Designing for Connection and Sustained Learning: Opportunities Within Asynchronous Formats


Madeline R. Shellgren (she/her/hers), Director of Community Strategy and Engagement, Online Learning Consortium, Katie Fife Schuster (she/her/hers), Director of Global Events, Online Learning Consortium, Bill Krasner (he/him/his), Partnerships, PlayPosit, Lainie Hoffman (she/her/hers), Senior Design Manager, Emeritus, Jill Giacomini (she/her/hers), Senior Instructional Designer, University of Colorado Denver

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We sat down with Lainie Hoffman and Jill Giacomini, two Discovery Session presenters to discuss their design strategies and approach to preparing asynchronous professional development for contexts like conferences. Their presentation, “Cultivating the Next Generation of Instructional Designers with Remote Internships” saw one of the highest view counts and engagement yet for OLC’s Discovery Session presentations. Though the chats are not being actively monitored, you can still check out their presentation and get a sense of all that they put in to garner such high engagement. 

One of the things we learned from the beginning of our conversation is that both shared common goals for what they, themselves, were looking to get out of their conference experience: connection. We start with this because it sets the foundation for what they were likewise hoping to achieve with their presentation. In both of their experiences as instructional designers, connection was key to their professional contexts. According to Lainie, “instructional design is such a relationship-oriented career. It really is one of those where you need to be connected to people.” For her, “OLC conferences have been a great way of forming those connections, maintaining those connections, and just being a part of a larger community.” 

Expanding on Lainie’s comment, Jill discussed the need to not only connect as a community, but specifically around different ways of doing things. For her, it is important to not “just assume that everyone kind of is doing things the same way.” When reflecting on conferences and working habits in general, she shared that it is easy to keep information and strategies to yourself. Both Jill and Lainie wanted to make space to intentionally share what they’ve learned along the way with others in the hopes that they might support community building and professional development in other contexts as well as to be a resource to others going through similar situations. Recognizing that “a lot of instructional designers out there are kind of working in a little more siloed environment,” they came to their OLC conference experience as presenters wanting to help move other instructional designers out of institutional vacuums and into community together. 

We open with this due to the way it highlights an intentional move on Lainie and Jill’s part to design their presentation so that it supported their own conference goals, while addressing a priority within the instructional design space: building community with other instructional designers and developing a culture based around the sharing of knowledge and practices. Looking to their presentation and discussing specific strategies they collectively took, it was no surprise to us to see that their Discovery Session was designed to do just that: build community and share practices. They began with two primary questions:

  1. Who is our audience?
  2. What is it that we want to share?

Who is our audience?

As mentioned above, they wanted to connect specifically with other instructional Designers across institutional contexts and the field at large. Thinking back to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they shared that the move online brought on significant instructional design needs, but that many just had to “hit the ground running.” It was not just an instructional design community they wanted to connect with, it was a group of colleagues who were uniquely impacted throughout the pandemic that were now entering a new phase of planning: reflecting on what was as a means to center what could be for the future of the instructional designer community. 

What is it that we want to share?

Using their audience as inspiration, they spent a lot of time thinking about what would be most helpful. Both settled on a toolkit: “something tangible and more concrete that others could take away.” As Jill shares, they wanted to “be intentional about creating materials that they can take with, something they can apply. That is really important in order to have that bridge from presentation to application.” 

A look at their Discovery Session demonstrates the intentionality they brought to their design: they included multiple pause points directing audience members to additional resources and content, they incorporated polls and chats for dialogue and to assess understanding, and importantly, they framed all their content around applicable takeaways (prepared and shared so that others could put it into practice themselves). 

Beyond this, however, a clear approach and understanding of asynchronous digital learning environments emerged. Both Lainie and Jill view asynchronous presentation spaces as unique opportunities. Lainie shared that from her perspective, “when you’re doing things synchronously you have to be mindful of time, and exactly how long you have to talk, and what you can fit in. You have to be careful about your interaction points and monitoring the room. In the Discovery session we get to say, what can we play with? What would be interesting to try?” Apart from this, though, she observed that this format actually gave both her and Jill the opportunity for deeper connection with individual audience members. Discovery Sessions give “you the opportunity to connect more directly with the people who need that direct connection the most. Jill was monitoring chats and was able to have some of those conversations there, and I was working with the poll, but we actually got follow up emails later from people who just needed more details or more direct one-on-one, and it felt like it was a lot easier to make those one-on-one connections.” When asked about her perspective on asynchronous presentation formats, Jill unsurprisingly shared in Lainie’s reflection and sentiment: the asynchronous format, itself, made for better connection and opportunities for sustained learning. 

Lainie and Jill’s approach is not only a great one, but it was also a successful one (again, resulting in the highest view and engagement counts we’ve seen yet for the format). So, if you’re preparing digital learning spaces, or are also designing for connection, sustained learning, or engagement, consider spending some time with their presentation and their advice shared here and reflecting on the unique affordances of asynchronous digital learning environments. 

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