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Asynchronous E-learning – Context and Culture


Context and Culture in e-learning

There are a number of advantages of asynchronous learning over classroom or
live online sessions and they include:

  • PARTICIPATION - Opportunity for equal levels of involvement by all learners.

  • REFLECTION AND THOUGHT- Ability to reflect on information from others, on
    own responses, and the subject matter itself, with the ability to research
    areas of interest more deeply.

  • LEARNER DRIVEN - Ability to work in own time, at own pace and to focus on
    areas of own interest, with reasonable control over own path through the material.

  • ACTIVITY - Mostly facilitated discussions rather than passive taught sessions,
    to encourage more active contribution by the participants. Usually high level
    of exercises and debate.

  • RESOURCES - Greater access to resources not usually available in classroom
    situation (Web sites, online library services, sources generated by fellow
    learners), and not just those created by the instructor

  • REVIEW - Documented record of the contributions by all participants, usually
    retrievable for a long period after the initial contribution.

We recently had a useful chance to take part in an experiment, albeit an unplanned
one. Over the course of 4 months the same Senior Management Development programme
was launched using the same subject matter experts/facilitators and the same
underlying tools and environment (our e-Community* asynchronous learning environment)
in two different companies. There was only one major variable - the company

In the first instance the learners were reluctant to own and manage their learning;
they came from a culture which was financially sound and had been for a long
time, not a services-driven organisation, and where knowledge sharing was not
encouraged. They wanted to be taught, and they wanted the wisdom to come solely
from the facilitators. They did not want to be active in using the environment
or in initiating debates. One or two participants were enthusiastic, but the
majority took a few months to adjust to the new e-learning environment and to
participate fully.

The second company couldn't have been a greater contrast. The learners became
active before the programme even started, asking for any work they could do
in advance. Discussions were varied, more profound and involved more of the
group. Assignment work was generally completed on time and the learners contributed
to the development of the programme as it went along. There was very little
hand-holding or coaching on self-directed learning, even though they started
with as little experience as the first group. The company is a modern services-driven,
customer-orientated organisation, with employees who embrace change.

In the many years we have been working with e-learning, we have espoused the
wisdom of CONTEXT in the design and facilitation of asynchronous learning solutions.
The high level objectives and subject matter may be the same, but the background,
culture and motivation of the learners plays a major part in the success of
a programme and in the speed at which they move up the learning curve of this
new mode of learning. It was useful to have an opportunity to verify this recommendation
in a 'controlled scientific' situation.

The approach to the first organisation has changed. There is more emphasis
on teaching at the beginning, there are more strict deadlines with greater public
visibility of non-participation. The transition to full self-directed learning
has been made slower. And it is working!


*e-Community is a learning environment for communities of learners who are
participating in a programme together that may last from a week to several months
or years. It includes threaded discussion area, a work area for private notes
and key information as well as group assignments, a library of resources, a
calendar and programme of events, announcements and profiles and biographies
of all the participants. It can be linked to live synchronous learning events
and be part of a blended programme involving classroom work.


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