Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning
Today, many students are millennials, and this subset is a small representation of the Y and Z generation who grew up without knowing a time before the internet. Due to the rise of the internet, education has adapted to the new ways people learn. Online learning environments are becoming more frequent now, which allows education to be open to a whole new population of students.
This online learning environment, also referred to as e-learning, is at its most basic definition utilizing electronic technologies to access educational materials outside of a traditional classroom. Just as there are a variety of different learning styles there are also a variety of e-learning delivery methods.
More specifically, two of these learning styles are asynchronous learning and synchronous learning. These terms are often applied to online education options, describing whether or not students in a given course progress through the syllabus at the same time or independently.
As Julie Meloni defines it in an article for “The Chronicle of Higher Education”, synchronous learning is “same time, different place”, and asynchronous learning is “different time, different place.”
Mauren Orey of Workplace Learning & Performance Group gives us a great analogy to explain the difference, “The difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning is like the difference between online dating and meeting someone in a bar. Online dating can be done anywhere any time – asynchronously; but if we meet in a bar it could be synchronicity… or synchronous, because we were both there “live” at the same time. Granted this is not a perfect analogy, because meeting in a bar is not online – but I imagine you get the point. Synchronous learning is what I like to call “live on line”; everyone must align their calendars, and of course time zones so that they can all be meeting together for learning new things and sharing new ideas.”
Asynchronous learning – is often used synonymously with self-paced.
“In the recent explosion of MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) and online degree programs, the vast majority are asynchronous. For instance, if you register for a course on EdX or Coursera, you log into the site and the whole course is laid out before you. In theory you could do the whole thing in one sitting, or you could do it slowly, paced out over weeks. Elsewhere there are hundreds of other students going through the same class, each at *their* own pace. Hence the asynchronicity.” – Rob Sheppard of Ginseng English
As Meloni states, asynchronous communication and learning is by far the more popular learning type because many of the learning tools are free, require minimal hardware, and are used at the student’s pace. However the downside to asynchronous learning is that courses are inherently less timely and efficient. Conversation only happens in real time if students and instructors all happen to be logged into for example a discussion board at the same time.
Ways in which students can be engaged in an asynchronous learning environment include discussion boards, blogs, social networking sites, and emails/listservs.
Synchronous learning – is usually facilitated by some sort of videoconferencing to bring students and teachers together at the same time. This means that one of the barriers of implementing the videoconferencing is the software, hardware, and bandwidth of both the institutional side and the student side. However, it is the closest thing to physically attending a class that you can get in terms of e-learning.
For example, Blackboard has integrated chat and whiteboard features that have requirements that are likely less cost prohibitive than those required for video conferencing. It is clear that while both synchronous and asynchronous learning have their unique benefits and limitations they are cementing themselves into a permanent part of our educational environment.