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How Technology Improves Higher Learning

Table of Contents

Introduction 3

Experimenting Technology in Schools 4

Types of Online Learning Technologies 4

Synchronous Gadgets 5

Asynchronous Tools 5

Advantages of Asynchronous Interaction 10

Asynchronous Interaction Technologies that Facilitate Distance Learning 12

Impact of Asynchronous Learning 16

16Learner-Learner Interaction

17Learner-Instructor Interaction

17Learner-Content Interaction

17Synchronous Interaction

Advantages of Synchronous Interaction 17

17Stimulate Motivation

18Interactive Participation

18Immediate Feedback

Conclusion 18



Evidently, there is no innovation that has captured attention of several individuals than the internet and what it can do in enhancing the education system in the world (Mansell, 2012). Converging influences have had a great impact on use of technology as a mode of learning and instruction in the education system higher learning (Sandra Diehl, 2013). Lately, demand for personnel with high-tech skill has increased considerably. Some of the jobs that demand for these skills include technology, science, mathematics, and engineering as well as technology jobs. These positions that require employees with technology skills are also well paying. This paper will explain the two types of online learning technologies, synchronous and asynchronous, and how they enhance distance learning.

Most state governments were interested in urging higher education to regulate the costs and enhance its productivity. According to the National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education (1998), there was 57% increase in the cost of instruction between 1987 and 1996 as well as 132 increases in the cost of average tuition in the same period in public universities and colleges. Nonetheless, a median family income increased from 37% and disposable per capita income increased by 52%, and the cost of attending college increased from 114 percent in public institution during the same period (Education, 1998). Both the media and legislators began asking question regarding affordability of higher learning. It is clear that the cost of education was high and there was an urgent need to make it affordable and more accessible to everyone (McPherson, 2010). Many states began deriving methods that they would use to enhance learning and at the same time make it accessible and productive. The best solution to all these was increased use of technology in both learning and instruction methods. Many legislators in states championed use of technology in school since they considered it to be effective in ensuring that it is accessible to all and sundry. The National Commission on the Cost of Higher Education (1998) demanded for substantial improvements in efficiency through approaches in which different institutions delivered their mode instruction. Additionally, the Spellings Commission also emphasized the importance of technology in enhancing productivity in institutions of higher learning.

Experimenting Technology in Schools

Institutions experimented novel forms and tools of learning. The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education prompted institutions to solve issues related with productivity as well as other approaches through incorporation of technology as a mode of instruction and institution responded promptly. By 2008 about half of institutions that responded to survey steered by American Association of State Colleges and Universities used online learning to make it less costly and productive (Education, 1998). Novel online tools support and enhance collaboration in Web-based environments as well as act as catalysts for developing strong digital environments that would enhance learning (Horton, 2011).

Types of Online Learning Technologies

Online learning technologies develop a virtual space that has distinctive attributes. These tools can be grouped into two main categories, asynchronous and synchronous. Synchronous tools necessitate that both individuals are available to communicate. On the other hand, asynchronous tools give a chance for someone to leave a message so that the person can read it later on, may be because the recipient of the message is not available when the message is being written. These tools help social context for learning and provide great benefits for learners who have mastered how to use them since they can use it to their advantage (Levine & Ornstein, 2007).

Synchronous Gadgets

Synchronous gadgets such as chat, instant message as well as online conferences enable real-time interactions since they allow groups or individuals to interact simultaneously. Synchronous tools are appropriate for meetings and discussions. Some of the ideas for synchronous interactions:

  • Discuss previously assigned readings

  • Plan presentation by students

  • Introduce novel concepts

  • Offer project counselling

  • Maintain course housekeeping: scheduling, assignments

  • Initiate problem solving and group investigations

  • Continue friendly discussions as well as community building

Asynchronous Tools

Asynchronous tools, for instance, newsgroups and newspaper work best when there are longer and more in-depth discussions. During asynchronous discussion an instructor can post guidelines, instructions and question which do not have simple answer and can be openly interpreted (Gilbert, McNeill & Sawyer, 2009).. Basically, students are supposed to post more information that their instructor since the instructors role is overseeing the discussion and students are the one’s who are supposed to do research and get more info. Nevertheless, students get help from the instructors when there are issues on the subject they are discussing.

