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Balancing online and live with offline and asynchronous learning

Students will not always have access to live and online sessions but we can balance these activities with offline and asynchronous activities.
a student working on both a laptop and paper
© FutureLearn

Think about your learning on FutureLearn – it’s asynchronous and flexible. You fit it around your life and your schedule.

Synchronous and asynchronous

The challenge of engaging and supporting students for synchronous sessions starts with connectivity but becomes quite personal. Not all students can get online freely. International time zones make this especially difficult. Beyond inconvenience, live events can be less accessible due to the lack of transcripts or subtitles. Technological issues arise such as limited bandwidth or reduced connectivity which exclude people and make learning very challenging.

Online and offline

We are recommending you think carefully about how much you’re asking students to be online. Being always connected to the internet is demanding and unreliable, not just for live sessions. Offline can also be asynchronous which this gives the highest level of flexibility for students. Offline allows students to study at their own pace. However, it also requires study skills, personal discipline and a clear structure to follow.

Student support and making demands

You should be mindful of asking student to attend many live sessions. It will increase the amount of support they’ll need if they experience issues. If they can’t connect, they may fall behind and if being online and live is your way of getting progress updates, you may not know of students who are struggling the most.

Finding the right balance for everyone

You only have so many hours with your students each week – use them wisely.

For example with 20 hours (yours will vary) we recommend 1 or 2 hours for live / synchronous online sessions and to avoid scheduling single live sessions with a long duration.

Diana Laurillard, UCL: “It is tough on all concerned to do much more than 1 hour of synchronous interaction online.”
The remaining should be planned as asynchronous and offline activities.

Your task (10 mins)

Consider the key learning activities from your existing lesson plan / course schedule and review how they’ll be delivered. Consider synchronous activities with all your students online at the same time a scarce resource.
We’ve made a worksheet to help and attached it to the Downloads and See Also section. You can get a Google Docs, pdf or docx version.
Use them to list a summary of your planned teaching activities in the grid and then add a checkmark to the columns – like the example below. This will help you visualise the overall balance between synchronous & asynchronous, online & offline.
Example output from the task:
Activity Online Offline Live / synchronous Non-live / asynchronous
Core project    
Discussion forum    
Study breaks    
Later in the week we’ll come back to this with how to reshape or plan new activities that can help to reduce the demands on your students (and you) to be always online and always trying to connect to live events.
Martin Weller, Open University: “In the short term, go with simple, robust technology that people are familiar with, if possible. Remember that what works face to face may not work, or may take longer online.”


What’s the most valuable activity for you to do online and synchronous with your students? And which of these can you make less demanding on being a live, online event?

Share with others, learn from the changes they are making and see how it impacts your plan for ensuring student support and success.

© FutureLearn
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