Synchronous and Asynchronous Online Learning

The University strongly encourages the use of asynchronous teaching. Synchronous strategies should be used with a clear purpose, after ruling out asynchronous options. If you choose to share course content synchronously you should record it for later viewing.

What is Asynchronous Online Learning?

Asynchronous learning means that the instructor and the students in the course all engage with the course content at different times (and from different locations). The instructor provides students with a sequence of units which the students move through as their schedules permit. Each unit might make use of assigned readings or uploaded media, online quizzes, discussion boards, and more. The instructor guides the students, provides them with feedback, and assesses them as needed.

What is Synchronous Online Learning?

Synchronous learning means that the instructor and the students in the course engage with the course content and each other at the same time, but from different locations. The instructor interacts with students in real time by means of tools such as WebEx to livestream audio, video, and presentations, Bongo Virtual Classroom to hold live classes or meetings, LEARN’s chat feature to engage in live conversations, Google Docs to simultaneously edit documents, and more.

Which One Should You Use?

Synchronous and asynchronous online learning each have their place, depending on what an instructor is trying to achieve, and the guidance they may have received from their institution, faculty, or department. For example, a synchronous (live) presentation allows students to ask questions while the presentation is in progress; an asynchronous (recorded) presentation allows students time to deliberate and reflect before asking their questions, perhaps in an online discussion group. Live, synchronous chat office hours allow the instructor and a student to have an interaction that resembles a real conversation; using an asynchronous discussion board to collect and respond to questions works better for students whose schedules wouldn’t permit them to engage in a live chat.

 Visit the Considerations when Choosing Online Tools page for additional insight.

When you are making this decision keep in mind that your students could be in multiple time zones, be working full or part-time, have intermittent internet connections, may be caring for sick family members or have other commitments which prevent them from being online at a particular time.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Synchronous Learning

Synchronous Advantages                                                           

Synchronous Disadvantages

  • Students can ask questions and get answers in real-time, as the session is proceeding.
  • The instructor can gauge the students understanding in real-time, and adjust the session accordingly.
  • Students feel an increased sense of the instructor actually “being there”.
  • Instructors can facilitate workshop-style classes and run breakout group activities
  • Live chats or office hours allow for real-time interaction, like a conversation.
  • Synchronous sessions provide a schedule to help students who struggle with task initiation to stay on track
  • Some students might not be able to participate at the required time due to technical or scheduling problems. They may be in different time zones.
  • AODA (accessibility) requirements may be more difficult to meet - for example, providing captioning for a live presentation.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous Advantages

Asynchronous Disadvantages                          

  • Recorded sessions allow students time to digest the session content and/or conduct further research before posing questions in a discussion group. This is better for more deliberate thinkers and also, in some cases, for students whose first language is not English.
  • Students can access the course content, and initiate or respond to interactions with the instructor and their peers, when it best suits their schedule.
  • Students can re-watch recorded sessions to deepen their learning, or to review content prior to a final exam. Students can likewise review threads in discussion groups long after those discussions have taken place.
  • More democratic: during a live session, only a small number of students will be able to ask questions; in an online discussion group all students can pose questions or make comments.
  • Allows students to work around unanticipated challenges such as falling sick for a week, or dealing with a family emergency.
  • Students might feel less connected to an instructor when they are watching a recorded session.
  • Students might feel less connected to the course overall when they do not see their classmates.
  • Students might put off engaging with a recorded session because they can always “do it later.”
  • Asynchronous learning requires significant task initiation skills since none of the class time is scheduled, only the assessment deadlines.
  • Asynchronous learning requires a higher level of commitment and independent learning skills.

Asynchronous or Synchronous Discussions