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    Synchronous vs. Asynchronous

    September 23, 2021 | Staff Writers

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    It’s no secret that online learning has significantly evolved in accessibility and popularity, luring students with its schedule-friendly format options. These formats can be broadly categorized into asynchronous and synchronous learning. 

    Synchronous learning occurs in real-time, usually with a particular class schedule coupled with required login times. On the other hand, asynchronous learning doesn’t demand interaction in real-time, as the content is readily available online for students to access it as they deem fit. 

    Furthermore, assignments are completed as per their respective deadlines. Programs may also utilize hybrid learning models that include the perfect blend of both learning formats. 

    Upon selecting a course content format, it’s crucial to ponder a few questions: What type of online learner are you? Are you a social butterfly or self-starter? Does professorial oversight cramp your learning style or motivate you? 

    Read on to gain insight into the different categories of online learning formats and much more. 

    Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning Online

    Synchronous teaching occurs in real-time, meaning that you, your instructor, and your classmates interact in a particular virtual space at a specific time. In these courses, instructors usually take attendance, just as they would in lecture halls. 

    Popular methods of synchronous learning range from live-streamed lectures, video conferencing, and live chatting to teleconferencing, all of which must be viewed in real-time. 

    Asynchronous learning occurs on your schedule. Granted, your instructor, program, or course of study will provide lectures for viewing, assignments for completing, and exams for evaluation. 

    However, you have free rein to gain access to and satisfy these requirements on your schedule, provided that you meet the stipulated deadlines. A few renowned asynchronous online learning methods are social media platforms, pre-recorded video content, online discussion boards, self-guided lesson modules, and virtual lecture notes or libraries. 

    How Are Asynchronous Learning Strategies Used?

    Asynchronous e-learning strategies usher in a boatload of opportunities for a learner to join in a discussion or complete their course work at various times, providing a boatload of online learning benefits

    One major advantage is that student thinking and learning become more visible. Teaching assistants and instructors can utilize extra time to nurture thoughtful and intentional feedback. Furthermore, these strategies deliver immense flexibility when activities veer off the initial plan. 

    The hallmark of asynchronous learning activities is that different students don’t participate concurrently. Therefore, while various activities such as participating in online quizzes and watching pre-recorded lectures are stand-alone, effective asynchronous activities generate a series of dialogues from one learner to another and one instructor to another.

    This resource ushers in strategies for asynchronous course design coupled with examples of concrete assignments and actions. 

    How Can Students Collaborate Asynchronously?

    Let’s explore a few of the most popular tools that boost the opportunity for asynchronous communication among different students, elevating the learning process. 

    1. Discussion Boards or Forums 

    As one of the collaboration tools for any asynchronous learner, discussion forums, or boards are important in learning management systems. These boards can easily communicate with other learners, the course content, and the instructors. Usually, the instructors post the threads or topics that are up for debate to which the students respond. 

    Learners can also respond to other learners in these forums. The postings are archived, allowing instructors to monitor the quality of learner participation. With discussion boards or forums, learners that are unwilling to speak up in face-to-face interactions can easily find their voice. 

    Furthermore, they have time to ponder research and reflect on their responses, which ushers in greater quality discussions.

    Given that some learners fail to join in online discussions, setting the following clear guidelines can make all the difference in encouraging participation as far as quantity and quality are concerned. 

    • Conduct the necessary preparations. It includes completing the lesson and reading activities before joining in the discussion.
    • Keep your messages concise, limiting them to one or two paragraphs while ensuring they are free of grammatical errors and misspellings.
    • Gather your thoughts before posting to ensure your post only contains the most important information. Learners that want a more detailed explanation will request one in their replies.
    • Steer clear of discussion posts that provide more insight than ‘I concur.’ Every discussion posting should provide new information that is geared towards fostering further exploration of the topic.
    • Upon replying to a message, use the same subject line to allow students to easily follow the thread of the topic. To do so, share your thoughts via the ‘reply’ button after reading the discussion topic.
    • Respect the opinions and ideas of others even when they disagree with yours. You can disagree respectfully.
    • Refrain from waiting until the last minute to share your thoughts on a given subject. 

    2. Blogs 

    Also referred to as weblogs, these are online journals that can be made private or public. Learners rely on blogs for the creation of online post reflections, portfolios, hand in assignments or projects, and receive feedback from other learners and instructors. 

    Postings are in reverse chronological order, which makes themed discussions a breeze to follow. They play the role of collaborative writing spaces for students to work together and jointly brainstorm on many ideas. 

    3. Wikis 

    These are online tools that allow students and instructors to collaborate on various projects and share resources. Wikis have become an effective tool for sharing and generating an overload of complex knowledge. 

