What’s the Difference Between Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning?
Synchronous teaching is defined as a one-to-one encounter between teacher and student. It is collaborative, location-based and time-based, with students interacting either in real-time classroom discussions or in an online format through videoconferencing, live chat or phone calls. It fosters active participation and interactive discussions.
While students may find this format more dynamic, its delivery can lead to frequent interruptions and distractions, and its inflexible schedule can exclude students in different locations and time zones. Conversely, asynchronous teaching allows students to review course content on their own schedules. Examples of asynchronous learning include prerecorded videos, podcasts and emails.
Do students prefer asynchronous learning? Not everyone does. Experts say this format works best for students who are self-disciplined, for those who want to go at their own pace and for those with unstable internet connections.
But asynchronous instruction can still provide general benefits to learning outcomes.
Christopher Tuffnell, an instructor in innovative and digital education at the University of Wollongong in Dubai, says that whenever he wants students to understand an especially important part of his course, he delivers it asynchronously to help learners digest and engage with the data.
On the other hand, he says, “When I want students to create, evaluate, analyze and apply certain concepts, then I create a synchronous space that’s guided by the instructor and characterized by in-person peer interaction.”
Research shows that synchronous instruction seems to provide better results. However, each modality is equally important, says John Spencer, an associate professor of education at George Fox University in Oregon.
“Both have advantages and disadvantages for collaborative work,” says Spencer. “Students need to think intentionally, and educators strategically, about when to use either approach for student projects.”