Ideas for asynchronous discussions include:

  • Give a chance to students to host discussion on any topic that interest them

  • Post assignments, updated information as well as due dates

  • Instigate discussion by posting questions that require in-depth analysis

  • Continue a discussion that began in synchronous environment

  • Encourage community to aid one another is addressing problems

  • Poll for opinions and feedback

The various collaboration tools available have increased from mere e-mail to different varieties including discussion groups, chat sessions, conference tools, screen sharing applications, real-time data streaming. All these tools have unique attributes, which can be help enhance the learning process. When the Web matures, the tools have become integrated into suites that provide a common interface as well as a one-stop access tool to different sets that are tailored for particular function. Novel applications that promote online collaboration are envisioned and being designed, for instance, intuitive software and social interfaces (Kock, 2008).

Both asynchronous and synchronous settings have rich and unscripted interactions, which allow students to have an opportunity of asking and responding to questions as well as explore together the solutions to the questions being asked. Continuous investigations of tool and pedagogical approaches, which promote dialogue as well as collective intellect in the community model, help the design of future online learning environments.

When mastered Web environments can be dynamic like classroom situation and instructors make most of the learning interactions when they are prepared and ready to improvise. Inherently, online learning is less controlled compared to traditional class situation and requires an approach that is very flexible. Success needs comprehension of the complex system of online learning communities, finding out novel opportunities that will enhance learning and letting go as well as trusting social constructivist process.

Resourceful novel online instructors are gaining proficiency and insight by examining artefacts of fruitful online classes, for instance, newsgroup postings, student’s projects, results for real-time sessions and student projects. Online learning environments offer richer environments for sharing information, for both instructors and students (Khan, 2007; Howard, 2005).

Online Collaboration Tools

Popular choice

Summary and benefits



Netscape, Outlook Express, AOL, ATT, Earthlink, MSN mail, Yahoo Mail, MAC mail

Provides responsive feedback, digital communication recorded

IP based Outlook Express, access through software, Netscape or Eudora, Webmail accessed through Internet Browser

Threaded Discussions (BBS)


Institution servers; club or organisation web sites, user groups and independent webs

Web-based forum, asynchronous conversation on particular topic with comments visible to readers, does not require users to be members before posting anything

Online discussion groups and are open to anyone



Schools servers, organisation or club websites

Digital, recorded location and discussions are posted and read on demand. the discussion can continue for a very long time since it is not a must that discussant be present

Online discussion. One is supposed to subscribe before making any comments



Yahoo Groups, Gmail groups, Topica, Geocities, Netware

Mass e-mailed data sheets or information, utilizes emails, is about overall subject relevance

Its like group mailing list, however people can log on to the central location and get updated information



AIM, MSN Messenger, ICQ, Yahoo Messenger

Real-time discussion but no recording

Real-time discussion, live chat, internet accessible, suitable for class meeting

Application/ screen sharing


PC anywhere, Timbuktu, Procomm, DirectLink, Laplink

Allows remote users to log into colleagues computer to access files, share software, files

File sharing and problem solving, remote control of computer screen



Yahoo Messenger, Net Conference, AIM, MSN Messenger


Live meeting, can be multiple or one-on-one

Learning Suites

WebCT, Placeware, iPlanet, Classbuilder

Offers interface in Graphic User design. The educator offers content

Groupware/software utilizes more than two aspects above to provide a learning interface.

Development technological development has great impacts on computer-based learning that affects distance education. Interactivity is a key aspect in technology in distant learning, and it is threefold: student-instructor interaction, student-student interaction and student-content interaction. Increasingly, as distant-education moves towards multimedia-oriented approach more effective synergy of asynchronous and synchronous interaction is needed. The integrity and quality of education processes in distance learning depends on a two-way communication (Howard, 2005).