    The most noteworthy wikis feature is the open editing function that allows users to co-create knowledge and information to support a learner-based and constructivist perspective. Wikis are not only free but comprise sound, text, and images, and their access can be controlled with a password. 

    Moreover, minimal technical skills or training is needed to participate in wikis, permitting students to focus on the content. 

    The valuable use of wikis is group project work. Therefore, when using wikis:

    • Avoid posting your personal information or that of another person
    • Post accurate information from reliable and credible sources
    • Get permission from an artist or author to post their pieces of writing or photos
    • Be uplifting and courteous in your interactions with other students
    • Ensure you abide by the rules of a given assignment. As you get your creative juices flowing, do so within the parameters stipulated on the page
    • Avoid deliberately deleting the work of others

    4. Podcasting 

    Podcasts are a broadcasted series of audio files over the internet via syndication feeds for playback on personal computers and mobile gadgets. Learners can listen to course lectures at the convenience, as many times as they please. Podcasts are portable, which means they can be listened to anywhere.

    5. E-Portfolios 

    Also known as e-folios, these are collections of learner work stored in a digital format. They deliver a means of maintaining and gathering evidence for online assessment. E-folios usually have a reflection aspect that is closely similar to blogging. Moreover, they may include podcasts. Therefore, within e-folios lies a convergence of different types of social networking media. 

    6. Email 

    It’s not only the most popular communication method in online learning but also the oldest collaboration tool. Private messages can be sent from one student to another and among instructors and learners. Email is affordable and reliable. 

    Email is an asynchronous learning tool that comes in handy in scheduling changes, informing students of assignments and projects, announcements, due dates, and addressing possible misconceptions. 

    Private email can be used for feedback on individual projects and assignments and answering sensitive learner questions, for instance, conduct in discussion forums, family crises, and grade concerns. 

    How Can Students Collaborate Synchronously?

    Synchronous learning can be an uphill battle as a result of learner time zones and schedules. Nonetheless, interaction in real-time can diminish feelings of isolation and boost community sense in online classrooms. With that being said, here’s a breakdown of the most common tools utilized in synchronous e-learning. 

    1. Chat 

    As a form of synchronous engagement, chat paves the way for learners and instructors to virtually assemble for Q&A sessions, virtual office hours, and discussion forums. Blackboard provides this feature and enables the chat sessions to be recorded for later viewing by students who could not attend the session. Uses of chat include:

    • Oral examinations
    • Q&A sessions in real-time
    • Interviews of experts by researchers or students
    • Private meetings, tutoring sessions, study groups, and team meetings not only among learners but also between instructors and students.
    • Problem-solving, brainstorming, and troubleshooting sessions. 

    2. Skype 

    It comes in handy as a synchronous tool when verbal interaction is needed between instructors and learners and among students. Skype activities range from one-on-one tutoring to hosting virtual learning hours. Learners can Skype with each other collaborating on group projects and sharing their experiences. 

    Moreover, instructors can instant message learners and colleagues. It’s vital to provide a learner with the technical instructions and requirements on the process of downloading and setting up a Skype account. When online instructors require students to conduct presentations via Skype, trial runs are recommended. 

    3. Social Networking Sites (SNS’s)

    They deliver a creative outlet for learners. Through profiles, learners can showcase their photographic, video, and audio works exhibiting ‘artistic’ presentation. Furthermore, SNS’s can give learners a sense of belonging by allowing them to participate in online communities. 

    Access to SNS’s is not only free, but they are also easy to maneuver with. They also have a stored record of written communications. A multitude of SNS’s usher in face-to-face interactions that result in real friendships. 

    Some instructors argue that Social Networking Sites have the potential and power to fundamentally change the learning system through the active motivation and engagement of students as opposed to the conventional passive learners as mere observers. 

    These sites can be used as an educational exercise in teaching learners how to properly conduct themselves online and the discrimination of content that entails mastering the skill of not taking profiles at face value. 

    4. Second Life (SL)

    It’s a three-dimensional virtual world operated and built by Linden Lab. While the Viewer software demands high-speed Internet connectivity, a minimum of 512MB of RAM, a great graphics card, 24.5 MB of space on the hard drive, and a fast microprocessor, a student can teleport to nearly any island as they learn and peruse without the need to purchase anything. SL allows learners to communicate via audio or chat. Moreover, they can conduct presentations on this platform as it encourages active participation and experimental learning.

    Why Choose Synchronous vs Asynchronous Courses?

    Online students have two options to choose from: asynchronous and synchronous courses. Granted, both options are primarily accessible via online course modules from your laptop mobile device, can be completed from anywhere, provide immense flexibility, and are geared towards helping all types of learners earn their credentials on their terms. 

