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Remote Synchronous Learning: All You Need to Know

In an era where technology is rampant and asynchronous communication is often the norm, it may seem like there’s little room left for synchronous learning in the corporate world. Synchronous learning is when an instructor teaches a group of learners in a live environment, which can be in-person or online.

Some types of training don’t translate well to a fully self-paced, online environment, and some people learn better when they have a  connection with their instructor and peers.


For these reasons and more, synchronous learning has been adapted to remote environments, despite potential challenges with scheduling and logistics.

In this article, we’ll explore more about synchronous remote learning. This includes what it means, how it can be used effectively, and what tools are commonly used to support synchronous learning

Remote Synchronous Learning Definition

The definition of synchronous learning is online education that takes place in real-time. Instructors and learners are all present in one virtual classroom and are able to interact with each other through chat, voice, or video. 

This format is often used for corporate training programs, which are meant to train employees in a business environment on new policies, procedures, products, and more, with the idea that employees can immediately apply their knowledge to their job.

The key with remote synchronous learning is that you’re actively being taught by someone else through a live, instructor-led session, rather than asynchronous learning where you are learning at your own pace.

Pros & Cons

There are several pros and cons that come with synchronous remote learning, which include: 

Pros:

  • A consistent learning schedule. Some learners benefit from attending class on a consistent schedule. When they know that class is at a specific time, it’s easier them to plan around attendance. When you have to meet at a specific time and dedicate an hour or two to attending a class alongside your peers, it’s easier to stick with it. Self-paced learning requires more discipline from the learner for them to see success.
  • More interactive. Being able to interact with your fellow learners and instructor can be beneficial, especially for staying engaged. Remote synchronous learning environments are often led through video conferencing, and LMS software typically has built-in or integrated (connected through a separate app) live chat options. This means learners can see and interact with each other in real-time.
  • Direct instruction. With remote synchronous learning, the instructor can provide direct instructions to learners, including what they should be focusing on next. This makes it easier for learners to stay on track.
  • Provides opportunities for collaboration. When learners are attending a class together, there’s an opportunity for them to collaborate with each other to enhance learning outcomes. For example, the instructor can divide learners into breakout rooms so they can discuss a topic, ask each other questions, and go through learning resources together. 

Cons:

  • Challenges with scheduling. In most workplaces, employees work different schedules. This could be for coverage reasons (like with customer service) or because of different time zones (when you have distributed teams). This can make scheduling a time for synchronous remote learning challenging, as it may not fit in an employee’s typical work schedule.
  • Technology issues. Every employee participating in the session must have the right synchronous learning tools, including a computer with a webcam, microphone, and a reliable and fast internet connection. It may be easy to ensure that everyone has the right hardware, but internet connections can be spotty, even in the United States. Those who live in rural areas or communities without reliable high-speed internet can be prevented from participating in live instructor-led training sessions.
  • Pacing issues with teaching. Although the learners and instructor are on video with most remote synchronous learning sessions, it can be difficult for the instructor to get the pacing correct. For instance, in a classroom where you can see everyone all at once, it’s easier to pick up on if the majority are confused or struggling. The instructor can then adjust their lesson as needed. But in a remote environment, the instructor may not be able to pick up on these subtleties as easily, meaning that learners could be left confused.
  • Can be more difficult to provide personalized instruction. When you’re teaching a large group of learners over video conferencing, it can be difficult to single out a learner that’s having trouble and provide them with personalized instruction without derailing the rest of the class. Questions are often left for the end of the class or for scheduled question periods, and there may not be enough time to get to everyone.

Use Cases

what is synchronous remote learning

Aside from education, synchronous remote learning is used in pretty much every workplace and every industry. Here are some examples of synchronous learning use cases:

  1. CPR Certification

Many first aid courses use hybrid learning to teach essential first aid skills like CPR. This means that the theory portion of the course is done through online, asynchronous learning, and the practical portion of the course, where learners are both taught and tested on their ability to perform CPR, is done in person in a synchronous learning environment. 

Participants can take the entire course online in some cases, but it’s difficult to become fully CPR certified without completing a classroom session. This is because a certified instructor must observe the learner to ensure that their technique is correct, and this is difficult to do through online live video. However, breaking up the course so some of it is online still saves time and money, as less time needs to be spent in the classroom (good for sessions that charge by the hour) so a typical class that would need a full day out of work could be done in a half-day, for instance.

