XR Learning Design: The Right Balance of Asynchronous and Synchronous Experiences

Written by JC Gonzalez

XR learning design requires attention to traditional learning methods with a careful balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning. This balance is how you keep a cohort engaged from one session to the next. Of course, people worked in learning design before XR was a common term – let’s start there. 

Learning Design Is All About Balance

The average person doesn’t know what goes into learning, or instructional, design. According to Lindsay O’Neill, M.Ed., California State University Fullerton, instructional designers must find the balance between traditional learning science and education technology. She simplifies this as, “how people learn and how to use technology to get them there.” 


Traditional Learning Science

Learning science refers to the study of how people learn. It’s the reason the way you teach your students is different from how your teachers taught you, which was different from the way they were taught. Our teaching systems have evolved based on data collected year after year about the way we learn. 

One of the things we’ve learned is the importance of engagement. A student must be engaged in order to learn or the material will not stick. And what leads to engaged students, you might ask? It’s a combination of motivation, attention, and active learning. 

The ADDIE design model is a linear methods consisting of five phases: analyze, design, develop, implement, evaluate.
Image Source

Learning Design Models

Learning design uses several models. The following two are among the most common and ones you should understand. 

ADDIE Design Model

ADDIE stands for Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate. Instructional designers begin with the data. They analyze the data to design a program and implement it at an experimental level. Then they evaluate the results to determine if the program was successful. O’Neill refers to this as a “waterfall model” because it’s a linear process that can become restrictive. 

SAM Design Model

The Successive Approximation Model, or SAM, simplifies ADDIE and removes some of its restrictions. The ADDIE model focuses a lot of time on the analysis and design phase. SAM focuses the bulk of the time on development with fast analysis and design phases. After development, the cycle starts again based on the findings. You may go through this circle several times before arriving at the finished process. 

Learning Theories

You use learning design models to create the processes or courses that play on established learning theories. The three core educational theories are behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism. 

Behaviorism as a learning theory is commonly known by the Pavlov experiments on dogs
Image Source


Behaviorism is the classic learning method of repetition. It is the theory that if a person performs an action enough times to receive a stimulus, or reward, that action is learned and stored in long-term memory. Early testing of this theory was performed with mice in controlled tests or the Pavlov conditioning experiments

The traditional grading system is a form of behaviorism, in which the letter grade is the stimulus. Learners who wish to get an A, must learn the knowledge being imparted upon them. 


Cognitivism sits in direct contrast to behaviorism. The theory is that you process information and think about responses based on what you’ve learned up to now. This includes experiences, beliefs, and other factors or data to pull from to solve a problem. 

Cognitivism puts a larger emphasis on learners’ experiences and their ability to think. It relies on making students active learners through activities and simulations. 

Learning design requires a balance of behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism to reach as many learners as possible
Image Source

Edstutia modules, for example, do not use a grading system. The goal is to engage learners through synchronous and asynchronous activities. We base evaluation off of learning objectives being showcased and tangible deliverables at the end that culminate knowledge in practice.


Constructivism has ties to cognitivism but takes the focus away from the instructor and onto the learner. It argues people learn collectively through social interaction. 

In constructivism, you serve as more of a guide while the course activities teach learners as they interact. Edstutia modules all include open discussions to get the cohort thinking and growing

XR Learning Design: New Dimensions to Balance

XR is short for extended reality. The umbrella term covers augmented reality, virtual reality, and mixed reality. This technology brings new variables for instructional designers to balance. 

Designing with XR

The key to designing with XR technology is to do it with purpose. Learners will catch on if it’s only being used as a gimmick. 

Supplement, Don’t Replicate

Take augmented reality for example. Creating AR replicas of existing content in a book or poster does not add value. But when you see a product assembly in 3D, step-by-step, now your student is learning in new ways. 

Through immersive technology, we can bring learners together from all around the world
Image Source

Bring People Together

Virtual reality can be used in education to bring people together from all around the globe. We already know there is a large disparity in learning. What if we could open the doors of education to people in other parts of the Earth through virtual reality? The truth is you can. 

Edstutia cohorts consist of learners spread across many countries. Interactive VR sessions bring the cohort together in one classroom under the same virtual campus. Purposeful XR learning design erases geographical barriers. 

Applying XR to Learning Theories

Behaviorists can continue to use immersive technology to teach through memorization. AR callouts could define key terms in a book or highlight themes of a painting. 

In looking to design with purpose, you will realize the key to immersive technology is active learning. You can design interactive experiences to think through more complicated problems or questions. You can pose a question open to interpretation and let the class discuss the possibilities to arrive at the correct answer. 

Immersive technology is best for experiential learning. You can use XR to put learners in the exact situations they will face after training. Operators can run through process simulations and assemblers can practice putting products together. If you’re training soft skills, create simulations for learners to practice with live participants or AI. 

Synchronous and Asynchronous Lessons

How do you decide if an XR activity should be live or prerecorded? Again, the question you must ask yourself is, “how does this add value to the learning experience?”

Synchronous Learning

Synchronous learning experiences create the social environment vital in constructivism. This environment is a necessity because after all, how often are each of us alone at the company we work in? Dealing with distractions, working in groups, and cross-department collaboration are normal. You can design learning experiences to be the same way. 

Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous experiences don’t have expectations of when learners will complete them. An asynchronous activity may have a deadline but each learner completes it on their own time. One person may complete it right away while another may wait until the last possible moment. Some may complete it during the day while others in the middle of the night. 

XR learning design is ultimately about finding the right balance of learning methods, theories, and technology
Image Source

Finding Balance Between the Two

Asynchronous experiences work best with learners who juggle work, school, and other responsibilities. They have the ability to work tasks into their busy schedule rather than having to adjust all their responsibilities around a course. 

The trouble with asynchronous learning is that too much of it leads to a lack of urgency in a class. In independent learning, courses that are exclusively asynchronous have a completion rate of 15% or less. This is why the best direction is to find a balance between the two when designing a course. 

Edstutia modules include a pre-recorded part completed at the learner’s pace. Live sessions focus on the questions learners have after completing the asynchronous parts of the module. Essentially we follow a flipped classroom approach.

Successful simulations also use a balance of synchronous and asynchronous experiences. They consist of a student simulation and a feedback round. The independent simulation can be asynchronous but the discussion takes place at a specified time with the entire class.

XR Learning Design Wrap-Up

XR learning design requires balance. First, instructional designers must find balance between learning models and learning theories. Then using XR, designers can develop motivating, active, engaging programs. To get started with your own journey in XR learning design, take a look at Edstutia’s Instructional certification in XR (ICXR) program.