As online learning becomes an increasingly essential component in higher education, professors must leverage various technologies and strategies to deliver the best learning experiences.
One critical decision is choosing between asynchronous and synchronous learning. How do these two methods differ, and which one should you use under what circumstances?
This article will discuss the similarities and differences between asynchronous and synchronous learning. Then, we’ll explore how and when to apply them to deliver the best results.
What is Asynchronous Learning?
Asynchronous learning allows students to learn on their own schedule. They can access and complete lectures, readings, homework, etc., any time and from anywhere within a specific timeframe.
Asynchronous classes often include a channel through which students can share their thoughts, ask questions, and get feedback from professors and classmates. Students can participate at times that are most convenient for them since the interactions aren’t immediate.
Asynchronous learning can be delivered via pre-recorded videos, email, online forums, online discussion boards, virtual libraries, social networking, collaborative documents, and more.
What is Synchronous Learning?
Synchronous classes occur on a set schedule when professors and students are online at the same time to participate in lectures, discussions, and presentations. Students can ask questions and get answers on the spot and collaborate with their classmates in real-time.
Besides live classes and discussions, most synchronous classes assign readings and assignments for students to complete outside of class time. They can be delivered through live webinars, video conferencing, virtual classrooms, chat, instant messaging, audio calls, etc.
Asynchronous vs. Synchronous: Similarities and Differences
Students complete asynchronous courses at their own pace, while synchronous students attend classes at specific times. Both methods allow students to learn online from anywhere and interact with professors and classmates through various channels.
Most of us are more familiar with the synchronous approach as the most common structure used in higher education—students attending lectures in a specific place at a scheduled time and interacting with professors and fellow students in real-time.
Technological advances, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, have facilitated the implementation of asynchronous learning. Many professors who used to be skeptics are now embracing asynchronous classes, as new tools enable them to deliver a rich and interactive learning experience.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has accelerated the adoption of various technologies essential for asynchronous classes. These tools have changed our behaviors and expectations while increasing students’ comfort level with online asynchronous interactions.
Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Classes: Which is Best For Your Students?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Each method can deliver a highly engaging and rewarding learning experience, depending on learning objectives, course content, delivery style, students’ availability, etc.
When To Use Asynchronous Learning
Asynchronous learning offers more flexibility by allowing students to progress at their own pace. For example, they can spend more time on challenging topics or less on materials they have already mastered. They can also choose formats (e.g., text, videos) that work best for their learning styles.
This method creates a self-guided and self-paced learning environment to help students overcome time, location, or resource constraints. Asynchronous learning has gained popularity because students can better control their experience and instructors can offer more individual attention.
Asynchronous classes can also foster more diverse viewpoints and deeper discussions. For instance, less vocal students (e.g., people who aren’t native speakers) can take their time to compose a thoughtful response and share it on a discussion board so everyone can participate equally.
When To Use Synchronous Learning
Synchronous classes often deliver a more dynamic experience thanks to real-time interactions. Students can get instant feedback for a more engaging experience. Since everyone will be learning at the same pace, it’s easier to coordinate discussions and collaborative projects.
This method is best for curriculums that require highly-involved interactions among professors and students in real-time. The instant feedback and real-time communication also help students develop presentation and debate skills.
A Blended Approach Could Be Your Winning Formula
Many institutions have been applying a blended approach with success. For example, some supplement asynchronous courses with live webinars scheduled for specific days and times. These live classes offer the benefits of real-time interaction and support idea exchange between students and professors.
Meanwhile, others implement hybrid learning in which traditional synchronous classroom methods are combined with asynchronous learning materials to provide more flexibility and cater to different learning styles.
How To Optimize Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Learning
No matter which method you use, variety is key to creating an engaging experience and accommodating different learning styles.
Preparation is key to delivering the best learning experience with synchronous online classes. Create a detailed agenda and share it with your students before a class. Include active learning opportunities, such as collaborative learning, to increase student engagement.
Fewer spatial and physical cues means you should make transitions between tasks or topics explicit to avoid confusion. Also, incorporate breaks into the agenda because most people can’t stay focused in front of the screen for more than 30 minutes.
Accessibility can impact the student experience. All students should have the appropriate equipment and an internet connection that can support video conferencing or live streaming. Also, take the time to familiarize yourself with the online tools so you can minimize distractions caused by technical issues.
While flexibility is a key benefit of asynchronous learning, it’s important to set clear objectives and milestones to measure progress, so you can ensure that students are meeting their learning goals. Clear guidelines and instructions can help them stay motivated throughout the course.
The learning cycle should incorporate tangible experience (e.g., a lecture or reading,) reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Meanwhile, you can standardize assignment structure and workflows (e.g., using automation) so students can focus on the content instead of the logistics.
Additionally, using the right technology is key to delivering an engaging and rewarding asynchronous learning experience. Otherwise, you could end up with shallow interactions and less-than-optimal outcomes.
Enhance Online Learning With AI-Powered Discussion Forum
Technology plays a critical role in online learning. Whether you’re offering synchronous or asynchronous courses, a robust discussion forum is the hub of student interactions where participants can expand and deepen their understanding of the subject matter.
However, not all software is created equal. Some may not be intuitive to use while others don’t have the capabilities to encourage in-depth discourse.
Use a platform that incorporates AI and analytics to gain insights into not the quantity and the quality of the interactions. It should enable each student to participate fully in all discussions and ensure that their input is heard. It should also help you save time by providing in-depth student grading profiles so you can spend less time on assessment tasks and more time on student interactions.
Ment.io enables professors in higher education to foster analytical skills and stimulate deep, healthy, and thoughtful discussions. Learn more and join our live demo to see how you can augment your online courses with innovative technology and meaningful discourse.