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  • During the pandemic, two key words have cropped up when we discuss continuous learning opportunities, these are “synchronous” versus “asynchronous” learning, but what do they mean?

    Synchronous learning refers to a learning event in which a group of students are engaging in learning at the same time. Before learning technology allowed for synchronous learning environments, most online education took place through asynchronous learning methods.

    Asynchronous learning is the idea that students learn the same material at different times and locations. Asynchronous Learning is also called Location Independent Learning. It is the opposite to synchronous learning and has become more common as we have needed to adapt the way we offer learning opportunities during this pandemic when not all students are able to learn at the same time of day in the same way. 

    ACPS offers students multiple ways to learn at this time - both synchronous and asynchronous. It is critical that we offer both types of learning at this time so that we ensure all our students are able to fund ways to continue to engage and learn when school buildings are closed.

    Synchronous Learning

    Zoom classes with students - Most classes at the secondary level are continuing to take place in some way through Zoom classes online.

    Check out these examples of how ACPS provides synchronous learning at this time:

    Bi-weekly check-in Zoom sessions/lessons for Pre-K through elementary school students.

    This format allows to recreate a real-time classroom experience with students and teachers interacting live. This has the benefit of giving social and emotional support to students who miss seeing their teachers and class, and the teaching component at the same time.

    For Colleen McEnearney, a George Washington Middle School Algebra teacher, the opportunity to be present with her students both during class, and also through individual one on one “check-in” sessions, is important. In terms of technology, it provides more challenges and additional preparation time.

    In an interview with the Washington Post, McEnearney said, “I want it to work as smoothly as humanly possible although I know my Zoom is going to freeze at least once, and so are my students’ Zooms.”

    But the benefits of live time with her students, which allows her to keep that personal connection going, outweighs any hurdles for her. 

    The upside? This format is as close as we can get to providing a regular classroom environment.

    The downside? Not all students are able to make it to set class times so some may miss out.

    Asynchronous Learning

    At Douglas MacArthur Elementary School, teachers and administrators thought long and hard about the best approach to take with their students.  

    In the end, a team of staff including assistant principals Steven Geter and Becky Pittman, agreed on asynchronous learning as a starting point. For them, it was about equitable access and the knowledge that for their students, at least, not all were able to make set class times.

    Also, they felt that although students in grades three to five did use Chromebooks at school, they did not necessarily have the competence to use technology independently. Asynchronous learning meant students could sit down and learn at a time that worked for their family’s schedule. It also meant, content could be reviewed as many times as necessary to allow mastery.

    They believe building a foundation of asynchronous learning resources allows a base where they can layer synchronous learning in the future.

    Geter said,  “It's not that we are 100 percent one way or another, we want to blend the two. Right now we are at the foundational point of how do you build up the asynchronous portion so you can layer in the synchronous portion?  Whether that be reading groups, mini lessons etc.

    “But without the asynchronous portion we felt our students would be left spinning and  left in an inequitable fashion because not everyone can make 10 a.m. on Tuesday.”

    The upside? Can be viewed and reviewed at the student and their family’s convenience.

     The downside? Lack of social and emotional connection.