  1. Continuing Education for Professionals

Some industries require that professionals earn a certain number of continuing education credits per year for them to continue practicing in their profession. For example, counselors in California must earn 36 CE credits per year. Remote synchronous learning provides a much more convenient and easy way to earn these credits rather than committing to classroom study. It’s not uncommon for professionals to earn CE credits through one or multi-day online conferences or through online webinars. 

  1. Presentations 

Instead of workplace presentations taking place in the boardroom, they can be moved online using remote synchronous learning tools. Everyone can view the presentation on their screen as the presenter speaks, ask questions and make comments as they normally would if everyone was physically together in a room.

  1. Onboarding

In cases where the workplace is fully remote or the employee is working remotely, onboarding can be done through instructor-led training sessions alongside asynchronous eLearning courses. For example, a new employee can meet virtually with their manager over video chat to go through policies and procedures and to get an introduction to software that will be used for the job. Managers can also introduce new team members to the rest of the team through intro sessions where employees can get to know each other better.

  1. Role-Playing Scenarios

In a standard face-to-face role-playing scenario, employees will assume the roles of different individuals in order to simulate a typical interaction. For example, in a healthcare environment, one employee would role-play a patient, and the other would role-play a doctor or nurse. From there, the person in the doctor or nurse position can practice things like bedside manner, carrying out procedures, and more. 

Role-playing scenarios can be replicated online in real-time through video conferencing or online courses. Going off of the healthcare example above, two nurses could work through a pre-designed role-play course together in real-time using instant messaging or audio chat.

  1. Tours

From virtual office tours to overviews of important software, video conferencing can be used to give synchronous learning tours to new and existing employees. During a virtual tour of a piece of software, for instance, a manager could be available to answer questions and explain certain parts of the software further as the video moves along. 

Remote Synchronous Learning Examples

synchronous learning meaning

There are a variety of creative and effective ways to use online training in the workplace. Let’s explore a few examples of synchronous learning activities:

Example #1: Group Scavenger Hunt

In remote workplaces, it can be difficult to build connections between employees, especially if they never see each other in physical settings. Using creative synchronous learning activities is a fun way to encourage collaboration and learning simultaneously. One instructor had the great idea of using a synchronous software scavenger hunt to teach a new tool and keep learning lighthearted and fun. 

The way the instructor did the virtual scavenger hunt in this example is by logging into the software using a few learner demo accounts. She completed some quizzes and other activities within the eLearning software environment within these accounts. From there, she asked her learners questions where they would have to extract information from these accounts in the form of reports to find the answers.

What this did was both test the learner’s knowledge of the system itself and generating reports, plus test their ability to review the information and draw conclusions from it to present a result.

Example #2: Teaching New Software

Teaching new software through a remote synchronous learning environment is common in many industries. For example, let’s say that a telecommunications company recently implemented new software that can handle end-to-end sales. With stores across the country, employees could be trained on the software through video conferencing in groups based on their area. This ensures that everyone gets the same instruction and that training is consistent. 

The trainer could create a demo account in the session and have an employee remotely connect to it. Then, giving them a typical sales scenario to follow, walk the employee through how to complete the sale from start to finish. Not only does the employee get hands-on experience, but the other employees can watch what’s happening in real-time and ask questions.

Example #3: Flipped Classroom

With flipped learning, learners review training materials outside of the virtual classroom environment and then use the live session time to ask questions, receive feedback on work, and review these materials in more detail. The flipped classroom provides a nice blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning, with learners both taking responsibility for their own training and still getting support and advice from their instructor and peers.

4 Most Popular Remote Synchronous Learning Tools

synchronous learning definition

To support a good remote synchronous learning environment, it’s important to have the right tools available. Let’s take a look at four common yet essential tools that enhance the remote learning experience.

Remote Synchronous Learning Tool

What it’s used for

How it helps

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Learners log in to the LMS to access course content and learning resources. The LMS can also support synchronous learning tools such as video chat, messaging, breakout rooms, forums, and more (e.g. Tovuti, EasyLMS, Coassemble).

Provides a one-stop solution for hosting and distributing course content and learning resources.

Video Conferencing Software

Video chat allows live meetings and classroom sessions where everyone can see each other in real-time (e.g. Zoom, Google Meet, Skype).

