Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning in the Online World

When something is synchronous, two or more things are happening at the same time, in synchronicity.

They are "in sync." Synchronous learning takes place when two or more people are communicating in real time. Sitting in a classroom, talking on the telephone, chatting via instant messaging are examples of synchronous communication.

When something is asynchronous, the meaning is opposite. Two or more things are not "in sync" and are happening at different times. Asynchronous learning is considered more flexible than synchronous learning. The teaching takes place at one time and is preserved for the learner to participate in at another time, whenever it is most convenient for the student.

Speaking of the concept in tech era when most of the learning in online the definitions and the impact of both the methods change drastically. Speaking of Synchronous and Asynchronous e-Learning, the definition for both changes something like this:

Synchronous e-learning involves online studies with various technologies in use like chat and videoconferencing. This kind of learning tool is real-time. It is like a virtual classroom which allows students to ask, and teachers to answer questions instantly, through instant messaging, which is why it is called synchronous. Rather than taking lessons alone, students associating themselves with synchronous e-learning software or online courses can easily interact with fellow students and their teachers during the course.

On the other hand, Asynchronous learning can be carried out even while the student is offline. Asynchronous e-learning involves coursework delivered via web, email and message boards that are then posted on online forums. In such cases, students ideally complete the course at their own pace, by using the internet merely as a support tool rather than volunteering exclusively for an e-learning software or online interactive classes.

Strategies for Synchronous eLearning

- Educators need to set the tone

Learning environment plays a key role when we speak of synchronous learning. To have an effective synchronous learning course is creating the ideal learning environment. Because the learners are going to be participating in a real time discussion or online presentation, the complete attention of students must be on the learning course; this means removing all distractions from the room when they are accessing the eLearning course, and setting aside enough time in their schedule to sit in for the entire online discussion. Make them aware of the expectations well in advance so that they know how to prepare for the event.

- Don’t Text Overload Learners

The ideal way to use the text in presentation is to highlight the key concepts and tit bits that need to be jotted down by the learner. Educators, please only include text for the key takeaways of the online presentation. Don’t overload their mental processes by writing out your eLearning script word for word on the screen, or giving them text passages for each story that you share. The only exception to this rule is, of course, when you have hearing impaired learners in your audience. If this is the case, then you may want to consider adding optional subtitles that can be turned on or off during the event.

- Create a flexible schedule

Mostly due to the nature of the pedagogy, synchronous learning courses typically stick to a schedule. However, this must not limit the flexibility that learners should have to put their lives on hold in order to participate in a virtual discussion. To help students with this educator must make the schedule as flexible as possible. Also, recording the events is a nice option so that absent learners can still get the information they need at a later time. Before you begin the eLearning course, conduct a survey to figure out the best days and times for your learners, so that you can create a schedule that works for them. Also, keep their busy personal and professional lives in mind when creating the deadlines for online assignments and eLearning assessments.

Strategies for Asynchronous eLearning

- Variety is the key

Integrating a wide range of online activities and exercises not only avoids dreaded learner boredom, but it also caters to a broad range of learning preferences and styles. Because of the nature of this method it can be difficult to cater to the personalized needs of the students so it’s important to incorporate different range of activities so that everyone gets to experience various varieties of activities.   

For example, offering a text-only online course might exclude learners who prefer to learn via eLearning videos and simulations. This is why it’s essential to include a good mix of learning materials into your asynchronous learning strategy. Bear in mind that self-guided learners are more likely to disengage from the eLearning experience if the online course fails to grab and hold their interest.

- Solid Support Structure

Because asynchronous learning lacks face-to-face instruction its important that you must have a solid support system in place to assist those who need additional help with the subject matter, or even the learning management system. If students encounter a glitch or cannot log in to the eLearning platform, they should always have a way to get in touch with someone who can offer assistance.

- Create a collaborative online community.

Self-guided learners who are participating in asynchronous learning experiences the risk of feeling isolated. They are not engaging in real-time discussions on a regular basis. Thus, they are not able to collaborate with their peers and benefit from their experience as often. To help students with this, consider building an online community, such as a forum or blog, where learners can meet and share their ideas, concerns, and questions. You can also consider developing online exercises that require learners to team up. This can be done via web-based project management platforms, to complete the online assignment or solve a common challenge.

- Make it Easily Digestible

Your asynchronous learners are probably going to be accessing learning materials on-the-go. Therefore, you need to make the modules bite-sized, so that they can get the info they need as quickly as possible. This also gives them the ability to pause once they’ve completed a module and then pick up where they left off at a later time. Digestible learning materials help to avoid cognitive overload, as well, which is always a plus. Be sure to include a course map that allows learners to track their progress and quickly view which module is up next.

