The special case of space and its relation to equity in asynchronous online learning

When I grew up in India throughout my childhood, my siblings and I were blessed with a study desk: a simple teak wood desk with a flap on the side to extend the desk if needed. There was a fixed time and a fixed space for studying. Books were to be respected and never placed on or under the feet. Food was never brought to the office. In fact, since shoes were not worn inside the house, hands and feet had to be washed well before sitting down to study. Saraswathi, the Goddess of Knowledge, bestowed her wisdom only on those who learned earnestly, so my siblings and I grew up with a sense of the sacred for the physical learning space.

In terms of space in human experience, Yi-Fu Tuan says this in space and place (1977): “In experience, the sense of space is often confused with that of place. “Space” is more abstract than “place”. What begins as an undifferentiated space becomes a place as we get to know it better and endow it with value. In “Learning Spaces,” Malcolm Brown explores the importance of effectively designing learning spaces (virtual and physical) to enhance NetGen student learning. In “Seven Principles for Classroom Design: The Learning Space Rating System (2015), Brown provides guidance on designing learning spaces to promote active learning. In “Challenging Traditional Assumptions and Rethinking Learning Spaces,” Nancy Van Note Chism states, “Space can have a powerful impact on learning; we cannot overlook space in our attempts to achieve our goals.

Despite these important findings, there are still miles to go due to the evolving manifestations of asynchronous learning spaces and the resulting effects on teaching modalities. A formation of space that works subtly but powerfully during learning is the mental and physical space in which one finds oneself. while interact with the virtual environment. It is important to address this space because it is linked to equity in education. As we all know, many students from diverse backgrounds lack ideal or reverential learning spaces – spaces that become places of value – and often face challenging environments and situations.

It’s also important to remember that for the asynchronous online student there is no true equivalent of a physical classroom, although we primarily operate with the idea that a virtual course in a system learning management replaces the common space of a physical classroom. The discussion forum, for example, is the space for discourse, the course page is a space for reading, etc., but this is only what appears at the surface level. The space that directly and most immediately affects learning is the combination of the mental and physical space in which the student finds himself. when access lessons in a course. The physical space one finds oneself in when accessing a classroom might be in a moving car while driving, among a crowd on a bus or plane, watching a game, or waiting in a hospital lobby; the space can be in the kitchen while preparing dinner and supervising a child’s homework; the space could even be another teacher’s classroom. The online learner’s space, which is a combination of the physical and mental-intellectual space in which one finds oneself, is continually changing. This means that an online learner’s learning space is fluid, while course content is anchor and relatively static.

Therefore, it is perhaps no exaggeration to say that for many students in the asynchronous online classroom, there is no stable classroom or study space; therefore, it forces us to consider the fluidity and transformative nature of the asynchronous online learning space when designing courses and executing lessons to foster a better connection with students.

For example, let’s say this week I need the students to master three chapters of the syllabus. Now, knowing that my students can access the lessons/materials in a variety of physical and mental spaces, such as while walking or driving, and knowing that my students may not have their full attention on the assigned chapters, I could recognize this reality, convey my acceptance of it, and guide them in different ways. It can also help to bond with students while communicating my expectations in different gentle ways.

Examples to preface a lesson:

1. Addressing physical mobility during asynchronous learning

If you are mobile when accessing this learning module, make sure your device has an application such as voice to text for taking notes. This will help you capture the main points and expand on them later as we go along. You will also benefit from re-entering the lesson in a still space where your attention is better focused and not distributed.

2. Addressing the Inevitability of Daily Life Tasks in Asynchronous Learning

When you enter this chapter, do you experience a time when there is a lot to do for your household, for example, caring for children, parents, siblings, or even a sick person? Is your learning space noisy and difficult to manage? If so, you can go about your tasks first. You will automatically see time open up for yourself. It will be precious time and deserves respect and attention. In case you are late posting on this chapter, I understand, but let’s pay attention to the learning intent, and you will see positive results.

3. Manage fatigue and distractions during asynchronous learning

If you’ve had an exhausting week with no free time and you’re accessing this module with multiple tabs and apps open, know this:

  • The mental and physical space you find yourself in is very important for your learning
  • Devote 30 minutes of focused time to understanding the basics
  • Give yourself the gift of one thought – learn what is needed for this week in our class

Questions for a post-lesson reflection exercise to help students become aware of learning:

  • When, how and where did you access the lesson of the week?
  • What kind of mental and physical space were you in?
  • What emotion was dominating at that moment?
  • How did the predominant emotion affect your reading and activities?
  • Which space has worked best for your learning?

These are a few topics on which to exchange ideas and inspire mutual support among classmates.

As you can see, the phrasing possibilities are endless. This is to help students become aware of the three spaces of online learning: the virtual space of the LMS; the physical space in which one finds oneself when accessing the lesson; the mental/intellectual space one finds oneself in while dealing with the distractions of the virtual environment. More often than not, the physical space of a moment sets the mood of the mental/intellectual space, thus affecting learning; therefore, communicating to students our awareness of the uniqueness of the asynchronous learning space can give them confidence that their teacher understands how learning works in asynchronous courses.

In this regard, the voice of the instructor – a verbal and written space – helps students create the mental-intellectual study desk that can inspire, influence, motivate and focus them, regardless of race, their ethnicity and other divisions of economics and politics. This study desk space may be subtle but the most powerful and valuable because its location is within oneself.

Nita Gopal is an English teacher at Modesto Junior College, CA, and has been teaching online since 2006.


Brown, M. (nd). Learning spaces | EDUCAUSE. Education. Retrieved June 1, 2022, from

Brown, M. (2015, February 22). Seven Principles for Classroom Design: The Learning Space Rating System. Education Review.

Chism, NVN (2006). Challenging traditional assumptions and rethinking learning spaces. EDUCATION. Education.

Tuan, Y. (1977). Space and place: the perspective of experience. University of Minnesota Press.

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