The selection and choice of effective delivery system in learning process is pertinent since it has direct effect on quality as well as extent of interaction. Both synchronous and asynchronous interactions help in bridging differences between instructor and learners as well as between learners. Online learning environments helps in facilitating a holistic learning experience, which capitalizes on the benefits of technology to substitute opportunity, lost in face-to-face learning. In an online learning environment the type, level as well as dynamics of interactions, which occur, is dependent on the selection of synchronous or asynchronous delivery. Student-student interactions have a great impact on students learning (Power, 2008).

Indubitably, interactions take place in learning environments. Interactions entails reciprocal events, which require two actions, and two objects where exchange and interplay takes place and groups and individuals have an influence on each other. Interactivity is a crucial factor and essential for gaining knowledge. Virtual classroom environment attempts to copy classroom environment although through different approaches and tools.

Advantages of Asynchronous Interaction

Widespread use of this approach shows its importance. Asynchronous interaction approach is very flexible since it gives access to learning material anytime and anywhere, provided that necessary technologies and equipment are available, from workplace or home. Learners can choose to take part in the classes if they would like since it gives them time to do other things and when they are not busy at workplace, they can participate in classes unlike when they would be required to attend classes by going to classrooms. Technology has helped to improve distance learning since classes can be conducted even one is 1000kilometrs away from his instructor. Through distance learning the quality of education has improved a great deal since distance cannot limit anyone from acquiring quality learning from the institution he considers to be appropriate for him. A student can be in Australia and still attend classes at Harvard University.

Asynchronous approach gives participants time to reflect on various issues regarding course content or questions posed during discussions. When a learner or instructor is given time to reflect on particular issue related to course content the learner or instructor can do a thorough research on the specific issue (Howard, 2005). Therefore, this gives him an opportunity to acquire more information that could not have been acquired when he would have been asked to give an immediate response. The learner or instructor who is supposed to respond to the question will use technology to research about the issue in question, without technology, it can be intricate for him to give an appropriate response. The learner or instructor can use various resources to research on topic or question that requires an answer. Participants have access to what has been discussed since it has stored and they can wait until they substantial information before they can give their opinion. This could not have been easy if technology could not been used to enhance learning (Howard, 2005).

Online discussions help in ensuring that there is anonymity of what they discuss since they do not reveal their identity unlike when there is no technology the identity of participants in discussions can be easily identified. Anonymity is important since it helps in ensuring that participants feel free to take in online discussion even the subject under discussion is very sensitive (Cooper & Ryan, 2008).

Technology has helped in ensuring that discussion or learning is continuous since there are no time-zone constraints among the participants. Global participation and communication is available at instances convenient to learners in various parts of the world. This is pertinent in the present world since learning can be conducted in various parts of the world despite time zone differences (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008; Howard, 2005)).

Technology has enhanced distance learning since it helps in encouraging situated learning. It offers opportunities for integrating ideas that are being discussed when the learner is at his work place or home. The cost of education is very high considering that one has to travel to school so that he can acquire knowledge, in some cases much time is wasted travelling to school. Nonetheless, technology does not have disadvantages since little time is spent before one can get to class since it only requires a stable internet connection. Time that could have been wasted travelling long distances and spending more time while heading to school can be diverted to constructive learning so that the learner can be able to get more ideas and become more knowledgeable. The cost of internet required to conduct distant learning is also small since text-based systems such as email require less bandwidth as well as low-end computers to operate and therefore provide this provide equitable access for the learners.

Asynchronous Interaction Technologies that Facilitate Distance Learning

Various approaches can be instituted during asynchronous interaction. Some of these tools include:

  1. CD-ROMs – these are interactive disks which can store substantial information that can contain archived home page of online university, course content, for example, exercises, assignments and notes, graphical representation of ideas and concepts discussed during the course as well as important supporting materials, for instance, reading suggestions. CD-ROMs are very effective in storage of information compared to books since CD-ROMs are very portable and therefore information can easily be shared since it can be exchanged between different learners.

