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Asynchronous Learning in English classes in a remote area of Saudi Arabia by Mahir Gazdar

Page history last edited by Mahir Gazdar 10 years, 2 months ago

Advantages and disadvantages of asynchronous Learning in English classes in a remote area of Saudi Arabia




This first part of the assignment will be a literature review of asynchronous learning in English classes in a remote area of Saudi Arabia by examining some of the advantages and disadvantages of asynchronous learning technologies.




I teach English at the Northern Borders University (NBU) in Rafha, Saudi Arabia. Technology and resources are limited as classes have no computers, no Wi-Fi, no projectors, no Interactive Whiteboards and limited computer lab facilities. Sometimes there are also power cuts due to flooding or sandstorms. This might seem strange in an oil rich country but the country is mostly desert with some successfully built up cities. However, Rafha is in a remote area outside Iraq so has been somewhat neglected.


Difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning


According to the website, E-Learners (2012), synchronous learning requires teachers and students to be present online at the same time while asynchronous learning does not require this. Examples of asynchronous learning technologies are virtual libraries, e-mail, discussion boards, social networking, wikis, e-portfolios and DVD /CD-ROMs. I will be focusing on social networking, wikis and Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs).


Social networking


Griffin and Liyanage (2008) explain that social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace allow users to build profiles, connect with other users and view their connections. They explain that social networking allows students to fulfil their social needs and that many students prefer to interact through such sites rather than face to face. Roblyn et al. (2010) mention that many people feel that the Internet improves their social life and is substituting real socialising, with e-mail use being reduced. Social networking is becoming popular where I am, but not substituting real socialising, perhaps partly due to Internet connection problems.


Geerson (2006) explains that Vygotsky suggested children learn by social interaction, learning is regulated by others such as teachers, teaching is most successful when children take control and when they are extended beyond their reach, which he calls the “Zone of Proximal Development” (ZPD). Based on this, social networking is useful because it allows students to interact and learn from each other. Both synchronous and asynchronous learning are useful. Synchronous learning might be more useful as it allows students to be online at the same time but it is difficult where I am as students might not always have Internet access, creating a greater need for asynchronous learning. Students could have access to the social networking sites outside class, practising the language with each other and extending into the ZPD, but continue with interaction in class.


Griffin and Liyanage (2008) explain that social networking in teaching is useful for announcing events, reducing costs and that teachers can use blogs to engage students by allowing them to participate. Duffy and Bruns (2006) explain that blogs are websites with information published on the Internet in reverse chronological order and allow interactivity between students and between students and teachers. They explain that blogs are useful as they allow new pages to be created easily, filtering content and allowing the administrator to invite authors to write in their own personal space. Blogs are like learning communities and allow students to prepare their own electronic portfolios of assignments. Based on this, social networking is useful for students (especially the blog feature), which is easy to use and allows them to communicate with each other outside class when they have Internet access.


Griffin and Liyanage (2008) explain that social networking allows teachers to understand student culture and establish connections with them by viewing their profiles and groups. Cole and Wertsch (2005) explain that Vygotsky suggests culture plays a role in learning. According to this, social networking is useful for teachers as it relates to Vygotsky’s social learning theory. However, where I am teaching, students would need to interact more face to face as Internet access is limited.


Griffin and Liyanage (2008) describe the mentoring theory by Schwartz (2009), which explains that growth in relationships occurs when people are able to take action, have more knowledge of themselves and others and are interested in making more connections. Therefore, as students make more connections with other students, this will help their learning.


Griffin and Liyanage (2008) explain that social networking can improve writing and fluency by deleting incorrect grammar posts. However, this contradicts Miyazoe and Anderson (2009) who explain that there is not much improvement in students’ writing but many perceive that forums improve writing. They continue to explain that blogs show little progress in writing and are used to give e-feedback. Therefore, perhaps social networking can be useful for improving writing providing that students’ work can be focused on specific tasks and their progress is monitored.


Roblyn et al. (2010) explain that other technologies can complement what is taught in normal classrooms, such as instant messaging, wikis, discussion boards, and other Web 2.0 facilities. They explain personalised messages motivate students, but students need to reflect when replying. Therefore, perhaps it would be more effective if various online learning tools were used together rather than one. These are web technologies, which is difficult to implement where I am as there is limited Internet access.


Griffin and Liyanage (2008) explain that social networking has issues with security, privacy, inappropriate content and cyber bullying and that privacy and trust are important in Facebook and MySpace. Therefore, it is important to make students aware of such dangers, perhaps by planning a lesson on e-safety.


