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Developing Asynchronous Remote Learning Tasks

Over the past couple of months, I have written extensively on the topic of remote learning. As I continually work with more and more districts and schools on an ongoing basis, ideas keep percolating in my mind as to the pedagogically-sound strategies that educators can use now.  Modeling on my part and active application on their end, make these learning experiences that much richer.  Many readers have noticed that many of the strategies I have shared are also effective for face-to-face learning.  The significant shifts in adapting to remote learning involve how time is used, providing flexible pathways, ensuring there is regular feedback and the purposeful use of digital tools when appropriate.

In my last post, I focused on engagement in synchronous lessons. If kids aren't engaged during the instructional component, then it is quite difficult to empower them later on, regardless of whether they are offline or online.  Technology plays a huge role, which is why all efforts need to be made to eliminate the digital divide. The key, however, is balance.  To create empowering opportunities for all kids that involve more ownership over their learning requires us to think beyond synchronous learning that is just online.

Asynchronous learning provides much-needed flexibility that better meets the needs of both students and teachers by relinquishing the familiar rigidity of school. It also supports both independent and collaborative work when structured the right way while supporting critical competencies such as self-management, creativity, inquiry, and teamwork. There can also be a mix and match of both digital and non-digital activities that allow students to actively apply what has been learned in relevant and meaningful ways.  It is here where learner empowerment can be emphasized. To get started, consider these tips:

  • Determine how content will be disseminated (synchronous or asynchronous).
  • Map out activities in alignment with priority standards
  • Establish learning targets
  • Determine how much time students will have to complete the tasks
  • Consider developing scaffolded formative assessments for students to complete after a series of asynchronous activities as a form of closure and to check for understanding.
  • Provide a few assessment options and allow students to select which one is graded.
Below are some of the most practical strategies to develop asynchronous tasks. Keep in mind that some rely on technology, while others don't. 

Self-Paced Activities

The sky is the limit here, which is why I am addressing this strategy first.  It could include independent reading with reflective questions, scaffolded question sets, inquiry or problem-based performance tasks, or virtual pathways.  In the case of the latter, check out this PreK – 12 curricula from Khan Academy.  Another great resource to incorporate self-paced activities is CK-12.  Be sure to click on the "explore" tab on the top toolbar and check out the adaptive practice, simulations, and interactive games that can all be done in a self-paced format.

Choice Boards

Giving kids a choice as to the activities they engage in is a great way to empower them to learn while providing greater ownership.  Choice boards represent a solid blended learning strategy where tasks can be scaffolded, differentiated, and contain a mix of digital and non-digital options.  To get started, view examples, or take what you have already created to the next level by checking out this post. One of my favorite examples I saw during a coaching visit to Wells Elementary School was a Tic-Tac-Toe board that included formative assessment, purposeful use of technology, and differentiation, which you can read about in detail HERE. Choice might be one of the most uncomplicated components to integrate daily. If creating a board is not your thing, simply start with "must do" and "may do" activities.  


Sometimes flexibility can be as simple as letting kids pick the order of the tasks during asynchronous learning.  Unlike choice boards, all of the activities in a playlist or menu are completed by a student at their own pace.  For more details on this blended learning approach, give this post a read. The majority focus on individual work, but there is always an opportunity to include some collaborative tasks using digital tools where kids would be empowered to reach out to peers.  

Adaptive Technologies

Nothing replaces sound instructional design and pedagogy. However, these powerful tools can help close achievement gaps and limit learning loss as part of a teacher's asynchronous arsenal of strategies and supports.  In a nutshell, adaptive technologies use computer algorithms to orchestrate interaction with the learner and deliver customized resources and learning activities to address each learner's unique needs. Some solid options free options can be found using this link while paid solutions can be located HERE.

Flipped Lessons

If there was ever a time to try to develop a flipped lesson, it's now.  This strategy is not new by any means and can easily be adapted to a remote word. Be sure to check out how one of my former teachers implemented this approach. Teachers can record their direct instruction component of the lesson in short clips, typically 10 or 15 minutes. Concepts can be explained using mini whiteboards, slide decks, or digital tools like Educreations. These can then be uploaded to your learning management system (LMS), such as Google Classroom, Schoology, or Canvas.  If you don't use one of these, no worries - the videos can be added to a class Google Site.  After watching the video at a preferred pace, students would then complete a series of asynchronous activities to construct new knowledge and apply what was learned from the content presented.

A major benefit of asynchronous learning activities are their inherent flexibility, which can be a benefit to students, educators, and parents alike. Tasks and assignments can be completed over a specific time period using strategies addressed in this post as well as more traditional options such as research papers or projects. They can also free up the teacher to work with those learners who need targeted instruction or extra help.

Finally, while we’ve now had months to absorb and adjust to this new reality, it’s a natural reaction to feel hampered by the absence of traditional in-person instruction. On the other hand, now is the time to embrace the upside of this moment, let go of some of the old baggage and self-imposed limitations around what we think school really is, and expand our idea of what teaching and learning can be. Creative, asynchronous learning opportunities are a vital way to keep remote learning dynamic, impactful, and even more equitable.

Be sure to check out my entire #remotelearning series.