Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Learning: A Quick Overview
Asynchronous learning is a student-centered teaching method widely used in online learning. Its basic premise is that learning can occur in different times and spaces particular to each learner, as opposed to synchronous learning at a same time and place with groups of learners and their instructor, or one learner and their instructor. In asynchronous learning, instructors usually set up a learning path, which students engage with at their own pace.
Synchronous learning refers to all types of learning in which learner(s) and instructor(s) are in the same place, at the same time, in order for learning to take place. This includes in-person classes, live online meetings when the whole class or smaller groups get together. In synchronous learning, students usually go through the learning path together, accompanied by their instructor who is able to provide support while students are completing tasks and activities.
Most online teaching happens asynchronously, with synchronous learning usually taking place only if there is a specific need for live discussion or interaction, or as a strategy to build community among learners.
Why Many Instructors Teach Asynchronously
Streaming video and connecting to online meetings uses significant amounts of data and requires fast Internet connections to which not all students may have access. Even in cases when most students do have high-speed Internet and can connect to meetings successfully, it only takes one glitch or two glitches in connectivity or audio/video troubles to affect the overall quality of the meeting.
Audio and video troubleshooting tends to take up a significant portion of online meetings, including preparing ahead of time, and in-meeting troubleshooting. It is not infrequent for microphones that worked well to suddenly stop working, webcams to go dark inexplicably, or for files to disappear from your desktop just when you needed to share them. With asynchronous learning, instructors can take their time setting up the learning path, and making sure it is up to code before students have access.
- Successful online meetings with large groups require a lot of stars to align. Having a good meeting means everyone logs in on time, has few or no tech issues, is able to control their individual learning spaces, makes sure the dog doesn’t bark or the baby doesn't cry. Some instructors prefer not to deal with this, if they know learning outcomes can be reached asynchronously just as well.
- Online collaboration and group work can very well be done asynchronously. Remember that hour-long meeting that could have easily been an email? The same thing goes for learning. While it is always good to have synchronous check-ins, office hours, and Q&As, most thinking and grappling with course content can be done asynchronously. Keep live meeting times short and use them to answer questions and run through difficult-to-write-down topics or issues.
- Whether students are choosing to learn online, or there is a circumstance that makes online learning their only choice, hour-long lectures or web meetings will quickly exhaust learners. If you absolutely must schedule synchronous meetings, keep them short and sweet and allow as much interaction between participants as is technologically possible.