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Syn­chro­nous vs. Asyn­chro­nous Online Classes: What's the Difference?

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Online classes are typically sorted into two categories —synchronous vs asynchronous classes.

Wondering which type of online class is better – asynchronous vs synchronous learning? The answer to this online learning question depends on a number of relevant factors.

The benefits of asynchronous learning depend on a student’s specific personality, learning style, and academic interest, among other essential aspects. The narrative that follows offers a complete comparison of synchronous vs asynchronous learning options.

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What Is Synchronous Learning?

Synchronous learning is a type of education delivery method where students simultaneously engage with the course – the class, materials, professors, and classmates/peers – through a reliable internet connection – at an allotted time.

When asynchronous vs synchronous learning delivery styles, it is noted that the synchronous class provides the most structure, plus an immersive learning method that eliminates much of the stress and worry associated with travel, unexpected traffic, and running late.

What to Expect with Synchronous classes?

Synchronous online classes resemble traditional classes as they include required attendance of lectures, followed by allotted time for discussions and questions.

Students enrolled in an online synchronous class will attend using a live stream forum or webcam for classwork – with high-tech video conferencing technologies creating effective and convenient virtual learning spaces. While many schools use proprietary software (like Blackboard), some augment their online services using Zoom, Google Meet, Google Hangouts, etc.

While the class may include smaller virtual groups while attending an instructor’s office hours. Smaller groups offer students more individualized help and even the ability for the instructor to demonstrate answers in real-time.

One of the benefits of synchronous learning is that it offers students interactive components. This means that, when comparing synchronous vs asynchronous classes, the synchronous type offers –

  • A conversational and more traditional approach to classroom learning.
  • Guest lecturers’ presentations virtually.
  • The ability to share documents during the online lesson.
  • Chat and video-conferenced discussion groups can be created to offer space and time to discuss relevant topics. These smaller class groups offer additional facilitation of student participation.
  • Polls, surveys, and message boards can be used to allow for feedback, among others.

Note that virtual or online class settings may provide a bit less visibility than in-person delivered classes. However, students can find ways to rise above and stand out by consistent virtual participation while complying with appropriate synchronous class netiquette.

The Benefits of Synchronous Online Learning

When comparing asynchronous vs synchronous classes, the following are the benefits of synchronous learning –

  • Synchronous learning offers –
    • Greater engagement and structure.
    • Direct communication (and immediate responses) with instructors.
    • Dynamic learning environment.
    • Provides an alternate path to an academic degree to those who live remotely.

Drawbacks to Consider

When considering the comparison of synchronous vs asynchronous learning methods, consider that synchronous classes include –

  • Set schedules.
  • Requires all of the following –
    • A reliable internet connection.
    • Webcam and microphone.
    • A quiet and private space to attend class.
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What Is Asynchronous Learning?

Asynchronous classes provide students the option, flexibility, and convenience to study at a pace that is set by them in accordance with their schedule. And while an instructor may suggest how the workload should be completed, the asynchronous learner has the option to devote as much time as they need in each course sub-topic.

Both synchronous vs asynchronous learning methods have deadlines for work submissions, the ability to connect with peers, online materials, and even instructors – during online office hours.

What to Expect with Asynchronous classes?

Online classes that are managed asynchronously maintain message boards and forums for students and educators to keep a running dialogue among students and staff. Asynchronous classes will also provide shared files and self-guided lessons to keep the material diverse and engaging.

Asynchronous classrooms often feature pre-recorded lectures and workshops that allow students to view them independently and at their own convenience. Instructors post lecture notes (that may include audio/video files) for students and follow up with quizzes and other testing materials to ensure students are completing the required work.

An essential component of an asynchronous class is the discussion board – a virtual space where students can interact with other students, ask questions, and follow instructor course prompts. The discussion board provides an important space because it also facilitates social learning.  

The Benefits of Asynchronous Online Learning

Students attending an asynchronous online class have the ability to set their own study schedules. A student’s effort may be tracked in a variety of ways – tracking online participation or the student’s performance on quizzes and tests posted online. While there are some interactive components, when comparing asynchronous vs synchronous learning, online participation in both plays an integral role in evaluating a student’s course performance.

The benefits of asynchronous learning, when comparing synchronous vs asynchronous learning styles, are as follows –

  • Flexibility and convenience in scheduling.
  • Students dictate their own pace of study and where to spend extra time.
  • Easier access to programs and degrees.
  • Offers accessibility to working learners that meet their time limitations.
  • Provides an alternate path to an academic degree to those who live remotely.

Drawbacks to Consider

The asynchronous class delivery mode has these facets that must be considered –

  • It requires a great deal of self-motivation
  • Students must be able to be proactive, especially for students studying challenging Ing topics.
  • The experience of a virtual asynchronous class is less immersive than other types of classes.
  • Students may be challenged with distractions, like procrastination.
  • It is a less connected social platform or environment.

Asynchronous vs Synchronous Classes – The Verdict

Still, wondering which class type would be the best fit for your learning style?  The answer depends on each student and is best noted by Socrates – Know Thyself!

Those who work unconventional hours (or unorthodox sleep patterns) will likely prefer asynchronous classes as they offer more accommodations in this regard.

However, those students who find managing time challenging will likely find they will do better with a more structured synchronous class. And those learners who like the social aspects of education will definitely prefer to learn synchronously.

Finally, when considering online learning, students must also consider how well their major will work in a virtual learning environment. Computer science majors will clearly sail through an all-online program, whereas nursing majors, for example, must complete clinical rotations (through a hybrid delivered program).

Both asynchronous and synchronous classes provide both advantages and disadvantages. Aspiring degree seekers must consider their field of study and learning style to determine which delivery method is most suitable.  


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