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Synchronous Versus Asynchronous Learning

Mark Van Doren once said that “The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery,” and the esteemed poet, writer, and professor surely gained that wisdom through a lifetime of experience. Students learn best when given the proper guidance and the freedom to make meaning on their own. And as you think back to all of those lesson plans that you so meticulously crafted and all of those activities that really hit their mark, you realize just how much freedom truly does impact individual learning. Because whether you record videos for asynchronous learning online or develop group activities for synchronous learning in the classroom, what matters most is that you’re encouraging your students to explore various topics and make connections that matter.

After all, if you give students a list of dates to memorize, they may only retain a small portion of it. But if you give them the freedom to explore a time period in history with good historical resources at hand, their opportunities for discovery become endless. So what is asynchronous learning and how can you use that format to really reach your students and help them learn even more?

What is Asynchronous Learning?

Little Girl Doing her Homework

Asynchronous learning is any type of instruction that takes place on the students’ own time. So lectures, readings, presentations, or activities can all be assigned asynchronously. The benefits of asynchronous learning are many.

Students signing in to an asynchronous learning platform are given the flexibility of working at their own pace. And this means that they never have to speed up or slow down their meaning-making in order to stay at the same pace as the other students in class.

The Pros of Asynchronous Learning

Other benefits of asynchronous learning include the ability to access asynchronous classes online at any given time and from any location. And as long as they stay within a predetermined time frame, they can contribute whenever it’s most convenient for them to do so.

As a teacher, this means that you can provide pre-made materials to your students so that they can learn independently from you. It also frees up a lot of your time for other duties because your students are off exploring new information on their own.

With asynchronous teaching, you can even differentiate assignments for students based on their individual needs far easier than you can in a packed classroom.

The Cons of Asynchronous Learning

Of course, there are some downsides to asynchronous learning as well. In order for asynchronous working to be effective, students need to take responsibility for their own learning and actually complete the work that’s assigned to them. With asynchronous online courses especially, they won’t have a teacher standing beside them encouraging them to put forth their best effort.

Students working asynchronously are not able to get their questions answered by the teacher immediately, which can really hinder their learning.

The Bottom Line

Asynchronous communication takes place through an asynchronous messaging tool—such as email, online forums, or collaborative documents. Students send their list of questions to the teacher, and the teacher responds whenever it’s convenient to do so.

Thinking back to the Mark Van Doren quote, asynchronous learning really can describe the art of teaching well because you’re able to assist students in learning new materials, and in turn, that forces them to make discoveries independently from the teacher and their classmates.

What is Synchronous Learning?

Other educators still prefer to teach synchronously, which means that all students and teachers meet together in real-time in order for learning to occur. A synchronous class can take place in a traditional classroom setting or entirely online.

Synchronous learning can be used with both in-person and online classes. With an online synchronous class, the teacher and students can all sign in to a virtual classroom environment from any location.

The Pros of Synchronous Learning

The pros of synchronous learning include everyone meeting at the very same time, the ability for students to learn new information from both the teacher and their peers, and the possibility of working in collaborative groups.

In a synchronous course, you can still have some level of differentiation among students as well, although not as easily as when students work independently.

The Cons of Synchronous Learning

Of course, there are also some obvious cons to synchronous learning. First, synchronous classroom environments tend to have a lot more distractions and therefore less time for actual learning. Plus, the teacher has to speed up or slow down instruction based on the needs of the majority in class so some students are always being held back while others are being pushed forward too soon—even when they can’t keep up.

Lastly, for teachers who are always giving synchronous instruction, it can be hard to find the time to perform their other teaching duties like lesson planning, grading, tutoring, and completing paperwork. So when it comes to synchronous vs asynchronous learning, there’s really no perfect solution for all teachers and all students.

In fact, when choosing between synchronous and asynchronous learning options, many people prefer to combine the benefits of both and adopt a blended learning model. In a blended learning model—or hybrid class—students are able to spend at least some of their time working at their own pace by way of asynchronous teaching. While the other portion of time, they learn by way of synchronous teaching. So a hybrid course really combines the best of both worlds for teachers and students.

Effective blended learning examples can include station rotations, lab rotations, flipped classrooms, or even multimedia presentations in addition to teacher-led instruction that takes place inside the classroom.

For teachers, the options are endless when it comes to implementing blended learning strategies into their classrooms. And this is especially helpful when traditional learning methods are impacted by unforeseen circumstances.

While synchronous, asynchronous, and blended learning certainly took place in classrooms prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, they really became a hot topic once teachers were forced to quickly switch to distance learning.

Now more than ever, teachers understand how the right strategies can make the best of both synchronous and asynchronous learning in the classroom, allowing teachers to guide and students to discover.

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