Benefits of Synchronous eLearning

- Making group activities possible

Done in real time, this approach enables the Instructors to interact with multiple students in real-time hence making group activities possible. 

- Instructors can explain certain concepts when students are struggling

Because students get to interact with the instructor they can always clear the concepts and doubts they struggle with.

- Students can get immediate answers about any aspect of the learning process

Immediate queries are answered by the instructor because of the real time teaching that happens. This is one big advantage of this method of learning.

Benefits of Asynchronous eLearning continued on the next page..

Benefits of Asynchronous eLearning

- Learners can study at any time and any pace, according to their own needs

This type of learning gives great ease and mobility to the learner as they can learn according to their schedule.

- Students have the ability to go back to pieces they need to brush up on

Because the content is shared online, students always have the backup. So if they ever wish to go back and revise they can do it. 

- There is the opportunity to review outside resources to aid instruction

As students learn on their own time and pace, they can always use other resources and study as they wish to.

Limitations of Synchronous eLearning

- Both the student and the instructor have to adhere to time schedules

Both, the instructor and the student have to stick to the time schedules as they come together online and learn. This might be an issue for any of them and students might even have to skip the classes because of the same.   

- Much of the training depends on the quality of the instructor

In synchronous learning, the instructor is the leading agent so the learning is directly proportional to the quality of the instructor.

- Students may not receive individual attention if other students are also in need

With group classes, students get limited time and the attention of the instructor is divided aming all the students so therefore there is a possibility that students may not receive individual attention if other students are also in need. 

- The learning pace is set by the instructor, not the students

Another drawback of synchronous learning is the pace. Students hardly get to t5ake their time as the instructor has to cover the subject/topic in certain number of sessions and hence students do not get to learn on their own pace.

Limitations of Asynchronous eLearning

- Limited access to an instructor and/or getting answers in real time

The nature of asynchronous learning gives students very limited time for interaction with the instructor. Also it is not possible for students to get answers in real time from the instructor so that can lead to the delay in learning on the end of students.  

- Some students may struggle without constant guidance and interaction

There are students who need constant supervision or maybe guidance to proceed further. For such students this model of teaching would be very difficult to cope with. 

- Not all instruction is best suited for self-paced learning

Due to the variety of strategies being used by the instructor under this method, there might be a possibility here student may not get comfortable with any of the strategy being used. Also, not all instructions are suited for self-paced learning hence this is one big limitation for the learner.

Tips to make Your Pick:

While synchronous and asynchronous learning each have their advantages and drawbacks, the best approach for a given design project is based on multiple factors. Here are three:

- The students and their learning needs

- The type of content

- The time availability of your learners

Tools for Synchronous eLearning “Same Time Different Place”

This model of teaching requires the instructor and students to come online together for all the teaching and learning needs. There are a lot of platforms like Blackboard that are helping students and instructors to make that happen. Other than that what I can think of is Skype, Google Hangouts, Face time and Google Docs. All these tools enable the instructors and students to come online together for their teaching-learning sessions. Google Docs is a no-cost suite of tools available to everyone over the age of 13 who registers for a Google account. The primary components of Google Docs include a word processor, spreadsheet and presentation tool that all allow multiple users to collaboratively work on documents in real-time. Skype is primarily a voice-over-IP (VOIP) program that requires the installation of a software client on your local computer. However, your list of contacts lives on the remote Skype server, so no matter what computer you log-in to, your contacts are available. Computer-to-computer calling is free and up to 5 people can conference call in a voice session. Similar to Skype, Hangouts features the video calling and FaceTime does the same for those with apple devices.

Tools for Asynchronous eLearning “Different Time Different Place”

Popplet: Users can organize and make connections and comments on ideas in a collaborative concept webs or virtual sticky notes.

Padlet: Users can organize and make connections and comments on ideas in a collaborative concept webs.

MediaWiki: Free open-source that allows for multiple authors.

Other than these three tools that are focused on Asynchronous learning, tools like Edmodo and Moodle are also there that cater to the similar needs. 

Other Resources That You Must Check:

- Online Learning Tools: Asynchronous Communication Tools

- Tools for Synchronous and Asynchronous Classroom Discussion

- 6 Online Collaboration Tools and Strategies For Boosting Learning

- Guide on Synchronous Course Delivery

- A Study of Synchronous and Asynchronous e-learning methods discovered that each supports different purposes by Stefan Hrastinski

Share your experiences, journeys and thoughts on these two methods with us in the comment section below. 

About the Author
Author: Priyanka Gupta
Priyanka is a blogger by profession and has an increasing interest to write about the edtech space. While writing she keeps in mind the educators to come up with right resources and ideas which might be relevant for them in relation to effective use of technology in their profession and institutions/classrooms.
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