Can Gen AI be used to support “accidental” asynchronous learners in HyFlex courses?

The HyFlex Learning Community site and blog is full of information, stories and resources that support the development and implementation of HyFlex courses which offer students the flexibility to choose between in-person, synchronous online, and asynchronous online learning modes. However, we have learned over the years that this flexibility can lead to a unique challenge for “accidental” asynchronous learners—students who prefer synchronous learning but find themselves in asynchronous modes due to various constraints. They often struggle with very low dialogue and highly structured environments that lead to feelings of separation from other people as they learn. Many students need – perhaps even require – interaction with others to help them learn well. Generative AI (Gen AI), particularly Generative Pre-trained Transformers (GPTs), offers a promising solution to enhance the learning experience for these students by providing simulated human-to-human and content-understanding interactions.

The Challenge of Transactional Distance

Students in asynchronous learning often suffer from high transactional distance, a concept that describes the psychological and communication gap between instructors and students in distance education. This gap is characterized by low interpersonal dialogue and high course structure, which can make the learning experience [feel] rigid and isolating. Students with low learner autonomy, who depend heavily on their learning environment and interactions, find it especially challenging to thrive in such settings. (Moore, 1997)

Enhancing Interaction with AI

Gen AI can mitigate these challenges by simulating the interactions typically found in synchronous learning environments. AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants can engage students in real-time conversations, answer their questions, and provide personalized feedback on assignments. These AI tools mimic the dynamic interaction of a classroom, helping to reduce the transactional distance and make learning more engaging. (Mollick & Mollick, 2023)

I have been developing simple GPTs specifically for learners who want and need more interaction than they can get in the online path in HyFlex courses. For instance, chatbots like the Course Syllabus Explorer can help students understand their course structure and expectations by answering specific questions about the syllabus. Similarly, the HyFlex Mode Chooser can guide students in deciding the best participation mode for their circumstances, offering tailored advice to optimize their learning experience. (See Beatty 2024 for more explanation of [and links to] these and other GPTs designed specifically for “accidental” asynchronous learners – referenced and linked below.)

Personalized Content Understanding

Gen AI can also provide tailored content explanations and adaptive learning pathways, addressing the individual needs of students. Intelligent Tutoring Systems (ITS) powered by AI analyze student interactions with the course material and identify areas where they need additional support. These systems offer customized exercises and alternative explanations to reinforce understanding. (Guo, Wang D., Gu, Li, Wang Y., & Zhou, 2021)

In another GPT designed for HyFlex, the My Learning Helper GPT acts as a virtual tutor, offering explanations and answering questions on various topics, thereby providing asynchronous learners with the support they need to grasp complex concepts. Additionally, the Quiz Me! GPT offers personalized quizzes that adapt to the student’s performance, providing immediate feedback and targeted questions to enhance comprehension.

Fostering a Sense of Community

Creating a sense of community is crucial for asynchronous learners to combat feelings of isolation. AI can facilitate peer interactions and group activities, simulating the collaborative aspects of in-person classes. The Breakout Companion GPT, for instance, helps students engage in virtual “think-pair-share” activities, mimicking real breakout group discussions. This approach ensures that asynchronous learners can experience the benefits of peer collaboration and mutual support. Another GPT, Breakout for Three, adds another AI participant to the interaction, so an online student can have a conversation with a “More Knowledgeable Other” (Vygotsky’s MKO – Vygotsky, 1978) and a less knowledgeable other at the same time. (Direct GPT link:

Real-World Applications and Benefits

Institutions have started integrating Gen AI into their HyFlex courses with positive outcomes. For example, Georgia State University’s AI-powered chatbot, Pounce, has significantly improved student engagement and retention by providing timely and personalized support. (Meyer, Page, Walsh, & Smith, 2022) Others have experimented with using AT chatbots to take on various roles in online asynchronous discussions, showing promise to make these environments more engaging and effective in supporting learning. (Spence, Kaufmann, Lachlan, Lin, & Spates, 2024) Such tools demonstrate the potential of AI to enhance the learning experience for asynchronous learners, making education more accessible and interactive.


As HyFlex courses continue to evolve, the integration of Gen AI presents a compelling solution to support “accidental” asynchronous learners. By simulating human-to-human interactions, providing personalized content understanding, and fostering a sense of community, Gen AI can help these students stay engaged and succeed in their academic pursuits. While AI interactions cannot fully replace human interactions, they offer a valuable supplemental experience that addresses the unique needs of asynchronous learners, ensuring that all students can achieve their educational goals.


Beatty, B. (2024). Engaging “Accidental” Asynchronous HyFlex Learners with GenAI GPTs. Paper presented at the 2nd Annual HyFlex Collaborative Conference, June 27, 2024. (Proceedings paper:

Guo L, Wang D, Gu F, Li Y, Wang Y, Zhou R. (2021). Evolution and trends in intelligent tutoring systems research: a multidisciplinary and scientometric view. Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. 2021;22(3):441–61. doi: 10.1007/s12564-021-09697-7. Epub 2021 May 4. PMCID: PMC8095475.

Meyer, K. E., Page, L., Walsh, T., and Smith, E. (2022). Let’s Chat: Chatbot Nudging for Improved Course Performance. Paper presented at Association for Education Finance and Policy (AEFP) March 2022, Denver CO.

 Mollick, E., & Mollick, L. (2023). Using AI to implement effective teaching strategies in classrooms: Five strategies, including prompts. Teaching Naked.

Spence, P. R., Kaufmann, R., Lachlan, K. A., Lin, X. and Spates, S. A. (2024) Examining perceptions and outcomes of AI versus human course assistant discussions in the online classroom, Communication Education, 73:2, 121-142, DOI: 10.1080/03634523.2024.2308832


  • Brian Beatty

    Dr. Brian Beatty is Professor of Instructional Design and Technology in the Department of Equity, Leadership Studies and Instructional Technologies at San Francisco State University. At SFSU, Dr. Beatty pioneered the development and evaluation of the HyFlex course design model for blended learning environments, implementing a “student-directed-hybrid” approach to better support student learning.

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