Adventures in Online Learning: Incorporating Live Learning in an Asynchronous Online Learning Environment

Concurrent Session 1

Brief Abstract

Our institution adopted an asynchronous model for online learning. Despite historical practices, instructors thought that students would desire to engage with their instructors in real time rather than through back-and-forth asynchronous discussions and written feedback.  This thought led to a more in-depth exploration of adaptive synchronous learning.  The impact identified has now evolved into an institution level implementation plan. Presenters include both faculty and staff so that they can share their unique lens on Live Learning including the logistics of running sessions, major roadblocks identified, and student success metrics.  Staff members will cover basics about adjunct faculty contracts, cloud-based conferencing platforms, and legal issues. 


Dr. Allison Rief is an Associate Professor and Associate Director in the Academic Engagement Center at the University of Arizona Global Campus. Allison earned a Doctorate of Education with a specialization in Teacher Education in Multicultural Societies from the University of Southern California; a Master of Education from the University of California, Los Angeles; and a Bachelor of Arts in Literatures in English at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Rief began her career as an elementary and preschool teacher. She maintains a National Board Certification and was awarded the Teacher of the Year for both the Los Angeles Unified School District and Los Angeles County. Within higher education, she has had experience launching new programs and revising existing programs, developing courses, providing professional development, and working with collaborative teams across the university. Currently, Dr. Rief is a member of the Change Advisory Group, Student Conduct and Community Standards Committee, Forbes Center for Women’s Leadership, Turn the Tide, and oversees the partnership with No Excuses University schools. Beyond the programs she leads, she also serves on Doctoral committees and teaches the Doctoral In-Residence.
Dr. Bryan Aylward is the Senior Director of Academic Operations for the University of Arizona Global Campus. Bryan’s division encompasses the Faculty Scheduling department for the university across 50+ start dates annually, the Contracts & Payroll Compliance department, as well as the Data and Academic Systems department for the university. Bryan has almost 14 years of experience in higher education operations across numerous departments including student services, registrar, curriculum operations, as well as academic operations. In addition to this experience, Bryan has been an associate faculty member for the Forbes School of Business and Technology since 2012 with focused instruction on leadership and management courses. Bryan is an advocate of high-quality education, with experience in the online, traditional classroom, as well as hybrid classroom formats (Online and Classroom), and is well versed in the challenges that exist for both students and faculty. Bryan received his Doctorate in Psychology with a focus on Business & Organizational Leadership from the University of the Rockies in 2017.
Morgan Johnson is the Vice President of Faculty Affairs at The University of Arizona Global Campus. In her role she leads the University’s faculty development and support team, academic operations team, and teaching and learning innovation lab, which support nearly 2,500 online faculty. Morgan is currently pursuing a PhD in Organizational Development and Leadership. Her research focuses on teaching practices in online classrooms. As a passionate educator, Morgan has taught over 60 online courses during her career. Her research and consulting have focused on faculty management, teaching and learning, and academic operations.

Extended Abstract

     Our institution utilizes an asynchronous model for online learning.  Students log on and interact during times that fit their own personal schedules.  We serve a large military population, so our students may be located across the globe and have severe time constraints.  We also serve a majority adult population, with the averages age of 35. Our students are working and taking care of their families as well as going to school.  Therefore, our courses have been fully asynchronous, meaning that students could do all their schoolwork on their own timeframe.  They have deadlines when work must be submitted each week, but there is not existing protocol that states they must interact during a certain time of the day/week.  (57% of students had dependents, 77% of students work full-time, and 6% are employed part-time (OIE, Oct 2022).

      With our traditional asynchronous precedence in mind, some instructors started to wonder if students would be able to grasp certain topics faster and more thoroughly if they were able to engage with their instructors in real time rather than through back-and-forth asynchronous discussions and written feedback.  This thought led to a small pilot within one of our Early Childhood Education courses in which students opted into synchronous learning.  This concept began to spread to other courses and caught the attention of university leadership.  When this happened, the university began to define different learning opportunities based on participation and expectations.  The impact identified from these small decentralized pilots led to the GEN 103 work, which has now evolved into an institution level implementation plan for live learning that is directly aligned with our retention initiatives

     Sessions are designed to build students’ sense of belonging and self-efficacy by reinforcing learning from asynchronous coursework and reminding them of institutional resources critical to academic success, all in a congenial interpersonal environment. We designed Live Learning as a student success initiative after having engaged with Dr. George Kuh and the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) High Impact Practices Institute. While not a high-impact practice itself, Live Learning draws on the principles of these important student engagement practices in a way that accommodates and enhances our institution’s delivery model and student population.