    Furthermore, asynchronous learning and synchronous instruction, in some instances, may be availed by the same program. Nonetheless, beyond that, they can be a tad bit different. 

    Who Is Best Suited to Learn from Synchronous and Asynchronous Methods?

    As is the case with most things in life, both learning types have their drawbacks and perks. Therefore, the most ideal approach for your team is based on the following aspects. 

    • The type of content that is being taught
    • Geographical constraints along with the time availability of the learners and instructors
    • The individual learning and teaching preferences of the students and instructors

    Keeping that in mind, if your team is working remotely and spread across the globe, then asynchronous learning is a better fit. 

    On the other hand, if you’re organizing training sessions for your team on a certain topic they have already had immense training on, then synchronous delivery with plenty of interaction coupled with ample time to discuss the subject is a better option. 

    It could be followed by an asynchronous approach whereby students and instructors have access to the content to review periodically as a refresher.  

    Upon conducting a learner’s assessment and discovering that some gravitate more towards a synchronous course vs. an asynchronous class or vice versa, then the ball is in your court to come up with a foolproof learning and development plan that is suited for them individually.

    What Are the Pros of Synchronous Learning? 

    Let’s explore the perks that come with choosing any type of synchronous course. 

    Classroom Engagement 

    If you gravitate towards immediate feedback, personal interactions with instructors and learners, and active discussions, then synchronous learning is right up your alley. It can be particularly useful if you’re starting the transition from a conventional classroom to online learning. Lecture broadcasts, real-time chats via a messaging client, and live videoconferencing can offer the personal engagement that is closely similar to a classroom, right from the comfort of your home without the hassle of commuting. Furthermore, catching a cold or flu, or worse, the coronavirus, becomes the least of your worries. 

    Dynamic Learning 

    Regarding some learning styles, synchronous delivery beats classroom learning as it permits for a more dynamic exploration of concepts, topics, and ideas. Synchronous learning ushers in immediacy and speed. 

    For instance, videoconferencing paves the way for students and teaching assistants to brainstorm on topics mid-lesson. Moreover, not being in a lecture hall allows you to conduct your research on the side without disrupting the class. 

    If you’re a quick learner surrounded by complementary and competing ideas, then the synchronous learning style is the best fit for you. 

    Learning Depth 

    A synchronous online class allows frequent interaction with your instructors. It provides numerous opportunities for individual guidance, mentorship, and face-to-face interactions without the need to schedule independent appointments. If you thrive under supportive and accessible instruction, then you’re a synchronous student. 

    What Are The Cons Of Synchronous Learning?

    Let’s discuss the drawbacks of enrolling in a synchronous online class. 

    Rigid Schedule 

    If you’ve opted for online learning due to your unpredictable and hectic work schedule, a synchronous approach may usher in a new set of setbacks. 

    For instance, if your parenting responsibilities render you entirely occupied for hours on end during the day, your profession as a registered nurse on standby at odd hours or being a storm-chaser means you must be ready to roll at a moment’s notice. 

    As a result, keeping up with the rigid schedule of a synchronous course can be an uphill battle. If flexibility is your main reason for pursuing online learning, adapting to a synchronous learning style may negate the purpose. 

    Technical Challenges 

    If your day-to-day involves being out and about, and you typically find yourself completing coursework in airport terminals, train stations, hotel lobbies, and coffee shops, synchronous learning may make your life more stressful. 

    Constantly searching for strong wireless signals becomes dire when you’re on the clock for an exam, lecture, or videoconference. For synchronous learning, technical issues such as crashing hard drives, dying batteries, and unstable internet connectivity can become a full-fledged GPA-tanking disaster. As opposed to logging in and sitting for an examination, you may end up sputtering profanities on your computer. 

    What Are the Pros of Asynchronous Learning? 

    Let’s delve into a few advantages that a synchronous learning environment provides. 

    Flexibility 

    If your daily schedule is demanding, or you work at odd hours, you’re probably one of the asynchronous online students. In these programs, materials are readily accessible, usually within a certain timeframe, such as a week or two, allowing you to access them when it best fits your schedule. 

    The materials may include text-based lecture notes, interactive, self-guided learning modules, pre-recorded podcasts, and lectures. You can complete a module at your local coffee shop or on the train ride to work, listen to a couple of lectures on your headphones during your child’s napping time, or take a pop quiz during your lunch break. 

    Asynchronous communication arms you with the necessary materials to complete them at your earliest convenience. 

    Pacing 

    One of the most empowering aspects of asynchronous learning is that it grants you free rein to set the pace, typically within stipulated deadlines. Students can read and review materials as many times as they need to and complete them based on their understanding rather than when the lesson time ends. 

