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Take-away strategies for asynchronous online learning

Reflections on asynchronous online learning (part 3)

By Aimee Kelly, Reed Garber-Pearson, Sara Vannini, UW Integrated Social Sciences

Most of the curriculum design should happen before the course begins

  • The curriculum needs to be designed very carefully, content will need to be clearly structured with overall course goals and weekly lesson objectives
  • Deadlines should follow a published and regular schedule
  • Written instructions need to be explicit
  • Instructions and content need to build on each other gradually
  • The design needs to still allow for a few issues (misunderstandings, technical glitches, etc.) to emerge, and students should not be penalized for them – develop a plan for how you will handle these scenarios
  • Review universal design principles and check out the UW-IT Accessible Technology website for guidance on developing an accessible course

Think about your lessons in terms of a flipped classroom environment

  • You can record lectures, but most of the time a few very short videos (max 10 minutes) are more effective and maximize on students’ attention span
  • Provide readings and other materials to support the lesson objectives
  • Use frequent discussion boards and assignments to check on students’ progress and understanding
  • Find ways to give regular and frequent feedback to students (e.g.: by creating weekly assignments), so they know they are on the right path or they’ll learn how to adjust. This is another good way to keep them on track and to let them feel your presence even if they don’t see you on zoom!

Design a space to foster social learning and community building

  • Give students an opportunity to introduce themselves at the start of the quarter
  • Use graded discussion boards where they have to post and reply to each other
  • Use peer reviews
  • Set up small group discussions
  • Encourage students to bring in examples/observations from “outside class” that engage with the course material

Work on your instructor presence

  • Communicate your preferred mode of communication from students as well as an expectation for your response time
  • Use regular announcements to repeat instructions, keep students on pace, respond to their questions
  • Connect class material to current events, etc.—this will also help students to stay on track
  • Think about how you will help your students get to know you when they can’t meet you in person

Collaborate with your program’s advisers, librarian, and other staff

  • What ways can they support students through your course model?
  • How can you build in your course experiences that remind students of life on campus

References that have guided our work

Conceição, Simone C. O, & Lehman, Rosemary M. (2013). Motivating and retaining online students (1st ed., Jossey-Bass guides to online teaching and learning). New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.

Palloff, R., & Pratt, Keith. (2007). Building online learning communities : Effective strategies for the virtual classroom (Second ed., The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Quality Matters. (n.d.). Rubrics and Standards. Retrieved August 10, 2020, from

Looking for more information about asynchronous course design?

See the other posts in this series:

About the authors

Aimee Kelly is the Assistant Director of Academic Services for Integrated Social Sciences. In addition to direct student support she is engaged in improving the online educational environment through curricular design and program development. Prior to working with ISS she designed and taught face to face, hybrid, and fully online versions of Geography courses for the Virginia Community College System.

Reed Garber-Pearson is the Integrated Social Sciences & Online Learning Librarian at the University of Washington. They work in instructional design, online program development, and student support. Before becoming a librarian Reed was also an online student.

Sara Vannini is a former Lecturer at the University of Washington Department of Communications and former instructor at the Integrated Social Sciences program. She has been teaching core as well as thematic classes for the program from Autumn 2016 to Spring 2020. Sara is now a Lecturer at the University of Sheffield (UK).