as the blogosphere, generate objects that are meant to be referred to in the future. These objects can be used by the members of the community or by outsiders. The disadvantage is that the community members miss the instantaneous feedback loop. At certain points in any creative or learning process, the push-pull of others ideas in a rapid-fire fashion is necessary for progress.

I will admit that I prefer asychronous eLearning over synchronous eLearning, both as a teacher and a student. I like being able to mull over content and think through responses. I have found in chats, interactive video, teleconferences, and classrooms that the loudest person / fastest typist wins. Synchronous learning, to me, rewards the least introspective. I've always felt that some level of introspection is necessary for me to absorb new material. Of course, I'm a bit of a navel-gazer by nature.

My opinion - the best eLearning experiences , and the strongest online communities, provide both asynchronous and synchronous experiences. Looking at the number of people on the eLearning blogs who are grappling with changes to the field, Brent's Corporate eLearning Talkcast could prove to be the perfect synchronous forum for strengthening the community and providing the synchronous push-pull that helps synthesize and make sense of these changes.


kevin McCluskey said...

I hear what you are saying but it kind of indicates that learning is always the same. synchronous learning is better because of context and teh give and take between participants. Others might say that Asynchronous learning is better because you have time to think over ideas before you react. Neither answer is complete because learning is more than either syschronous or Asynchronous methods. To me it depends on the situation. Some times one works better; other times not.


Rick Lillie said...

I enjoyed your comments. My research focuses on use of hybrid methods and technologies that include elements of both synchronouos and asynchronous methods.

If you would like to read some of my ideas about using hybrid methods to support distance teaching and learning, please click on the following link. It will take you to my Elgg blog.

I look forward to reading your comments.


Rick Lillie

Sandra Dickinson said...

The image of our learning process was created synchronously -- but our learning process that the image captured was not.

One characteristic of adult learning that this image makes clear to me is that MOST of the learning takes place "outside the box."

I believe that Web2.0 tools enable adults to learn together asynchronously with at least the same, if not more, of the dynamism that is possible in a synchronous setting. Partly because, in fact, we can interact both ways/either way -- sorta like being in two places at once, defying the laws of physics.

Petre Goode said...

Reflecting on my experience of formal learning in an online environment, both synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences have been essential to a complete learning process. A small piece of evidence for the capacity of asynchronous modes of communication to provide a 'better' learning environment is that I have been able to re-write the first sentence three times before coming to a decision that this sentence best reflects the intention of my meaning. While synchronous modes of communication, ie chat and a collaboration tool referred to by Sandra above, are situated within a context of time and place, for the learners involved I can see and hear that this was a transformational learning experience that embedded both technical and interpretive learning. I recognize the euphoric high Sandra describes!!

Christy Tucker said...

Your post has gotten me thinking about how we use the tools we have. I can definitely see where you are coming from, and I think you're right in some circumstances. However, both asynchronous and synchronous learning can be valuable experiences, and I think both kinds of tools can be used to create communities and conversations. I think it has more to do with how we use the tools than the tools themselves though.