     Our institution uses the term Live Learning as it refers to an instructor leading students through a conversation about a topic within the course.  It does not necessarily correlate to synchronous learning as it can be recorded and shared with students who cannot attend during the scheduled time period.  There are numerous types of Live Learning, which include required and optional Live Learning.  Within our university, required Live Learning means that content explored within the session is connected to an assessed activity within the course.  The assessment does not take place within the synchronous learning, but within the course.  Students must either attend the session or watch the recording to be able to respond to the graded element within the course.  There is also optional Live Learning.  These sessions are not connected to a specific graded element however they provide additional targeted support to students based on their specific needs and questions.  These are typically used for students to learn more about the course, network with their faculty and peers, and to build students’ self-efficacy and growth mindset.  Students choose to opt into these sessions.  These sessions are recorded based on the preference of the instructor.

      Our institution conducted a pilot on numerous courses within the General Education sequence.  The pilot was intended to determine if Live Learning had a positive effect on student outcomes, including an improved course pass rate.  Based on preliminary data, the Office of Institutional Effectiveness found that Live Learning participation helps improve the course pass rate for participants in both STEM-related and non-STEM courses.  Overall, students who participated in Live Learning had a higher course pass rate compared to matched non-users (+3.3 points) and the average course pass rate (+5.8 points). This difference was more notable in STEM courses, with Live Learning users passing the courses at a rate +5.7 points higher than matched non-users (compared to a 2.6 point gain in non-STEM courses).  It was also found that Live Learning was utilized by female students and racial/ethnic minority students at higher proportions.  These data were encouraging and have led to requiring Live Learning in more courses. 

      Qualitative data about Live Learning experiences suggests that the practice indeed supports students’ sense of belonging and self-efficacy. A research project funded by the University Fellows Program grant (UFP) analyzed more than 20,000 lines of qualitative student feedback from GEN 103 (Information Literacy) Live Learning sessions and uncovered three promising themes: Students feel:(1) that they are part of a classroom and university community; (2) more comfortable with critical orientation materials – SMART goals, APA formatting, etc.; and (3) more knowledgeable about and comfortable contacting library resources for guidance.2 Another UFP research project aims to understand how much personal interaction versus pure asynchronous learning students prefer. Most students who responded to the study’s survey reported wanting more opportunities for live classroom interactions and believing that the experience would be important to their studies.3

      Meanwhile, quantitative data from GEN 103, where Live Learning has been required and embedded in the course curriculum since July of 2021, shows positive movement in one of our institution's key leading indicators for student retention. Students who attended synchronous Live Learning sessions in the 2021-2022 academic year were more likely to pass GEN 103 and to achieve two courses in 12 weeks and four courses in 26 weeks than all other GEN 103 students. However, only around 33 percent of GEN 103 students attended these sessions synchronously. Additionally, according to GEN 103 data, women and students of color have been less likely to attend synchronous Live Learning sessions. Our institution's OIE analyses suggest that students in these demographics tend to face the most academic, relational, and resourcing challenges. Therefore, our institution is seeking other ways to involve them in this beneficial experience. For example, GEN 103 Live Learning added optional weekend Student Study Hours to accommodate students who are unable to attend standard sessions due to work and family obligations.

     Based on the positive outcomes of the pilot, presenters believe that other higher education stakeholders will garner useful knowledge not just about the success of Live Learning, but also logistics for utilizing it at their institutions.  Presenters include both faculty and staff so that they can share their unique lens on Live Learning.  Faculty will share the logistics of running sessions, such as content that is utilized and how it is shared, major roadblocks that were identified and overcome throughout the process, accessibility, and student success metrics.  Staff members will cover basics about adjunct faculty contracts, cloud-based conferencing platforms, and legal issues.