Remixing Digital Learning Environments Through Intentionally Designed Asynchronicity: Part Two


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

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What if we could scrap everything we do and start over? If we were to build a fully virtual conference, which elements would we keep? How would we build community and engagement? That’s what we’re going to explore in this second part of our blog post series. In part 1, we re-introduced you to the Online Learning Consortium’s partnership with PlayPosit and invited you to explore the possibilities for digital learning environments made possible through intentionally designed asynchronous spaces, content, and programming. 

In re-imagining conference and professional development spaces, we wanted to take the opportunity to address a big challenge we face in the field today: engagement. In managing our conference “Call For Proposals” process, one of the most common omissions that results in lower scores by reviewers is engagement related, specifically submissions that don’t have a thorough plan for engagement for their session. 

An engagement plan lays out how you are going to interact with and engage audience members throughout your session. It is a core component of our submission process because we know that engagement is a key anchor for learning. However, it is not uncommon to receive submissions that have not considered this at all, regardless of session type (i.e. traditional or specialty presentation styles). OLC as an organization really encourages people to think about their contribution to the conference and what that gift of engagement looks like for both themselves, and attendees. 

Regardless of the learning environment you are designing for, it is important to take into consideration the unique affordances of the modality and format. When it comes to engagement, this task has not proven easy for many, and a common practice taken up is one of translation – attempting to simply take an activity that works in an in-person, synchronous setting and trying to replicate that in online spaces (including asynchronous spaces). Unfortunately, this rarely succeeds in the ways we are hoping. That said, with intentional planning during the build phase, we are better able to address those unique affordances while working to uncover new possibilities for learning and development across the board. 

Our OLC Virtual Discovery Sessions (a session type featured at both OLC’s Accelerate and Innovate conferences) is one space to begin this exploration. In this blogpost, we dive deeper into the design and purpose of this session type, as well as how it is significant to the work we are doing together. 

For those new to our Virtual Discovery Sessions, these are fully asynchronous session types that leverage PlayPosit as a tool to support engagement. Presenters prepare video-based session content that incorporates intentional engagement ahead of time. Conference attendees can access session content at any time during and after the live event dates.

Importantly, Discovery Sessions are not simply pre-recorded or on-demand recordings of an otherwise synchronous session. They are designed with an asynchronous audience in mind, and therefore create a very different experience for both presenters and audience members. Discovery Sessions afford an opportunity for more robust engagement and interaction, and deeper learning and connection.

We’ve found that presenters can take advantage of the unique 1:1 environment of the Discovery Session. They can provide more content, link to more supplemental material, and engage with their audience over a longer period of time. Presenters are not just preparing a presentation and delivering it for a single point in time, they are intentionally adding in points of engagement, inviting participation in the presentation, inviting collaboration on new ideas or feedback on research material. Discovery sessions are more dynamic, active, and effective in garnering participation from the entire OLC community, whereas synchronous sessions tend to cater primarily to live audiences only. As we, at the organizational level in the OLC, sit with the future of not only our conferences, but the field, this is perhaps the opportunity that excites us most. 

Another reason for us to be excited about Discovery Sessions, beyond the unique session type, is that they allow for participation from a greater variety of learners and presenters. This facilitates a more inclusive and equitable learning experience. Time plays an important role, but intentionality is also a key player. Discovery Sessions allow us to stretch time and space, and they change the game when it comes to intentionality – How would you design your presentation if you could deliver it 1:1 with a peer? What are the different types of questions you might ask in this more personal setting? How might our presenters take advantage of this more personalized community forum? By unanchoring presentations to a physical space or moment, and bringing our speakers side by side with attendees, we can spark a new level of connection and engagement. 

To us, Discovery Sessions provide insight into what’s possible for professional development across the field of online, blended, and digital learning, and specifically what’s possible for the future of conferences. Conferences have always made for a tremendous learning opportunity within and across academia. In the case of OLC events, hundreds of educators are coming together. Given this, how then do we best leverage this moment for driving the field forward? Through these sessions, we can experience something different and engage in a different way, all backed by scholarship around the impact of intentionally designed engagement and asynchronous learning environments.

With Discovery Sessions, OLC looks to immerse attendees in an active professional learning experience, and push the envelope for how technologies can enhance, not just mimic, the learning experience. As technologies improve, we are committed to exploring the best tools for the job. PlayPosit excitingly gives us a platform to incorporate things like sustained dialogue, 1:1 connections, and intentional content and resource sharing across time and space. We invite you into this space with us to play, to explore, to design. If you are, or have been, a Discovery Session presenter, we hope that you are excited about the ways in which you are driving forward models for the future of our field. If you have yet to consider joining us for OLC Accelerate, this is your invitation to come connect and learn with us and to help us re-imagine the future of learning, professional development, and conferences through a lens of re-engagement.

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