When distance learning or hybrid learning, communication is the key to productivity. But knowing when to use the right form of communication often comes with a learning curve. Synchronous communication is automatic and happens in real-time, whereas asynchronous communication is less immediate. So, how do these modes of communication translate the world of remote learning?

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Depending on the subject and objective, your distance learners can surely benefit from a combination of both synchronous (real-time or live) and asynchronous learning. Each has its pros and cons, and it's up to you to decide how and when each should be implemented.


Synchronous Learning

Any learning that happens in real-time, without any lag, is synchronous learning. Synchronous learning brings synchronous communication to a virtual classroom setting. Some examples of synchronous learning include:


  • Video conferencing
  • Live, in real-time, webinars
  • Virtual classrooms
  • Instant messaging
  • Audio collaboration

Pros of Synchronous Learning

There are many benefits to creating a synchronous learning environment. The primary benefit is that it imitates the in-person classroom experience. Other pros of synchronous learning include:


Communal Engagement

Synchronous learning creates the opportunity for real-time discussions and collaboration. This is a particularly nice perk for those who are new to the world of online learning and may tend to miss the connection that in-person learning provides. With the right synchronous communication tools, this communal engagement is easy to replicate in the virtual classroom.


Dynamic Learning

There is an immediacy to synchronous learning that can't be duplicated with asynchronous communication tools. This immediacy means learners can give and get immediate feedback, which leads to the growth of discourse and expansion of ideas. Of course, to some degree, asynchronous learners can arrive at the same conclusions as synchronous learners. But in a dynamic learning environment, the pace of conversation evokes the same degree of engagement as the in-person classroom experience.


Instructor Involvement

Yes, with asynchronous learning the course instructor is still deeply involved with the materials and lessons. However, synchronous teaching is ideal for learners who prefer to receive immediate answers to their questions. This is particularly helpful for more challenging subjects. In a synchronous learning environment, students can interact with the instructor at a more frequent rate and in a more personable manner.


Cons of Synchronous Learning

While it's clear that there are many pros of synchronous learning, there are also some existing cons. For example, whereas some learners thrive in the fast-paced environment provided by synchronous learning, others may feel overwhelmed by the rigor and would prefer a more individually motivated method of learning. Other cons of synchronous learning include:


Scheduling Difficulties

Many students look forward to virtual learning because of the implied flexible schedule. However, when your classroom involves exclusively synchronous learning, this flexibility goes out the window. If you need to teach at times that fit best into your busy schedule, you'll likely want to use a hybrid learning model. This involves some synchronous meetings along with time to complete work "offline".


Tech Trouble

Mobility is one of the main perks of distance learning, and a factor that works almost in direct contrast with synchronous learning. However, technical difficulties can spell trouble for your class. Make sure you have an IT service you can get in touch with if any technical difficulties arise.


Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous learning allows students to complete coursework and assignments online, without the restriction of having to be in a certain place at a certain time. This gives asynchronous learners the freedom to manage their own schedules and work at their own pace.

Of course, asynchronous learning still allows for the opportunity for peer and instructor engagement. Feedback and thoughts are still shared within the class, but no immediate responses are required. Some examples of asynchronous learning are:


  • Module-based online courses
  • Pre-recorded lessons, webinars, and conferences
  • Online forums and discussion boards
  • Self-guided materials

Pros of Asynchronous Learning

There are many benefits to an asynchronous learning experience. Asynchronous learning is a great fit for students who thrive in an online environment when they have the freedom to work at their own pace. Other pros of asynchronous learning include:


Flexible Schedule

The primary benefit of asynchronous learning is a flexible schedule. With asynchronous learning, students can interact with educational materials on their own time, and at their own pace. Set clear deadlines for when coursework should be completed so that students will make progress throughout the semester.


Reflection Time

With asynchronous learning, students have the ability to read and absorb information at their own pace, complete assignments when they have time to understand them and engage with materials as often as they need to.

Asynchronous learning is less immediate than synchronous learning. Students have time to reflect on what they've learned without having to share their thoughts and opinions right away. This space to reflect can make the learning experience even more impactful.


Cons of Asynchronous Learning

While there are many positive aspects of asynchronous learning, there are also a few downsides to a completely asynchronous learning experience. Some asynchronous learners have felt isolated by the lack of immediate communication available to them and would prefer the option to connect via periodic synchronous communication. Other cons of asynchronous learning include:


Limited Communication

An exclusively asynchronous learning environment is automatically a less collaborative one. Asynchronous learning might be challenging for learners who thrive when they can engage in lively discussions, prefer immediate feedback, or enjoy educational social.

Additionally, some students find the inability to have a synchronous conversation with their instructor frustrating when they are instead forced to wait for their teacher or peer to answer their asynchronously delivered question on their own schedule.


Self-Motivation

Asynchronous learning is more self-paced and students must be particularly self-disciplined to prevent themselves from getting off track. Some learners thrive in self-guided environments, whereas others may find themselves treading water and feeling isolated by the experience. Check in with your students frequently to see how they are progressing and ask if there are any areas they need support on.


Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning

The pros and cons of both synchronous and asynchronous learning are evident, but the real magic happens when the two methods are combined to create the ultimate virtual learning experience. This ideal combination will depend on a few factors, primarily: your class' learning objectives, the type of course content you've created, how you plan to deliver your training, and the ability level of your learners. With the right resources, and proper preparation you can use the best aspects of synchronous and asynchronous learning to create the winning educational formula for your students.

Here is a secret: the best part about online learning is that there is no one way to run a successful classroom. By combining different aspects of synchronous and asynchronous learning, educators can create an ideal learning environment for their students. The most successful online learning environments have found the balance between methods that produces the most enriching online education experience.

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