In the midst of the digital era, it’s not surprising that online learning appeals to modern learners of all ages and stages of life. Online degree programs, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, allow students to pursue a degree at their own pace while balancing their existing responsibilities and obligations.
Typically, an online degree program will offer a blend of asynchronous and synchronous learning. Before selecting a degree program, it’s essential to understand the differences between these two learning methods so you can choose a program that provides the learning experience you need to succeed.
What Is Asynchronous vs. Synchronous Learning?
Asynchronous and synchronous learning are two terms that have become commonplace in the education realm, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic when students of all ages were unexpectedly thrust into the world of virtual learning.
The term asynchronous learning refers to an online learning method in which work is not completed in real time, according to Coursera. When coursework is assigned, students can complete it at their own pace as long as all work is submitted by the established deadlines.
Synchronous learning, on the other hand, is an online learning method in which students and instructors interact with one another in real time, even when located in different physical spaces.
Most colleges and universities offer a blended approach to online education incorporating both synchronous learning and asynchronous modules.
Synchronous Learning Experience
In many ways, synchronous learning mirrors traditional, in-person learning, with the exception being that the class is conducted online rather than in a physical classroom.
Synchronous learning requires all class participants to connect virtually during a set time in order to receive live instruction. This instruction may be provided over a video conferencing platform, or students may meet in a virtual chat room to engage in discussion.
Live Lectures and Real-Time Interactions
Live lectures are the hallmark of the synchronous learning experience. Similar to traditional lecture courses on a physical campus, students sync together at one time to receive live instruction from their professors. Professors often rely on videoconferencing tools as well as slide decks to present information in an engaging and informative way.
Through live lectures and chat sessions, students and classmates can enjoy the same types of dynamic, real-time interactions they would in a physical classroom. The ability to receive instant feedback is incredibly beneficial and allows instructors to bridge the gap between a traditional, in-person degree program and an innovative, online degree program.
- Structured learning – Synchronous learning provides a structured learning environment that can help students stay on pace and organized.
- Immediate clarification – Through live video conferences and chat sessions, students can receive instant feedback and clarification, which can improve their understanding and boost their chances of success in the course.
- Accountability – Requiring students and professors to commit to a specific schedule increases overall accountability and helps improve success rates.
- Active learning opportunities – Students who prefer to interact with their classmates and participate in class discussions will appreciate the active learning opportunities included as part of the synchronous learning method.
- Fosters communication skills – Synchronous learning allows students to hone their communication skills by participating in discussions, asking questions, and even relying on asynchronous communication tools.
- Technical issues – One of the largest risks of synchronous learning is technical issues, which can prevent students from being able to connect. According to ELM Learning, some common technical issues with synchronous courses include Internet connectivity problems, server downtime, and device glitches.
- Distractions – Students and instructors are able to connect to synchronous learning experiences from any place that is convenient for them, but this could increase the risk of distraction. Whether you are signing on from a busy coffee shop, your own home, or your office, you may need to find a quiet place to participate in your virtual class lecture.
- Time zone differences – Time zone differences can cause confusion, resulting in some students or instructors inadvertently signing on at the wrong time. It is important to be clear about which time zone is being used for the meeting.
- Isolation and burnout – Social isolation is a common complaint among students participating in virtual learning experiences. To avoid this, professors should incorporate synchronous learning experiences that allow students to connect in a relaxed and casual way and help them develop a sense of belonging throughout the course.
Asynchronous Learning Experience
Contrary to the synchronous learning experience requiring participants to connect in real-time, asynchronous learning is a self-paced method of online education.
In an asynchronous learning environment, students are provided with virtual resources, assignments, and deadlines and can maneuver through the course material at their own pace.
Self-Paced and Flexible Learning
Asynchronous learning opportunities are becoming increasingly popular, with many online students preferring the flexible schedule that accompanies these courses.
Asynchronous learning components can include:
- Pre-recorded video lectures students can watch at a time and place convenient for them.
- Online forums where students can engage in discussion with classmates and instructors.
- Online slideshows and quizzes to assess their learning.
- Virtual polls students can complete after reading material or watching a lecture.
- Flexibility and convenience – Asynchronous learning is the most flexible online learning method, giving students the freedom to complete their coursework parallel to their other existing responsibilities.
- Personalized learning – This learning method often appeals to learners with diverse learning styles, as they are able to choose the types of materials and experiences that most appeal to them.
- Work-life-learning balance – Modern learners are frequently balancing full-time jobs as well as family responsibilities, making asynchronous learning particularly beneficial. Lectures can be watched during their lunch hour, or papers can be written and submitted after kids are in bed for the evening. It’s the most flexible learning experience available today.
