[INFOGRAPHIC] Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning Online

By Keith Michael Howard | Last Updated: May 30, 2021

It almost sounds like two Greek Gods having a wrestling match, but synchronous vs asynchronous is a bit more complex than that. This post will illuminate the differences between the two and highlight the benefits of each.

If you are in a rush or just want to win a teacher’s room argument, here is the short answer:

Synchronous learning is when the teacher and students are together in a real-time virtual or traditional classroom. Asynchronous learning refers to outside-of-class activities that students do when the teacher is not present or immediately available to help.

Still curious?

Great, let’s move on to some of the main differences between synchronous vs asynchronous learning by checking out this infographic:

synchronous vs asynchronous infographic

Next, let’s take a more specific look at some of the strengths of synchronous and asynchronous learning.

Synchronous courses can be highly engaging for both the instructor and the student for several reasons.

Communicating with live interaction and visual cues.

The major strength of synchronous sessions comes from the live interactions between the students and teacher during class.

Park & Bonk [1] noted that synchronous courses are preferred by some educators as well who believe that real-time communication helps to promote meaningful engagement during class discussions.

Asterhan and Schwarz [2] noted that learners expressed feelings of a stronger connection to other students stemming from spontaneous conversations that occurred in synchronous meetings.

Being present with the teacher and other students gives visual indications that someone is listening, which creates focus within participants who may otherwise feel isolated from one another; this increases collaboration and productivity among those involved in synchronous sessions.

Higher student retention rates.

Asynchronous courses, according to Herbert [3] can have a 10 to 20% higher dropout rate than their synchronous counterparts.

This is due to students’ preference for live, interactive lessons and the fact that synchronous courses require less maturity and autonomous learning ability on the part of the students.

More mature learners, who are capable of self-motivating and organizing, may prefer asynchronous courses.

However, students who lack these higher-order thinking skills often feel left behind without the social support of their peers and instructor that are present in synchronous courses.

Thus, dropout rates are much lower in synchronous courses.

Community building is easier in synchronous courses.

The social and interactive components of synchronous courses make community-building and fostering a sense of belonging in students much easier as they naturally form ad hoc bonds of friendship.

The positive side effect of their live interactions is the students can become emotionally connected which can help to improve their course outcomes.

A large number of studies [4] show that influence by peers and interactivity of the course are strong contributors to overall student success.

Put simply, they become emotionally invested in the other people in their courses and this can improve their motivation to complete the coursework.

Synchronous sessions can be more interactive for students.

Traditional synchronous classes are lecture-based, but there is research [3] to indicate that students strongly prefer to spend their synchronous learning time doing interactive activities as opposed to passively watching lectures.

While it is possible to create interactive asynchronous learning experiences, students often prefer to engage in these types of learning activities with others.

That wraps up the main benefits of synchronous learning, but what about asynchronous?

Asynchronous courses are the new face of distance education, and they offer several benefits for administrators, teachers, and students.

Asynchronous courses can be scaled.

Due to the lower level of the instructor’s time demanded by asynchronous learning – a larger number of students can be enrolled in an asynchronous course.

Thousands of students can take the same asynchronous course at the same time. Examples of this can be found in the giant MOOC (or Massive Open Online Course) offerings by schools like Harvard or MIT.

Whereas in synchronous courses the instructor is often adapting or creating materials as the class goes along, in asynchronous courses, the materials are normally pre-designed and do not need to be altered by the instructor unless there is some sort of major issue or problem.

Scheduling and staffing are easier.

Some administrators are motivated to explore blended course formats to ease scheduling difficulties. Synchronous courses have many benefits, but they can put a strain on management resources because of the need for precise scheduling and increase administrative costs.

This issue disappears with pure asynchronous courses because there are no meetings to schedule.

Not only teachers, but some students also prefer courses that are asynchronous because they can work on the materials at their convenience.

If a person is working full-time and has children, for example, they may want to take an online class with flexible times so they can balance their work and family commitments while still pursuing their education.

A reduced workload for instructors.

Once a course has been created then the instructor has a freer role in making adjustments based on learner analytics without the time demands that come along with the opposite kind of online course.

By pre-packaging an asynchronous course into an LMS (or learning management system), much of the assignment or task grading can be automated. This frees up the instructors’ schedule to focus more attention on the students in a course.

Conclusion

Having a basic understanding of synchronous vs asynchronous learning and the benefits of each allows administrators, instructional designers, and teachers to create courses that are appropriate for their learning contexts.

While pure synchronous and asynchronous courses do exist, most modern courses combine the two and utilize a blended learning format which you can learn more about by visiting our Blended Learning Hub page.

 

References

[1] Asterhan, C. S., & Schwarz, B. B. (2010). Online moderation of synchronous e-argumentation. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning5(3), 259-282. [Google Scholar]

[2] Park, Y. J., & Bonk, C. J. (2007). Synchronous learning experiences: Distance and residential learners’ perspectives in a blended graduate course. Journal of Interactive Online Learning6(3), 245-264. [Google Scholar]

[3] Martin, F., Parker, M. A., & Deale, D. F. (2012). Examining interactivity in synchronous virtual classrooms. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning13(3), 227-261. [Google Scholar]

[4] Moser, S., & Smith, P. (2015). Benefits of Synchronous Online Courses. Association Supporting Computer Users in Education. [Google Scholar]

Hi, I'm Keith, an education technology innovator and host of The New Curriculum Specialist. But I wasn’t either of those things 2 years ago. Then 2020 happened. To adapt, I learned a little bit of code and things have really taken off from there. Not that bad for a guy who failed Math 6 times.

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