A CD-ROM can store information that is contained in about five books. Storage of CD-ROM is easy compared to other methods since this method requires less space unlike books, which require more space, and books can be easily destroyed and are prone to being torn. Production of CD-ROM has increased greatly therefore increasing traditional teaching approaches in various disciplines. CD-ROM has potential of enhancing students learning motivation as well as metacognition. CD-ROM has various educational advantages including quick access of information that enables learners control the pace as well as direction of learning therefore providing more chances for cognitive processing. CD-ROMs have the ability of providing large body of knowledge form various perspectives that leads to robust comprehension of course content by students as well as creation of positive student’s attitudes towards learning (Moriarty, 2005).

CD-ROMs go hand in hand with computers since computers provide data retrieval as well as communication capabilities, which enhance learning. Internet and CD-ROMs provide learners with entire libraries of information in forms that were unavailable previously, and enable students to communicate with other students in various parts of the world. Both the World Wide Web and CD-ROMs provide newsreel footages or audio recordings of various historical events, earth’s pictures from the satellite, as well as clear reproductions of paintings from various parts of the world.

  1. E-mail – this is the common asynchronous communication tool. Electronic messages help in enhancing learning since educational contents can be sent by an instructor to learners and it will be delivered in less than one minute. An instructor can course content to various students at ago in different destinations. An instructor can also attach course material that may be required among students therefore students can get a wealth of knowledge by reading their mails from instructors. Learners can also send electronic mails among themselves (Jezegou, 2010). Electronic mails can help in encouraging information sharing among students therefore enhancing learning. Learners can also send e-mails to their instructors when they need clarification on a number of issues or when they are submitting assignments to their instructors. Electronic mails are very effective mode of communication since it less costly since internet is affordable and it cost less dollars compared to travelling to school to submit assignments to instructors (Xianglei Chen, 2009).

  2. Listserv- group of electronic mail addresses for a group of people with shared or common interests where discussions as well as information exchanges takes place and questions are asked and addressed, for instance, listserv for World Association of Online Education members is [email protected],org.

  3. Bulletin boards- it enables users post and read messages through a public forum environment.

  4. Newsgroup – it enables participants to exchange opinions and news. Information is gathered in newsfeeds (Buzzetto-More, 2007).

  5. Web pages – web pages are instrumental in enhancing learning since when a learner has bandwidth connection he can browse, search, download, retrieve or save information that comes in various forms, for instance, graphics, texts, sound, and videos among others. This information is helpful in enhancing learning. For instance, sounds or videos can be helpful in ensuring can learners can easily master what they are being by remembering sounds. These materials do not require a learner to be close to the instructor so that he can course material he only a computer and an internet connection (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes, 2010).

  6. Computer conferencing – for instance, through Lotus Learning Space, WebBoard, WebCT that enhances collaborative activities. Recently, Skype and Facebook are being used in web conferencing since learners can instructors can conduct conferences (Moore, 2013).

  7. Fax- helps in ensuring that exact copies of documents are sent and received in a very short time. Fax helps in ensuring that educational materials is sent to various individuals and it will be received instantly even if they far apart (Balacheff, 2009).

  8. Videotape/audiotapes are used by instructors in recording and presentation, for instance, presentations or lectures can be pre-recorded and can be sent to students who can view or listen to the content at any instance that they feel like (Buzzetto-More, 2007).

  9. Collaborative workspaces have folders or files, which can be accessed by various individuals, for instance, shareware system Basic Support for Collaborative Work (BSCW) (Kajan, 2011).

