Asynchronous Learning: Organization, Time Management, Distraction Management, and Wellness Without Live Instruction

Last week, I received an email from a parent who described what so many families are experiencing right now: it is tough for her son to stay motivated in an asynchronous learning environment. After all, it is challenging to stay focused and on task when everything is online – as one student shared, “in class, you just have your phone to distract you – but there are other people around.” For some students, it is startling to realize how motivating peer interaction and teacher support can be on a day-to-day basis.


Schools across the country have shifted to remote learning over the past month and are using synchronous or asynchronous systems of remote learning (and sometimes a combination of both). Synchronous learning usually requires students to tune into live-streamed lessons, complete time-sensitive attendance questions, and view class content at the same times that class would normally be offered in-person. 


By contrast, asynchronous learning is more flexible. Many public schools use an asynchronous model to promote equity and accessibility – after all, families right now have so many different things going on. With asynchronous learning, students generally have assignments posted on their school’s learning management platform at the beginning of the week. Those assignments are usually due by the end of the week. Students are, for the most part, left up to their own devices to complete the work. 


Even with the best of intentions, asynchronous learning = massive procrastination. It’s hard to manage assignments when there is no obvious structure or pressure to organize time.


We’ve spent the last two decades working with students on organization and time-management, and asynchronous learning easily amplifies normal organizational challenges. We’ve compiled a list of best practices for asynchronous learning


1 – Communication Comes First

Being able to see teachers regularly in person usually means they are able to provide more reminders and detailed instruction about assignments. With remote learning, teachers are doing the best they can to provide online announcements about due dates and expectations. Even so, students can struggle to stay up-to-date on teacher communications, especially if they’re gathering information from different online portals and websites. 


TIP: Students who spend an hour at the beginning of the week and 15-30 minutes every morning simply checking emails, class announcements, and all online portals before starting work for the day can end up being more productive. Getting a clear sense of responsibilities and prioritizing accordingly makes a big difference. 


2 – Create Your Own Structure

Creating routine and flexibility is key to feeling in control and productive with asynchronous learning systems. At Green Ivy, we encourage students to do a daily brain dump of all tasks on their mind (personal, extracurricular and academic) and use a paper planner. A sample schedule that works for many of our students: one morning work block from 10am-12pm, an hour break for lunch, and then follow up with an early afternoon work block from 1-3pm. That way, students can save time in the afternoon (after 3 pm) and evening for creative pursuits, movement, and rest.


Remember: an asynchronous learning model general gives elementary students 1-2 hours of work per day, and middle school and high school students 3-4 hours of work per day. There are variations, but generally, high school students who do their work in a distraction free environment can easily get their work done between 10 am – 3 pm each day.


Note: paper planners tend to be more effective than digital substitutes. In the work-from-home context, paper planners have the added benefit of giving our eyes a much-needed break from screens!


3 – Take Breaks

It’s hard to stay focused at home. In order to decrease stress and boost productivity, students can try using the Pomodoro technique: 25 minutes of work (using web blockers and moving your phone to another room helps) followed by a 5-minute break. Breaks are a great time to stretch, grab a snack, refill on water, etc. 


Tip: BEWARE OF PHONES AND NOTIFICATIONS! What was originally meant to be a quick text or news notification check can suddenly morph into a 30-minute YouTube binge. During 5-minute breaks, avoid tech-related distractions.


4 – Focus on Content

Overall workload is usually reduced considerably with asynchronous systems (not always, though!). The most important thing is to make sure concepts are understood. If students finish their assignments early, the remainder of work blocks should be used to review challenging content on their own by consulting textbooks, watching online tutorials, and doing practice problems. We recommend this habit to all middle- and high-schoolers, especially those high schools students preparing for AP tests in May!


5 – Movement and Rest

Asynchronous learning allows more flexibility to prioritize physical and mental health throughout the day. We recommend moving before starting the work block if possible, and taking a quick walk during the lunch break before sitting down for the afternoon. In moments of restlessness or distraction, exercise can be energizing. Keeping a regular sleep schedule (i.e. reliable in-bed and wake-up times) will stimulate creativity and productivity throughout the day. 


What strategies is your family using to stay active and focused? We’d love to hear what works best for you!


Look for our post on synchronous learning if your school implements live lessons and classwork assignments!