The Convenience of Asynchronicity Has Us Out of Sync

Josh CohenBlog

Prior to my kids learning from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, I had never heard of asynchronous learning: a term used to define learning that happens at different times for different students, enabling them to design a learning schedule that best meets their educational needs.

In our family, we got very good at understanding the particular dynamics of synchronous versus asynchronous learning days (Hint: you shouldn’t expect an uninterrupted work meeting on an asynchronous learning day if you have kids like mine who do their work at various times and locations in the house.)

The concept of asynchronous learning isn’t actually new. It’s been one of the selling points of many online education platforms that are trying to democratize educational content by allowing people to learn whenever and wherever they can. Books can probably lay claim to the original asynchronous learning. 

Asynchronicity is also one of the selling points of podcasts. Like asynchronous learning, podcast listeners can listen whenever they want, wherever they are. And, like asynchronous learning in schools, podcast listeners miss out on some of the nuance that comes from a synchronous sharing of knowledge or the collective perspectives of classmates in real time. 

The Movement Podcast has certainly benefited from the asynchronicity of podcasts. The leadership, equity, and mobility topics we are covering are evergreen. People have written in to say they’ve listened while exercising, doing the dishes, or even just to hear my voice—thanks, Mom! Listeners tuned in from SoundCloud, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and Overcast. And while we’re predictably popular in North America, I had no idea we had so many fans in Spain, Singapore, and Iceland!

Up until now, our goal at The Movement Podcast has been to virtually bring people together for a common cause: Advancing the equitable, accessible, and verdant mobility future we all deserve. For many podcasts, the listenership boost from the asynchronicity of consumption would be enough during a time when we are physically distanced. But for those of us who are committed to equitable mobility for all, where we are all on the same team trying to work towards a common objective, the asynchronicity of consumption is not always a good thing. 

If we have learned anything over the past two years of our conversations with leaders, it’s that we’re not going to get the job done at an individual level with all of us listening by ourselves in our own homes, unwittingly creating silos along the way. It will take a true community—sometimes messy, often spirited, and always evolving.    

It’s possible that I’m just missing in-person events. Most of the virtual ones have left me cold. Nothing against the events or the people running them; I just miss people and the virtual facsimiles seem to be suboptimal.

Maybe I just haven’t been to the right ones? Perhaps you have been to some inspiring virtual events and can recommend ways to create an engaging, synchronous community built on the good ideas and inherent talent of our friends and listeners?  

So that’s The Movement Podcast’s next challenge: How do we take our loosely-bound community of values-based leaders and turn that into a tighter community? There are no right answers here, but instead a humble ask to identify ways we can build on the conversations of the past two years. I have some ideas, but I’d like to hear from you. Will you take this two question quiz (seriously—only two questions!) on how we can build this community to truly create the equitable, accessible, and verdant mobility future we all deserve? Just like the best city leaders co-create their communities with residents, your input will be essential to how we work together