- Reduced scheduling conflicts – With no established schedule or required meeting times, asynchronous learning opportunities are easier to incorporate into a student’s busy lifestyle.
- Self-discipline and motivation – While asynchronous learning allows students to move forward at their own pace, it also requires students to be disciplined. There is a lot of freedom and flexibility, but not all students possess the self-motivation needed to complete their coursework without the traditional structure of a class schedule.
- Isolation – Due to the independent nature of asynchronous learning, many students complain that they feel isolated or alone during the course. When isolation occurs, students may feel less engaged or interested in completing the work.
- Delayed feedback – Without synchronous learning opportunities, students are not able to receive feedback in real-time, which can delay their progress or reduce their understanding of the course material.
- Limited real-time support and time management challenges – Without real-time support and a structured schedule, students can quickly fall victim to the temptations of procrastination. Time management skills are critical to student success during asynchronous learning, and it’s crucial for students to be able to pace themselves accordingly so they are not trying to complete an entire semester’s worth of work in a matter of days.
The Importance of Balancing Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning
Blended online learning, which incorporates both synchronous and asynchronous components, is largely believed to be one of the best ways to create an engaging and immersive online learning environment for all students. By recognizing the strengths and weaknesses of both learning methods, instructors and curriculum developers can work to create a multi-faceted online degree program that prepares students for a career in their chosen field.
Tools and Technologies for Effective Learning
Within an online degree program, you will likely find a variety of tools and techniques being used to create an effective and engaging learning environment.
Learning Management Systems
Learning management systems are, in essence, a one-stop shop for online education. According to Business News Daily, learning management systems can provide a digital framework for online learning experiences. They are typically cloud-based software programs, allowing for remote access, and they include a wide range of features, such as:
- Course scheduling
- Course materials and resources
- Grade records
- Communication tools
A university will generally have a learning management system in place that all courses rely on, which helps to improve consistency and streamline coursework for students.
Communication and Collaboration Tools
Communication and collaboration tools are a critical component of any online learning experience, as students and instructors must be able to effectively and easily communicate with one another. Some examples of communication and collaboration tools include:
- Access to videoconferencing software, such as Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or Zoom.
- E-mail and text messaging.
- App-based communication programs, such as Team Snap, Remind, or Class Dojo.
- Social media groups, such as Facebook groups or group chats on Instagram.
By relying on multiple communication tools, instructors can find innovative ways to connect with their students. This sense of connection and belonging is key to preventing social isolation and burnout in the digital learning environment.
As with any degree program, students need access to a variety of educational resources to support their learning and continue their progress. Educational resources that are commonly found in online degree programs include:
- Access to virtual libraries.
- Pre-recorded lessons and lectures.
- Access to forums where students can connect with classmates and engage in discussion.
- Online support services from the university.
- Online tutoring services.
- Tech support services.
Despite the fact that students are learning in a virtual environment, they should still be armed with the resources needed to help them feel as if they are a valued and welcomed part of the campus community. These educational resources not only support their academic development but also help students to grow on a personal and professional level.
Tips for Choosing the Right Learning Mode
- Completing a self-assessment of your learning preferences – It’s important to consider the type of student that you are and the coursework that will best complement your personal learning style. If you are a self-motivated learner, you may benefit from asynchronous coursework, but if you prefer structure and support, you may find synchronous learning opportunities to work best for you.
- Evaluating the requirements of your course or program – Knowing the type of coursework that is required as part of your degree program can help you select a learning mode that is right for you. For instance, you may prefer to have synchronous learning opportunities that offer real-time feedback for a degree program that covers complex topics.
- Seeking guidance from educators and peers – Instructors in addition to recent graduates can offer you feedback and actionable advice about the benefits and disadvantages of the two types of online learning methods.
Future of Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning
Online learning is no longer considered an alternative option for education — it’s quickly becoming the standard, and asynchronous as well as synchronous learning experiences are here to stay. According to Educations.com, online learning is more flexible, accessible and affordable, making it the preferred choice among educators and students alike. Students can expect to find an increasingly blended approach to learning as the scope of virtual education continues to grow and develop.
Discover the Flexibility and Versatility of Online Learning at Johnson & Wales University
At Johnson & Wales University, our online degree programs offer a blended approach, relying on the best asynchronous and synchronous learning opportunities to provide our students with a dynamic and engaging educational experience. By incorporating innovative and proven online learning practices into all of our programming, we are able to offer the world-class education you deserve.