    Fast learners can power through units and materials that come easily to them. However, if it takes you longer to grasp new concepts, you can review the information, jot down notes, and practice retention without the fear of being left behind by your fellow learners or missing the most important points in a lecture. 

    Affordability 

    If it plays a key role in your opting for online learning, then asynchronous learning is your best bet. Education options such as massive online open courses (MOOCs) are typically cheaper as they don’t demand daily attention from administrators and instructors. Instead, learners work through the content by themselves, with occasional assistance from instructors via social media platforms and email correspondence. 

    Video tutorials, virtual libraries, and self-guided modules all usher in the opportunity to pursue your education with minimal expense and oversight. Granted, most of these programs don’t lead to degrees. However, some do, and they may include certified opportunities.

    What Are the Cons of Asynchronous Learning? 

    Let’s explore the disadvantages of enrolling in an asynchronous online degree program.

    Isolation 

    If you prefer the personal touch and thrive when you feel as though people are listening, then asynchronous virtual education can get a tad bit lonely. Email, coupled with social media platforms, is not a substitute for real-time communication. Moreover, asynchronous classes are less collaborative compared to a synchronous session. 

    With less student engagement, the opportunities to debate, network, and discuss with instructors and other learners are few and far between. Unlike synchronous activity that offers increased cognitive engagement, asynchronous learning is ideal for quickly picking up skills. 

    However, if you’re on the quest to enrich feedback, social interaction, and feedback, then asynchronous classes are not for you. 

    Apathy Risk 

    Granted, online universities that provide self-guided environments and free course credits can be empowering. It’s crucial to be honest by pondering on a few questions. For instance, do you have the drive to remain enthusiastic on the subject matter and committed to your goals without the constant supervision, evaluation, or support of an instructor? 

    The reality is that some students thrive with immediate feedback, a watchful eye, and stipulated expectations. If you’re a learner that falls in this bracket, the free-form nature of asynchronous e-learning can lower motivation. 

    The Best of Both Worlds

    With blended learning, you can have your cake and eat it too. It’s the practice of mixing technology with conventional face-to-face education. The perks of blended learning are for students are in abundance, ranging from increased retention, enhanced satisfaction, and increased peer support to elevating soft skills. 

    For instance, you can organize synchronous training sessions for your team, whereby each session is an hour-long with an instructor at work. Then, avail the recorded versions online to those that were unable to attend the sessions. 

    Example Online Schools With Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning 

    Upon deciding to pursue remote learning, the first course of action is to decide whether asynchronous or synchronous e-learning suits you best. Asynchronous remote learning options are online pre-recorded, self-paced lessons that learners can easily access at their preferred pace. 

    To find schools that offer asynchronous and synchronous distance learning, you can check out the best value schools of 2020, along with the various reviews from students that have used either of the two online education options. 

    Asynchronous learning doesn’t demand real-time interaction. Therefore, virtual education institutions that offer this type of virtual learning make students conveniently access online when it best suits their schedules and complete assignments as per their respective deadlines. 

    Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Higher-Education Courses

    The following strategies are a great way to make the most of asynchronous and synchronous learning. 

    Community Building 

    Relationships are the hallmarks of learning. Therefore, intentionally building a safe space and online community to learn and connect is a great start to the academic years of continuing education. It also maintains the culture throughout the year. Community building entails showing and telling, sharing celebrations, breakout groups, and discussing current affairs. 

    Whole Group Lessons 

    These involve discussing concepts or ideas that solicit input from both learners and instructors, encouraging immense interaction. Whole group lessons can also involve readers/writers workshops, Q&A sessions, and brainstorming on different course strategies. 

    Celebration of Learning 

    It entails seizing opportunities to share progress and make learning public that motivate and aid students in taking ownership of their higher education courses. Celebration of learning includes sharing and reflecting on the course, exhibition, and various student presentations. 

    What Types of Higher-Education Courses Lend Themselves Well to Asynchronous vs Synchronous Learning?

    Here’s a list of the most popular types of higher-education courses that are suitable for remote learning. 

    • Psychology
    • Photography
    • Social Work
    • Digital Marketing
    • Information Technology (IT)
    • Criminal Justice and Criminology
    • Online Executive MBA
    • Accounting
    • Arts 

    What Are the Typical Requirements for Synchronous vs Asynchronous Courses in Higher Education?

    Here’s a breakdown of the minimum software and technical requirements for optimal asynchronous or synchronous e-learning. 

    • Frequent access to a computer with high-speed broadband access (DSL, LAN, or Cable)
    • A web browser such as Internet Explorer 11, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, or Google Chrome
    • Compatible Operating System such as Windows 8 or 10 or Mac OS X
    • Word processing software
    • Audio or video playing software or a particular software application
    • Some higher-education courses may demand a Windows partition or emulator

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