Learning Activities for Asynchronous Online Classes

Learning Activities for Asynchronous Online Classes

Asynchronous online classes offer students more flexibility and reduce access challenges, although large files such as streaming video can still present internet bandwidth challenges. You can help students succeed in asynchronous courses through careful course design, including building a community of inquiry that includes cognitive presence, instructor presence, and social presence.

Since building a community of inquiry is important to student success in asynchronous courses, these courses can especially benefit from a constructivist approach, which focuses on students constructing their understanding of content together. For more information on the constructive approach you can also see Assignment Templates and Examples from The Complete Step-by-Step Guide to Designing and Teaching Online Courses and Cornell University’s Group Work: How to Create & Manage Groups.

Asynchronous active learning can take many forms, including:

Course content can come from different sources and be delivered in different formats. You can locate relevant content created by others from a variety of sources, including the River Campus Libraries.

Open pedagogy can be particularly useful in online education and encompasses not just open education resources (OER: freely available content), but also other aspects of openness such as collaborative construction of materials as part of a course. Open pedagogy is supported by outreach librarians such as Kim Hoffman, who has co-edited an OER book on open pedagogy.

STEM instructors can consult this Online Resources for Science Laboratories developed by the POD Network.

Discussion Boards

Discussion boards are a central learning activity in many asynchronous courses, and they can allow students to interact using a variety of media, including text, images, audio, and video. Discussion board software options have different strengths, and the University of Rochester provides access to a range of choices.

When setting up a discussion board, you will need to make a number of choices about how to structure and manage student interactions. The following resources address key areas:

“Creating and Managing Discussion Posts” in The Online Teaching Survival Guide: Simple and Practical Pedagogical Tips by Judith V. Boettcher and Rita-Marie Conrad: This primer on discussion board basics is especially helpful in explaining how to write good questions, but covers everything from post timing and duration of each board to ways to wrap up online discussions.

Breaking the Humdrum of "Post Once and Reply to Two Others" by Lisa Kidder and Mark Cooper, Idaho State University: This presentation and accompanying handout reviews a wide range of types of discussion board activities, including case studies, debates, and challenge questions.

“Developing Cognitive, Social, and Teaching Presence Online” in Tina Stavredes, Effective Online Teaching: Foundations and Strategies for Student Success: Constructed specifically around the community of inquiry framework, these four short chapters are full of options, practical tips, and structured aids such as rubrics. In particular, the chapter on instructor presence offers an overview of productive ways for instructors to engage in discussion boards such as weaving, implications, inferences, and summaries.

Meaningful Online Learning: Integrating Strategies, Activities, and Learning Technologies for Effective Designs by Nada Dabbagh, Rose M. Marra, and Jane L. Howland: Using a lens of meaningful learning, this book offers online learning activities categorized by supportive, dialogic, and exploratory options.


Another way to deliver course content is to create videos. Best practices suggest that these should be short (less than six minutes) to increase student engagement and reduce cognitive load, so consider chunking your lecture material accordingly. To get started, try consulting the following:

Record Effective Microlectures from the Online Teaching Tookit by the Association of College and University Educators: This two-and-a-half minute micro-lecture by Michael Wesch explains micro-lectures, and Wesch has a YouTube channel with additional content.

Screencasting 101 by Kristin Palmer, University of Virginia: Learn about the basics of screencasting, which combines instructor audio with screen content from a computer.

Effective educational videos by Vanderbilt University: This longer webpage goes through the research to make evidence-based suggestions about how to use videos to teach and has several convenient summary graphics.

Education Technology Tools

Asynchronous learning activities can benefit from a seemingly endless array of tools. When selecting your tools, consider carefully how many tools you are introducing. While students will likely use common tools such as Blackboard, Zoom, and Panopto in many of their courses, student time investments will get increasingly steep if each of their instructors introduces a large number of additional tools. Also consider whether a particular tool has been vetted by the University of Rochester for security and privacy issues, particularly if the tool requires students to set up an account. AS&E Instructional Technology maintains a list of vetted tools.

Each time you use a new tool in a course, you will need to teach students how to use it. An easy way to do that is to embed a link to a video tutorial at the location where the student is expected to use the tool. Many software providers offer these video tutorials on their website or YouTube channel. Offer students a low-stakes introduction to any tool that will be used for a graded assessment later in the course.

To locate tools that will work for you and tutorials on their use, consult the following resources:

If you have questions about how to select and use software (tools), contact AS&E Instructional Technology. If you have questions about how to teach (pedagogy), contact the Teaching Center.