Online Learning in Real Time

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Chatting to her folks

Over the last decade or so, most online learning has been “asynchronous” by design. That is, students and facilitators may participate at different times.

If you’ve ever taken an online course, you know the routine. The instructor posts some notes on that week’s reading assignment, or uploads a video for you to watch. Then students log in at their leisure, post comments on a discussion board, and respond to each other’s posts. Depending on when you log in, you might reply to a comment that was posted several days ago. Online students can participate any time, day or night, according to their own schedule.

Online courses were designed this way for a very good reason. For many working adults, this open-ended format allows them to fit school into their busy schedule.

Other students prefer a more direct experience with real-time interaction. Now schools are experimenting with online environments where students can see their professor live on camera and ask questions as they come up. For example, Yale University recently partnered with Watchitoo, a company that provides a multi-streaming video platform for universities and corporations.

According to Rich Collins, Yale’s Summer Session Online Learning Program Manager, Watchitoo is “really like an enhanced Skype session, but the platform itself is designed for a classroom experience.”

In these online courses, the instructor can display diagrams on a virtual whiteboard in the center of the screen for students to see. And much like a Google hangout, you can see your fellow students’ faces below the display. Enrollment is limited to 20 students to make these headshots manageable. You can visit Watchitoo’s webpage to see how it works.

What about you? When it comes to taking classes, do you like the flexibility of coming and going as you please? Or do you prefer to talk with your instructor and classmates in real time?

Written by: Michael Mussman
Michael Mussman is Editor of Forward Thinking, the Ashford University blog.

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