Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning for Online Classes

Asynchronous learning

As higher-ed institutions across North America announced plans to continue their online learning mandate instituted during the COVID-19 lockdowns, professors are scrambling once again to create courses built for the online world that keeps students engaged & maximizes their learning potential (Read: Report – 32% of students won’t enrol in courses this fall because of online learning)

Synchronous learning has historically been the focus for most universities and colleges around the world: in-person, learn in a real-time type of education. COVID changed that. Classes were suddenly thrust online, and due to a lack of adequate technology, many professors and schools sought new ways of teaching that could benefit their students. Asynchronous learning, long a staple for previously instituted online-schools, is coursework that allows students to learn at their own pace without the need for in-person instruction. In this article, we explore the benefits of both synchronous and asynchronous learning.

What is synchronous learning?

In synchronous learning, students will be attending online classes every week at the same time as their classmates and instructors. Virtual classes are a weekly commitment where rescheduling is not allowed.

As an instructor, you will set a dedicated agenda to ensure the productivity of each class session. It is not always you who gives a video lecture or discussion. You may allow students to lead the discussions themselves or provide their presentations.

John Muir, an instructional designer in Ohio, notes discipline-focused and active things in these sessions. Muir considers this as the same setup of classroom activities but is done on a virtual setting.

What is asynchronous learning?

On the other hand, asynchronous learning permits you to have your own schedule in a specific timeframe. This type of learning gives you access and complete readings, lectures, and other learning materials anytime within a timeframe.

Flexibility is the primary perk of this learning. You will be providing your students with short videos teaching primary concepts that you can watch again and again whenever necessary. Allow students to complete their homework and provide immediate feedback rather than let them wait for their grade.

However, this does not mean that asynchronous classes are less rigorous compared to their on-campus or synchronous counterparts.

The gap between synchronous and asynchronous learning

A gap between synchronous vs asynchronous learning arises when the current value-proposition of universities and colleges is centred around real-time learning with world-class educators. Students pay to listen and ‘absorb’ knowledge from experts in their field, but can that mandate exist with asynchronous online learning?

Synchronous learning is group learning where all students learn at the same time. Meanwhile, students decide when to learn in asynchronous learning. With that being said, comparing synchronous vs asynchronous learning can help instructors to accommodate various learning styles.

What students need from online learning

While students certainly miss face-to-face interactions with their educators, students cited that what they need the most from current online systems is a better mechanism to receive feedback on their current work. Think about it; pre-COVID, students were able to ask questions during lectures, speak to a professor after class, interact with their peers about coursework simply by turning to the student next to them. Online learning has largely removed these aspects from the academic experience. Now students are forced to send emails and log into LMS-portals to speak with professors. Just like that, the simplicity of feedback and inquires is gone.

Blending synchronous with asynchronous learning

For professors currently debating which two schools of thought are best for their students to come fall, it’s not that one is better than the other, instead, the solution must be a hybrid of the two. Incorporating elements of both synchronous and asynchronous learning provides students with the flexibility and autonomy that they crave in a course.

Students choose to attend class to listen to lead educators discussing their insights. They need a better way to interact and feel engaged with the course material during and after each lecture. This fall, we recommend focusing more on student engagement and helping students learn better, rather than the mechanisms of delivering your course-content.

Blended learning leads educators to become more focused on mixing synchronous and asynchronous learning online for student outcome optimization. However, professors often struggle to blend both types of learning because of the following reasons:

Introducing synchronous and asynchronous learning can be challenging. Though educators want to offer the benefits of both delivery styles whenever possible, it can be difficult to juggle new elements of course delivery. However, this measure gives remote students the opportunity to personalize learning in a manner that is workable for them.

Student familiarity with technologies and an understanding of how they can accomplish learning objectives is necessary for maximizing their effect impact in online-based classes.

Thanks to technology administrators, workflows maximizing the benefits from these learning modalities into an integrated system can now be streamlined. This helps instructors focus on teaching, not the inner workings of the technology itself only. The objective is to strengthen learning and teaching by enabling the faculty to reshape the learning experiences while providing students more control and flexibility over their learning.

Such a learning environment aids universities in achieving the same goals in a synchronous vs asynchronous learning environment or in a hybrid system. In turn, blending asynchronous and synchronous learning in their coursework becomes easier for educators.

Technologies of blended synchronous and asynchronous learning

The ecosystem of blended learning involves different technologies. These learning technologies are as follows:

Learning Management System or LMS – The hub intended for course communications, course management, and course materials.

Video Management System – A video solution for asynchronous learning which simplifies the development of the system. The system secures the sharing of student video presentations, on-demand video communications, micro-learning videos, recorded live class sessions, and pre-recorded lectures.

Video Conferencing – Asynchronous learning solution online allowing teachers and students to see and interact with each other in real-time.

Synchronous and asynchronous learnings do differ in some ways in terms of online education. It is up to you, as an instructor, how to make the most of them for your students.

Chris Palazzo
Marketer & Educator. Blending the two here at Kritik