  10. Blogs – this technology is becoming popular and a promising avenue for innovative ways in which communication as well as collaboration can be enhanced. An instructor can create course blogs, which all students can access. Such blogs are helpful in enhancing learning since they can be used by all learners by sharing and discuss what has been posted on the blog. In some instances, instructors give learners personal blogs that can be accessed by course instructors, therefore this is a private space that students can reflect on what they have learnt or any assignments that they have been given. Alternatively, the course instructor can allow students to read and comment on other students blogs. Learners can also be put into different groups and this helps them have a private group blog for discussion, sharing as well as project work. An instructor can make group blog accessible to all the students (Buzzetto-More, 2007).

Impact of Asynchronous Learning

Learner-Learner Interaction

Accessibility of chronicled or archived information where retrieval is on demand gives more chances for students to take part in discussions since they become more comfortable with the subject of discussion (Howard, 2005; Davies & Merchant, 2009). Learners can make use of communication apparatuses such as electronic mails to develop and maintain social as well as emotional support among themselves therefore lessening isolation and increasing a feeling of community. The quality of interactions augments since learners have adequate time to reflect and research on various ideas before giving response. By researching, a learner is able to get more information that he could not have acquired before research (Howard, 2005; Chong & Morris 2005; Taylor, 2007).

Learner-Instructor Interaction

Learners have unlimited access to their instructors since they can easily get in touch any moment regardless of time zone differences. This implies that students can raise any question at any time and wait for a response from the instructor. This implies that the instructor will have enough time to respond to the question therefore he is likely to give an accurate and elaborate response. Learner can also get individual attention through such approaches since there is enough time to help individual learners understand various issues being taught. Learner-instructor interaction provides for emotional support as well as social interaction between instructors and learners (Huggett, 2007; Howard, 2005).

Learner-Content Interaction

Archived materials especially continuity and context of discussion can be helpful to learners since they have records of what is taking place. Students have adequate time to research, review, as well as validate ideas as well as comments when the discussion continues (Howard, 2005).

Synchronous Interaction

Synchronous interaction entails instructor and learners being online and communicate in real time though participants may be miles apart (Hart, 2008).

Advantages of Synchronous Interaction

Stimulate Motivation

Most learners have experience with synchronous interaction and this helps in stimulating motivation. It helps distance learners are at the same pace with their peers as well as proceed with their studies (Ramenyi, 2009). This approach helps learners to see each other’s facial expression, body language, eyes, hear tones or voice during communication. An instructor can know when to help students if he notices participation of students during classes (Yilmaz, 2008).

Interactive Participation

Students can take part in various activities in studios and laboratories under their instructor’s direction (Zhong, 2013). Learners are in position of following instructions one by one. This approach gives situated learning experiences, which helps learners contribute their opinions. Synchronous approach gives additional advantages of presenting a complex concept as well as clarifies complexity of subjects through offering live interactions and enhancing interactions among students (Howard, 2005).

Immediate Feedback

Synchronous interaction is useful since it provide immediate response to questions asked by learners. There are face-to-face interactions and there are no delays when communicating (Howard, 2005; Zhang, 2012).


In a nutshell, online learning technologies have developed into a virtual space that has unique aspects. Online learning tools can be divided into two categories, asynchronous and synchronous. Synchronous tools require that individuals are available to communicate. In asynchronous tools, a user can leave a message so that the recipient can read it the next time he logs in. Synchronous tools include chat, instant message and online conferences enable real-time interactions since they allow groups or individuals to interact simultaneously. Synchronous tools are best for meetings and discussions. Asynchronous tools work best when there are longer and more in-depth discussions. Asynchronous and synchronous have rich as well as unscripted interactions that allow students to have an opportunity to ask, respond to questions and explore together solutions to questions asked. Continuous investigations of tool and pedagogical approaches, which promote dialogue as well as collective intellect in the community model, help the design of future online learning environments. Synchronous and asynchronous help in bridging differences between instructor and learners as well as between learners. Asynchronous interaction method is flexible and gives access to learning material anytime and anywhere. Participants have time to reflect on various issues regarding course content or questions posed during discussions. Online discussions ensure that there is anonymity of what is discussed since participants do not reveal their identity.


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