Roblyn et al. (2010) explains most people use social networking for social purposes such as contacting friends, that it has limited use for study and that people are moving on to other technologies such as Twitter. Based on this, it is useful to find out which social network most students use and utilise these accordingly, guiding students on how to use the websites when Internet access is available, perhaps by setting up a student on Facebook.




Arreguin (2004) explains that a wiki is a group of web pages that allow users to add content, similar to a discussion forum or blog, but also allows others to edit content. She explains that wikis can be setup easily by users based on different topics and regular comments can be made based on busy schedules. Wikis can be edited easily by other users and open to collaboration, allowing information to be changed by the community. Browsing history can also be tracked. Duffy and Bruns (2006) explain that students can use wikis to develop research projects, building collaborative, annotated bibliographies. Wikis can be used to share information such as hand outs, which students can edit and comment on. These resources can be searched and navigated through easily. Wikis can allow groups of users to author documents, allowing them to evaluate courses. Therefore, perhaps wikis are useful as they allow learners to learn by interacting with each other, similar to how Vygotsky described earlier.


Forte and Bruckman (2007) explain that wikis follow a constructivist approach and that separating educational experiences from real-world communities of practice not only damages learning, but also reduces learners’ potential to contribute work. They continue to explain that constructionism is a way of learning about the world by producing resources. Papert (1991) explains that constructionism is a way of thinking about education including choice so learners choose what they want to do and learn through construction activities. Duffy and Bruns (2006) explain that wikis have created improvements in students’ writing skills, sharing of ideas, critical feedback, confidence and created greater motivation. Therefore, perhaps wikis are useful as they can allow students to work collaboratively and improve their writing skills. This is difficult where I am as Internet access is not always available.


Duffy and Bruns (2006) explain that wikis allow students to reflect on their work, produce collaborative text and many students can use wikis outside class, creating educational materials. Therefore, wikis are being adapted into Teacher Training. However, Forte and Bruckman (2007) explain that many people are sceptical about constructivism and students taking control of learning. Based on this, perhaps it is useful to try and integrate wikis into education and make teachers aware of wikis so that they can find ways to implement them into their lessons.


Duffy and Bruns (2006) describe a study of Japanese students’ views of blended learning, which used various types of technologies. According to the study, the students enjoyed using the technology, feeling it created a supportive learning environment within the course and that they found wikis to be most useful, than blogs and finally forums. According to this, wikis are very useful to learning but it is useful to use them with other technologies.


Duffy and Bruns (2006) explain that wikis do not lock pages, so some of the pages might be accidentally deleted. Forte and Bruckman (2007) mention that wikis could have edit conflicts and difficulty editing documents. They explain that as wikis are being used to create collaborative work, there is a lack of privacy with students not having their own space to work and it is hard to determine individual efforts, working with group mates and that late arriving students had less instructions. Therefore, it is useful to monitor students to ensure everyone fully participates.




Heaton-Shethra et al. (2005) explain that VLEs are web based software that have Internet tools to manage teaching materials, synchronous and asynchronous communication and e-mail services. VLEs also allow staff to see how much learning has impacted on students. Jenkins et al. (2001) and Laurillard (2002) explain VLEs can be effective for diverse undergraduate students and McConnel (2000) explains they can allow students to work collaboratively on projects, having peer directed learning activities (Biggs, 1999). Heaton-Shethra et al. (2005) explain VLEs are being used in on-campus universities to support teaching, learning and administration. Likewise, Bri et al. (2009) explain that VLEs are used by universities around the world and that every day new applications are added, the most popular VLE being Moodle. Therefore, perhaps it is useful to implement VLEs where I am.


Koskela et al. (2005) explain that some VLE users are more successful than traditional learners and VLEs are more effective than traditional learning. Walker & Harrington (2004) explain VLEs are a flexible way of teaching and learners do not need to follow a timetable, unlike traditional lessons that they cannot miss. According to Clarke (2001) VLEs can be used at the most convenient moment. Koskela et al. (2005) explains that students can control the pace of study and skip areas they know, returning to areas where they are not comfortable, which they cannot do in normal lectures. Students can ask questions without feeling embarrassed and others do not know what they are doing. Therefore, VLEs are useful for students who do not have regular Internet access and live far away so cannot attend university easily (also because of flooding or sandstorms), which is the case with my students.


Heaton-Shethra et al. (2005) explain that staff liked the ease of access but did not like collaborative work on them, the impact of VLEs on learning outcomes are limited, there is limited assessment of the impact of VLEs and they do not provide deep learning. They explain that VLEs can create difficulties in giving feedback and there are now greater expectations of teachers because of the change of interaction. Because of these difficulties, perhaps it is useful to use VLEs with other technologies and give feedback directly to students if possible.


