Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Cyber Asynchronous versus Blended Cyber Approach in Distance English Learning

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Cyber Asynchronous versus Blended Cyber Approach in Distance English Learning

Article excerpt

Introduction

With the fast development of broadband Internet and computer technologies, online courses and thus cyber asynchronous learning have been employed more and more often for exchanging information between instructors and students, and between students and their peers (Hew et al., 2010). Cyber asynchronous learning allows students to have more freedom to conduct their learning process without the constraints of time and space. Meanwhile, the more traditional cyber synchronous learning through TV or satellite broadcasting or some other teaching systems is now gradually disappearing. At least, this is true in China, especially with Chinese adult e-learners (Ge, 2011). Cyber synchronous learning in China usually requires that students conduct their learning by attending real-time lectures through some sort of videoconference system. After all, most adult e-learners have regular jobs and may not meet the time requirements of cyber synchronous learning. Besides, more and more e-learning institutions have begun to encourage their students to utilize the cyber asynchronous learning environment instead of waiting for cyber synchronous instruction.

Cyber asynchronous learning supporters cry out the advantages of this learning approach. They point out that cyber asynchronous learning allows students to study through emails, blogs, etc., and students can make out their own schedule, without live interaction with the instructor (Kruse, 2004). Cyber asynchronous learning allows learners to determine whether or when to participate in course activities without considering whether other learners or the course instructor is present in the virtual learning system. So the obvious advantage of cyber asynchronous learning is convenience. As most adult e-learners are often busy with their jobs, this kind of convenience is really very precious for them. Besides, students often have to rely on themselves in a cyber asynchronous learning environment, for their teachers cannot always wait for them online. This actually can improve one's personal ability in learning (Robert & Dennis, 2005). Asynchronicity can also enhance educational assessment of students' learning processes. Cyber asynchronous teaching platforms normally can keep records of a student's online learning activities, including discussion threads and his or her interactions with peers and/or the instructor, which can be an important source of data for the assessment of the learner (Tanimoto et al., 2002; Shi et al., 2006; Hew et al., 2010). Moreover, these records can enable the student to review his or her learning activities at any time, and this kind of reviewing and reflection can help enhance the student's higher level learning, such as analysis and evaluation (Newman et al., 1997). On the other hand, cyber asynchronous learning does not necessarily mean that real-time interaction cannot happen. A good case in point is a threaded discussion, which is asynchronous in nature but also involves intensive interaction. Seeing these advantages, many e-learning institutions have begun to develop online learning courses, which are the most important part of a cyber asynchronous learning environment. In addition, online learning systems may also enable them to employ fewer faculties and thus cut their costs.

Meanwhile, some other scholars hold different opinions. They have shown great concern about the learning outcomes of cyber asynchronous learning. They are wondering whether learners can really follow the teaching plans set by their instructors. They think that the quality of instruction and the ability of students to master courses should be observed and assessed as new technologies are involved (DiPiro, 2003). The most troublesome problem in a cyber asynchronous learning environment is that students may have few chances or little desire to interact with their peers or teachers. Some scholars claim that limited student contribution is a persistent and widespread problem in cyber asynchronous discussion (Hewitt, 2005; Hew et al. …

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