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Synchronous learning

Synchronous learning is any activity in an online course that happens in real-time, like a Zoom meeting or a chat. It requires all participants to be in the same online environment, actively participating at the same time. It is typically characterized by opportunities for interaction between the instructor and students and amongst students, such as a Q & A, a Class Discussion or Office Hours.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Provides opportunity for asking & answering of questions in real time, as they come up
  • Provides opportunity for spontaneous interaction and exchange between students and with the instructor
  • Provides opportunity for instructors to get feedback on student learning 
  • Adds the “human” element
  • Builds the classroom community
  • Increase in the number or “social” interactions (interactions not related to course content)

Unfortunately, while online learning can improve access for certain individuals, Synchronous learning can widen the divide for learners with: 

  • certain disabilities 
  • unstable Internet access
  • inequitable access to device and other equipment
  • caregiving responsibilities 
  • no access to a suitable space to participate 
  • time zone differences 

Asynchronous learning

Asynchronous learning is all the other activities in an online course that students can complete on their own schedule. While there may still be due dates, students can generally complete these any time within the given timeline for the task. These activities can include video lectures, readings, assignments and group discussions or collaborative tasks.

Advantages

Disadvantages

  • Students can complete work on their own timetable (a huge advantage in today’s context)
  • Students have the opportunity to take the necessary time to digest, and repeat/reread content that is difficult in order to deepen understanding
  • Students have time to compose and revise responses in asynchronous class discussions, increasing access to those with language and other barriers.
  • Without proper motivation, it is possible for students to put off completing weekly work and fall behind
  • Students can feel isolated or disconnected from the instructor and other students

When to use each format?

Pre-COVID, the typical online course did not include a synchronous element. Most online courses were designed to be flexible and completed by anyone on their own schedule within the course parameters. However, synchronous sessions can be effective to enhance the course when designed to take advantage of the interactive elements the tool has to offer.

This graphic summarizes the content on the page by listing the disadvantages and noting which activities are best served in each format.

Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning by Centre for Teaching and Learning, Concordia University CC BY-SA 4.0


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