Documentation:Introduction to Online Teaching/Tools of Online Learning

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Tools of Online Learning

Synchronous and Asynchronous Tools

Many different technologies (sometimes called ‘educational technologies’ or ‘learning technologies’) are used to support online learning. These tools can be divided into two groups, synchronous and asynchronous.

Synchronous tools allow live interaction - learners exchange ideas and information with other participants simutaneously, such as a ‘live’ online chat session or a web-conferenced meeting.

Examples of current synchronous communication tools include:

  • Windows Messenger [1] (also known as MSN) is an instant messaging client created by Microsoft
  • iChat is an instant messaging client created by Apple
  • Skype is software that allows users to make telephone calls over the Internet, other features include instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing.
  • Microsoft NetMeeting is a videoconferencing client included in many versions of Microsoft Windows
  • WebCT Vista Chat Tool
  • Connect
  • Wimba Classroom or Live Classroom at UBC
  • uStream TV is a website made up of a network of diverse channels that provide a platform for lifecasting and live video streaming of events online

These tools simulate group discussions but some limitations are that ‘text chat’ sessions can be difficult to follow, equipment to support high quality video or web-conferencing is extremely expensive, finding a good time to ‘meet’ can be a challenge due to multiple time zones, and synchronous learning activities reduce flexibility of access for busy learners.

Asynchronous tools allow participants with very different schedules, and in different time zones, to work together online, at their own pace.

Examples of current asynchronous communication tools include:

By ‘slowing down’ communications, asynchronous tools level the playing field for learners working in a second language. Many studies have also reported that learners who are typically reserved or shy in face-to-face classrooms feel motivated and encourage to participate in asynchronous discussion forums – asynchronous forums reduce the likelihood that conversation will be dominated by only the ‘loudest voices’.

Importantly, by giving participants time to reflect on each others writing, and to carefully draft and edit their own replies, asynchronous technologies powerfully support the kind of collaborative critical reflection that motivates participation and promotes meaningful learning and transformation of perspective.