Asynchronous Interaction


I mentioned yesterday that we’re getting design wrong for asynchronous learning. There are some core principles to be included in the way we need to think about design – the first of these is interaction.

Interaction covers a few relationships and each need to be addressed differently when we design for asynchronous learning support.

The first relationship we need to design for is interactivity with the material. This isn’t solely content; we need to avoid pushing ‘stuff’ and recognise that learning material is as much the output that others produce. The facilitator who wants to be a ‘sage on a stage’ can’t operate asynchronously without giving up ownership of the material.

We often hold the materials back in face to face and online sessions using the ‘slides will be sent out after’ message as a hook. When all the people can’t all be there all the time, that relationship with content changes. If I am operating at a different cadence and pace as other people, I’ll have a need to collect all the relevant materials for when I need them, not when you want to send them. That means making them available on a just in time, just enough, just for me basis. The skill of effective curation in this context is to know enough about the people you’re working with to signpost what, when and why particular content is useful. Similarly, the effective asynchronous facilitator will see how and where people are interacting and leaving records that will help others.

The second relationship that matters is how people doing the learning are interacting with each other. If people can’t be together in the same place at the same time, developing opportunities for serendipitous knowledge exchange is essential. The facilitator needs to relinquish control to make this happen. It’s not about creating appointments and meetings where people meet, but creating the environment where people will gather and trade. Not everyone learning through a programme will be keen to do this and that’s OK. The facilitator’s role is purely to craft the space for it to happen – not specifying how it happens. If you are facilitating make sure that people know what spaces are available, more importantly, build them where people are comfortable going. If that means a Yammer group, a SharePoint folder, or something more complex, it has to be on their terms. Even email can work.

The third relationship that matters, and arguably, the least important, is the relationship with the facilitator. The facilitator should be doing just that – facilitating. That doesn’t mean just instructing, training, directing, measuring, guiding, supporting, or leading. It means doing all of those and the experienced facilitator will know that they need to apply all those modes at different times. What the facilitator doesn’t have when working asynchronously is the feedback to work from what people are saying at any moment. And that can feel uncomfortable. The facilitator who is engaging with people on a just enough basis will have more success than the facilitator who sets expectations about what interaction they require. Rules of engagement should be agreed before the start and control of these handed over to the participants to flex and stretch as they need.

What are your thoughts – is interaction in asynchronous design more that just this?

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