Asynchronous learning is education offered in a format not limited by location or time; students and instructors can engage anywhere and at any time they find convenient. This approach to education has its origins in the 19th century, when correspondence learning courses first began to be offered. With the development of personal computers and the Internet, this method developed by leaps and bounds in recent years and became extremely popular in many regions of the world. A number of colleges and universities offer a mix of conventional and asynchronous learning options and some schools are entirely online or correspondence-based.
In asynchronous learning, students can complete material at their own pace. They are provided with texts and activities and submit their coursework to the teacher for evaluation. Internet courses also allow students to interact with each other on bulletin boards and other communication media and in some classes, collaboration with classmates is required. Students can even use tools like remote meetings using chat programs to allow them to interact in real time.
There are a number of benefits to asynchronous learning including increased access to education for people in remote areas, as well as working people who cannot commit to regular classroom time. This option also provides access to highly qualified instructors all over the world; a high school student who wants to take classes not offered at her high school, for instance, can take a distance course with another instructor.
Drawbacks to asynchronous learning include the loss of community and limited social interaction for students. Some people feel these are an important part of education and have encouraged the use of mandatory student interactions like collaborative projects to provide students with more of a sense of connection. For learners in isolated areas where there are not many opportunities for enrichment and socialization in their communities, asynchronous learning can increase the sense of isolation, unless those students engage in interactions with their classmates.
Blended classes, where students are expected to come to class, as well as engaging in asynchronous learning activities out of class, are an option offered in some areas. These classes may meet less frequently than regular classes to provide students with more flexibility. This approach is intended to foster community by getting students on campus and into environments where they see each other face to face, while also allowing people to take advantage of distance learning opportunities that may make it easier for them to complete courses.