Learning in an online environment has for me thus far been both a positive and negative experience. One benefit has been the flexibility in scheduling my learning around personal and professional commitments. This level of convenience has been described as “…the obvious advantage of asynchronous learning.” (Ge, 2012). Hrastinski, (as cited in Murphy et al, 2011, p. 585) discusses how asynchronous interactions promote more complex and reflective cognitive practices than synchronous interactions. As challenging as I sometimes find the required posting assignments in my predominantly asynchronous learning environment, I would tend to agree with these findings. My thinking would likely not be as in-depth if I were participating in a face-to-face setting that is more constrained by time.
As Ge (2012) noted, asynchronous learning environments have been found to involve less opportunity or interest for interactions, and can result in feelings of isolation for students. While my courses have required significant text-based interactions, I have certainly experienced such feelings of disengagement and isolation. The opportunity to meet many of my classmates previously in a face-to-face setting certainly helped, but for me there is still an element of camaraderie missing from this environment.
Regardless of my opinions toward online learning, I believe that these methods of delivering instruction will only continue to expand. One of the recommendations outlined in the Alberta Government’s Inspiring Education discussion paper was “Personalized learning with flexible timing and pacing through a range of learning environments”. (p.14). This most certainly speaks to the nature of online learning environments. Whether an asynchronous, synchronous or blended approach is used, I agree with Murphy et al (2011), who stress that teachers working in online settings need to be well grounded in pedagogy that promotes interaction. Learning environments must be structured so that “.. students contribute to diverse learning communities in which the social component of learning and the development and sharing of knowledge is central to their educational experience.” (Government of Alberta, 2010, p. 14)