Lee et al. (2002) found that positive attitudes to using computers were essential for success. Likewise, Koskela et al. (2005) explain that IT skills are needed to use the VLE technologies. Bri et al. (2009) explain that many lecturers do not have much knowledge of different technologies so many tools are not used. Heaton-Shethra et al. (2005) also mention some staff are sceptical of technology. While this is important, not all students have IT skills, such as where I am teaching so there will be difficulties with using VLEs.




It is clear that asynchronous learning is useful for learning as it can allow students to work with each other and practise work outside class at their own pace, using technologies such as social networking, wikis and VLEs. These are easy to use and carry great potential, especially in the remote area where I am teaching. Many students live far away so using asynchronous technology is useful for them. However, it is important not to be too dependent on technology as there are difficulties with power cuts and many students do not have Internet access or computers at home. Not all staff and students are IT literate, it is important to train the teachers, perhaps through Teacher Training sessions and providing Continuous Professional Development (CPD). If the infrastructure can be improved and staff and students become more comfortable with IT, asynchronous learning could be used more effectively.




Arreguin, C. (2004). Wikis. Encyclopedia of Educational Technology. [Online]. Available from: http://www.etc.edu.cn/eet/eet/articles/wikis/start.htm [Accessed 14 May 2014]


Biggs, J. B. (1999) Teaching for quality learning at university. Milton Keynes: Society for Research into Higher Education. Open University Press


Bri, D. Garcia, M. Coll, H. & Lloret, J. (2009) A Study of Virtual Learning Environments. WSEAS TRANSACTIONS on ADVANCES in ENGINEERING EDUCATION. 1 (6) January, p. 33-43.


Clarke, A. (2001) Designing Computer-Based Learning Materials. England, Aldershot Gower Company. p. 196.


Cole, M., & Werstch, J.V. (2005) Beyond the Individual-Social Antimony in Discussions of Piaget and Vygotsky. [Online]. Available from: http://www.massey.ac.nz/~alock/virtual/colevyg.htm [Accessed 11 May 2014]


Duffy, P. & Bruns, A. (2006) The Use of Blogs, Wikis and RSS in Education: A Conversation of Possibilities. Proceedings Online Learning and Teaching Conference 2006. p. 31-38. Brisbane


E-Learners (2012) Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Classes. [Online]. Available from:

http://www.elearners.com/online-education-resources/online-learning/synchronous-vs-asynchronous-classes/ [Accessed 12 May 2014]


Forte, A. & Bruckman, A. (2007) Constructing Text: Wiki as a Toolkit for (Collaborative?) Learning. p. 31-41.


Geerson, E.B. (2006) An Overview of Vygotsky’s Language and Thought for EFL Teachers. Language Institute Journal. 41 (3) p. 41-61.


Griffith, S. & Liyanage, L. (2008) An introduction to the potential of social networking sites in education. Proceedings of the Emerging Technologies Conference 2008. University of Wollongong. p. 76-81


Hearton-Shretha, C. (2005) Introducing a VLE into campus-based undergraduate teaching: Staff perspectives on its impact on teaching. International Journal of Educational Research. 43 (2005). p. 370–386.


Hung, M. Chou, C. Chen, C. & Own, Y. (2010) Learner readiness for online learning: Scale development and student perceptions. Computers & Education. 55. p. 1080–1090


Jenkins, M., Armitage, S., Browne, T., Hewitt, R., Mitchell, M., & Pope, A. (2001). Management and Implementation of VLEs in Universities and Colleges: Results of a UCISA-funded survey. Paper presented at the Alt-C conference, Herriot Watt University, Edinburgh.


Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking university teaching: A conversational framework for the effective use of learning technologies. London and New York: Routledge Falmer


Lee, J., Hong, N. L., Ling, N. L. (2002). “An analysis of students’ preparation for the virtual learning environment”. The Internet and Higher Education.(4). p. 231-242.


McConnel, D. (2000). Implementing computer supported cooperative learning. London: Kogan Page.


Miyazo, T. & Anderson, T. (2009) Learning outcomes and students’ perceptions of online writing: Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog, and wiki in an EFL blended learning setting. System 38. p. 185-199


Papert, S. (1991) Situating Constructionism. Constructionism: research reports and essays, 1985-1990, Ablex, Norwood, NY, p. 1-11.


Roblyer, M.D. McDaniel, M. Webb, M. Herman, J. & Witty, J.V. (2011) Findings on Facebook in higher education: A comparison of college faculty and student uses and perceptions of social networking sites. Internet and Higher Education 13. p.134–140



Comments (1)

Mahir Gazdar said

at 8:30 am on May 13, 2014

This is the first part of the assignment, which will be a literature review of asynchronous learning in English classes in a remote area of Saudi Arabia by examining some of the advantages and disadvantages of asynchronous learning technologies.

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