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Introduction

Over the past several years we have seen many developments in the world of information and technology. Online learning platforms became available, so the education sector was quick to adopt some of the products and services being offered in order to reach more people.

Many universities started to offer online courses to students who want to earn a certificate or degree from their institution but are unable to attend classes on campus. Universities like Stanford, Harvard, and UPenn partnered with platforms like Coursera to offer some classes.

Some colleges have incorporated online learning in their regular curriculum (i.e. offering pre-recorded lectures instead of requiring students to attend live classes). More recently, many schools around the world were forced to shift to online learning due to the impact of the covid-19 pandemic.

Different Ways of Learning 

When scouting around to online classes, you may encounter the words “synchronous” and “asynchronous”. Here’s what you need to know:

  1. Synchronous learning – this is when classes happen in real time (online or in-person). The teachers deliver lectures or facilitate activities while the students actively listen and participate. The perfect example of synchronous classes is in-person classes. In the online setting, the same learning experience happens, except that the teacher and students are all online (as in Zoom classes). Students are expected to log in to a virtual classroom at a given time and date to meet with the teacher who will conduct the class.
  1. Asynchronous learning – instruction is not happening in real time. Some examples are sending pre-recorded instructional materials (i.e. lectures and videos) and conducting online tests and assessments through online platforms. Students can take tests and view the instructional materials on their own schedule.

The main difference between the two is the requirement to show up to a class (in-person or online) on a particular schedule. Of course, online classes has its benefits and detriments.

In the sections below, we will compare synchronous and asynchronous learning, determine their pros and cons, and discuss the best practices so that the students, teachers and school administrators can make the most out of online learning.  

Online Learning in the Workplace

Much of the discussion around online learning talks about learning in schools and universities. However, learning does still take place in the workplace. Companies have to teach and train their employees. An example of synchronous learning would be conventions, conferences and onboarding training. The asynchronous counterpart would be online conventions, conferences and short courses. 

Synchronous vs asynchronous learning

Online learning programs have existed for years, using both synchronous and asynchronous learning to deliver course content to students. However, online learning became more ubiquitous when the whole world went into lockdown due to covid-19.

There are on-going debates as to whether it was a good move to offer online classes, however, the fact remains that learning must continue. Schools, governments and companies need to make the best of this situation.

Pros and Cons of Synchronous Learning

Pros: when students and company employees attend synchronous online classes, they will attend a class virtually following a prescribed schedule. Just like in-person classes, participants are expected to be present on a given date and time.

During these sessions, they are expected to participate in activities and discussions, and perform the assigned task or homework outside of class hours. The main benefit of synchronous classes is that there is a lot of opportunity for interaction and exchange of knowledge and ideas. Participants receive substantial feedback from instructors and facilitators.

Cons: Because participants are expected to actively engage in synchronous classes, they are assigned homework. Synchronous classes require participants to be online at the same time, but those who have internet connection problems might miss out on the day’s lesson and task. If it’s the teacher or facilitator who has internet connectivity problems, then the whole group will miss out.

Pros and Cons of Asynchronous Learning

Pros: the main benefit of asynchronous learning is that the participants can learn and accomplish the assigned task on their own schedule. Meanwhile, teachers and facilitators can pre-record material for their classes. If the teacher handles several classes, he or she can pre-record as many instructional materials and videos in a day and just upload them on a designated schedule.

Asynchronous learning can be time efficient for both participants and instructors. When students take online tests and assessments through online platforms, they can receive immediate feedback in the form of test scores and a pass or fail mark. The amount and quality of the feedback might be a bit limited.

Cons: Unlike synchronous classes, asynchronous classes will not give participants and instructors the full experience of group interaction. Participants might miss out on the opportunity to build a community of learners amongst themselves because they will not have the chance to interact. In the school setting, the flexibility that asynchronous classes gives, some students might develop the misconception that the coursework will be easier. In fact, it can be just as (if not more) demanding and rigorous.

Best Practices

Online classes have proven to be quite useful especially for students who cannot attend classes on-campus, and for teachers who are unable to conduct live classes. Similarly, many companies have switched to work-from-home settings. Switching to online trainings has been a critical move for many companies as they hire, train and further educate their employees.

The previous sections discussed the difference of synchronous and asynchronous classes, as well as its benefits and areas for improvement. In this section, we will discuss the best practices when conducting synchronous and asynchronous classes. Online classes may have its own set of challenges, but there are many opportunities for learning and teaching.

For asynchronous learning:

  • Structure is important for asynchronous classes. Create a detailed syllabus and course outline that includes the course content, readings, learning materials and deadlines of requirements.
  • Explicitly explain the expectations and deadlines. If possible, provide the rubrics for grading assessments.
  • Set strict but reasonable deadlines. Give students some time in between course requirements.
  • Provide meaningful feedback when possible. When students take online tests and assessments, the only feedback they’ll probably get would be a test score. If you’re grading essays and formative assessments, give useful feedback that can help them improve. 

For synchronous learning:

  • Design activities that will engage your—have them take the lead in some online discussions. Assign case studies—the students will take turns leading the discussion while the teacher facilitates.
  • Use various online platforms and apps when developing instructional material.
  • Share reading and other learning materials ahead of time to give participants some time to prepare.
  • Familiarize yourself with tech tools and practice. You and your students might encounter some technical issues while classes are happening. To prevent any mishaps, do a dry run of the class using all the tools that you prepared to ensure the everything will run smoothly.
  • Keep it short and simple. Participants, both young and old, struggle to focus in online classes. The best way to address this is to keep your content simple and straightforward.

 

Some Thoughts

When it comes to online learning, there are many options that are currently available and are being used. Both synchronous and asynchronous learning have proven to be useful in delivering lessons and coursework.

Teachers should consider the advantages and disadvantage of both methods when planning online classes because it has an impact on the overall learning experience of students.

One of the best ways to ensure the success of both synchronous and asynchronous learning is to provide structure, which can come in the form of a syllabus or course outline that explicitly states the course overview, content, and deadlines.

When planning for classes—whether it’s for students or company employees—it is best to explore different teaching and assessment methods. Just because classes and training have moved to online platforms, does not mean that the quality of the education has to suffer.

Both synchronous and asynchronous classes can still be rigorous and demanding. Since there are different types of learners who have different learning styles, educators and facilitators have to be prepared with different types of content.

Learning online is a lot different from learning in-person. In online learning, you will miss key experiences like human interaction, active exchange of ideas, and learning about other people through nonverbal cues. Teachers and instructors have to design their content with this in mind and try to find ways to impart this knowledge to students who have to learn independently.

 

Conclusion

Synchronous and asynchronous learning are different methods that schools use when teaching online classes. The very simple yet complex difference between the two is that synchronous classes follow a schedule and is conducted live, while asynchronous is not.

Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but the most important part to settle is the planning. If classes are planned well and are detailed, it will help teachers and instructors successfully conduct their classes.

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Patricia Alfonso

Patricia Alfonso is an educator and researcher who earned her master's degree in guidance and counseling from Ateneo de Manila. She specializes in developing school counseling programs for schools.

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