How to Make Self-Guided, Asynchronous Learning Experiences More Engaging


Digital pedagogy
Instructional design
Online learning
Professional learning

Research-based best practices for interaction, reflection, and engagement are key to overcoming challenges inherent in creating self-guided learning experiences.

There are so many ways to use online learning. It can explain how to use a product, teach new skills, or introduce new knowledge and concepts to the learner. However, for it to be effective, there are research-based best practices to always keep in mind.

Always Start with Instructional Design

Instructional design is the systematic process of creating learning experiences that help learners grow their knowledge or skills. It’s not merely placing explanatory content online and calling it a learning experience; consideration should always be given to learner needs and what materials and methods are best suited to achieve the intended outcomes from the learning experience.

We believe that good instructional design addresses three key aspects:

  1. Content: What do you want learners to learn?
  2. Pedagogy: What are the best ways to teach the content to learners?
  3. Technology: What tools support and facilitate learning?

High-quality learning occurs at the intersection of all three considerations—content, pedagogy, and technology. This framework is commonly known as TPACK: Technological, Pedagogical, and Content Knowledge. Clarity draws upon more than a decade of experience using the TPACK framework to create engaging digital learning experiences.

Consider Facilitation and Delivery

Two important decisions to make early in the process involve facilitation and delivery.

The facilitator’s role is a key consideration when thinking about how learning will occur in an online experience. Sometimes an activity requires a knowledgeable instructor to steer conversations or provide direct instruction on a topic. In other situations, a facilitator might be entirely unnecessary because pre-created resources like videos, interactive animations, or step-by-step tutorials help learners progress through sequential activities.

Whether or not the learning occurs in real-time also affects how learners interact with course content. Synchronous experiences require facilitation because all activities occur at one point in time and place; the facilitator guides what occurs much like how a teacher steers a face-to-face lesson in a classroom. Conversely, asynchronous learning often involves less facilitator participation because the content is structured such that learners have everything that they need to understand new content at their own pace.





In-person classroom learning, online webinar, or zoom/teams meeting

Watching a live TV broadcast


Online course

Self-guided tutorials

Unfacilitated, asynchronous learning experiences like self-guided tutorials are advantageous for many people. There’s no need to block off time to join a facilitator-led, synchronous event; learners need only know how to access the content before beginning. Everything is always available whenever learning is most convenient. This type of online structure also includes resources for in-depth practice and self-assessing progress which enhances learner autonomy.

Although beneficial for many, designing an unfacilitated, asynchronous experience that is both engaging and impactful poses additional challenges.

Design Challenges With Unfacilitated, Asynchronous Learning

Unfacilitated, asynchronous digital experiences can take on widely different forms. Sometimes what’s presented is as simple as a web-based presentation that’s purely didactic. In other situations, learners might interact with a complex, algorithmic simulation that adapts to input through an extensively programmed back-end.

How many times have you had to sit through an eLearning experience where all that was expected of you was to click “continue”? That epitomizes the worst kind of unfacilitated, asynchronous learning experience. All too common are the online learning experiences made up of a series of slides with simple voiceover narration and multiple-choice knowledge assessment.

Instead, one best practice approach is to mix content and interactivity with a variety of multimedia (i.e., video, animations, and screencasts) that help learners better understand the specific content or skills being presented. The content generally includes interactive assessments as well as branching or conditional sequences that vary based on learner input.

Best practice approaches to unfacilitated, asynchronous learning experiences might range from:

  1. Enhanced experiences that involve ample interactive elements that enrich learning and offer focused practice with the content.
  2. Advanced experiences that extend what’s provided in enhanced experiences by creating custom interactions, embedded activities, and significant multimedia assets.

When we create unfacilitated, asynchronous learning experiences, they follow these and other best practices. We pay special attention to learner engagement and motivational design.

It’s All About Learner Engagement

Unengaging content or poor presentation potentially undermines learning experiences that might otherwise resemble best practice approaches. That’s why we follow John Keller’s ARCS Model of Motivational Design for our client solutions.

The ARCS model draws upon key design considerations that influence the motivational appeal of content.

  1. Attention. The material has a “wow” factor that grabs the learner’s attention. Each activity drives the learner to continue, and the quality of the resources keeps them engaged.
  2. Relevance. Learners connect the presented material to their own challenges and interests.
  3. Confidence. Learners gain confidence that they can master the content or develop new skills by interacting with the material. This occurs through practice activities that stretch abilities without adding overwhelming complexity.
  4. Satisfaction. The learner completes the experience feeling satisfied that they can successfully apply taught material in different contexts.

We also weave in our own experience as educators and research-based practices to develop high-quality, self-guided content. This includes:

  • Connecting the content to the context in which the learner will be applying what they learn (e.g., job role, grade level, content areas);
  • Providing real examples of the content or practice in an authentic context (e.g. case study, vignette);
  • Including opportunities for learners to practice or rehearse new skills;
  • Giving specific indicators as to what the content or skill looks like in practice;
  • Including opportunities for learners to reflect on their own learning;
  • Assessing skills and understanding with varied question types and performance-based activities; and
  • Offering opportunities to extend learning with other resources or follow-up activities.

Our thoughtful approach to design and development helps us create meaningful experiences for every learner even when unfacilitated, asynchronous considerations are important. We welcome the chance to show you examples of our work and how we can help you create effective online learning experiences that engage all learners. Contact us today.