Facilitates learners and instructors meeting face to face for a live teaching session.

Instant Messaging

Provides an immediate and easy communication tool for both instructors and learners (e.g. WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Microsoft Teams).

Gives learners and instructors a way to instantly communicate with each other before, during, and after live sessions. 

Social Media

Learners and the instructor can take advantage of social media to share information, distribute resources, and create another layer of connection (e.g. Yammer, Facebook, Twitter).

Since most people already have multiple social media accounts (and if they don’t, one can be created for free) it’s an easy way to encourage connection and collaboration between learners and their instructor (e.g. Facebook groups).

FAQ

What is the difference between synchronous learning tools and asynchronous learning tools?

Synchronous learning tools refer to technologies that allow for instant collaboration and communication, like online messaging, texting, or video chat. Asynchronous learning tools still allow for collaboration but are typically not instant forms of communication. These include forums and social media posts, where people aren’t exactly expected to respond immediately.

How do you engage students with remote synchronous learning?

Even though the instructor is teaching in a live environment, remote synchronous learning is different from the classroom. Learners can shut off their cameras, mute themselves, and walk away from their computers easily. Keeping students engaged can be a challenge. 

Here are some tips to help keep students engaged with remote synchronous learning:

  • Include novel content and insights in your session. There should always be a benefit to the learner attending your class over simply reviewing material on their own time. Building off of existing material by coming up with discussion questions, supplementing the material with interesting videos or readings, and offering your own insight into a topic are all examples of ways you can add value to your live session.
  • Ask participants to keep their cameras on. It may seem simple, but insisting learners keep their cameras on enhances accountability and helps with creating stronger connections between learners and the instructor.
  • Ask questions and give learners time to respond. When everyone’s typed out their answer, ask random learners to discuss their answer and how they came up with it. This encourages discussion and gets students directly involved.
  • Ask learners to complete a survey at the end of a session. Ask targeted questions in the survey, like rating the class from 1 to 10, and provide insight on what the class did right and what it did wrong (in their opinion). This will give you vital information that you can use to improve the experience for future learners.

What are some best practices for online synchronous learning?

Some best practices that you can follow for teaching a class through a remote synchronous learning environment include:

  • Have a clear objective for the session. Whether the goal of the live session is for students to ask questions and engage with each other and the instructor, or if it's to teach a specific process or procedure, the objective of the session should be clear. The instructor should also make an effort to stick to the objective since sessions are usually timed.
  • Focus on active learning. To keep learners engaged in the material, every opportunity to get the students to participate in their learning should be taken. Whether it’s getting students to use breakout rooms (a feature available with Tovuti) or actively answering questions, encouraging student participation in the class is a must.
  • Prepare learners in advance. Learners should have an idea of what they are going to learn in the live session, and should also have materials and resources ready to enhance their learning as they go through the class.
  • Make learners feel welcome. Learners that are more comfortable with an instructor will be willing to ask more questions and be more engaged with the session. Use icebreakers and small talk to ease nervousness and help learners feel comfortable throughout the course.

Summary

synchronous learning activities at a hotel

From regulated industries to corporate environments, online synchronous learning can be used to support remote working environments. In the past, many workplaces used an entirely in-person approach to training, which meant more time taken away from work tasks (for the manager training a new employee) and the need for everyone to be in the same office at the same time.

However, the rise of remote working has caused organizations to rethink how they work, including how employees are trained. The use of remote synchronous learning technologies, such as video conferencing, instant messaging, social media, and more have become the norm for facilitating training and making sure that employees stay connected with each other. For the most part, every standard activity that would have taken place in a physical office can be replicated with ease online, making it easier for organizations to fully embrace remote work.

One of the core tools that every organization needs to facilitate distance learning synchronous and asynchronous training is an LMS. Tovuti is a fully-featured, cloud-based, easy-to-use learning management system that can be tailored to fit any organization. 

Watch our demo today and learn more about what Tovuti can do for you.

Author:
Tyson Chaplin

Tyson Chaplin earned his Master of Educational Technology degree from Boise State University in 2014. He also earned a graduate certificate in Technology Integration and holds teaching certificates in online teaching, special education, and history.

Tyson is an Idaho native who is passionate about technology and how it can help all people learn and better themselves. He has worked in both public and private sectors. Tyson enjoys cooking and traveling with his wife, Malia, and restores vintage video game systems in his free time.

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