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Published on:
February 23, 2022

Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning: Everything You Need to Know

Online learning, elearning, synchronous vs asynchronous learning are all terms you’ve likely heard being thrown around a lot lately.


So what’s up with all this talk about different styles of learning?


The truth is, as our world becomes more and more connected, the ways that we learn and how that fits into an online environment continue to come into question. And that’s for a good reason; we want to make sure that we’re providing good learning experiences even though certain barriers (location, time zones, pandemics) can prevent us from getting together in person.


Although synchronous vs asynchronous learning experiences don’t necessarily have to refer to elearning, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be discussing these learning environments in an online context. We’ll also be discussing these learning styles from a business perspective, but there might be some mention of how they fit in with a typical educational environment as well.


Now that we have that out of the way, let’s explore more about synchronous vs asynchronous learning.

Introduction to Distance Learning

Introduction to Distance Learning

Technology like cell phones and the internet have given us a way to connect with each other by removing pesky barriers such as distance and time, so it makes sense that we’d start using this connection for things like distance learning. 


Talking (do people even use their phones for that anymore?) Texting, instant messaging, social media…the communication-focused things we use our phones for is endless.


People use distance learning for all sorts of reasons, including upgrading courses to get into a specific post-secondary program, to further their career, or just to gain more knowledge in a particular subject or topic.


Although there are a ton of different definitions of distance learning out there, the main thing to remember is that distance learning refers to a learning environment where the instructor and the student are in different locations during active classes.


This opens up a lot of discussion about the pros and cons of synchronous and asynchronous learning in a distance learning scenario, with questions about its effectiveness.

Pros and Cons of Distance Learning

While there are a plethora of different factors we could look at when it comes to distance learning, let’s focus on the main pros and cons for now.

Pros of Distance Learning

Cons of Distance Learning

Flexibility with learning times, allows the student to set their own schedule (asynchronous learning).

Students may have trouble holding themselves accountable for learning.

Students, workplaces, and schools aren’t limited by time zones or geographical boundaries when it comes to learning.

Distance learning courses tend to take more time than in-person classes because reading lecture materials and communicating with classmates and instructors take more time.

Professionals can partake in distance learning without sacrificing their job.

There’s a possibility that the student might become overwhelmed with the course material if distance learning is primarily self-directed.

Distance learning promotes continuous or lifelong learning, as the courses are more accessible.

Distance learning requires you to carve your own learning path, which can be difficult when you are not familiar with the material.

Distance learning courses and programs tend to be less expensive than their in-person counterparts.

Some have called the validity of some online distance learning providers into question. Students can avoid this by ensuring they enroll with an accredited institution.


Table sources: 1, 2


Whether distance learning or in-person learning is right for you depends on you as a person. However, many workplaces and schools have shifted or are shifting to an online, distance learning environment to support an increasingly remote campus and workforce.

What is Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning?

What is Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning?

When we talk about distance learning, elearning, and online learning, we can’t help but compare the different learning styles — synchronous vs asynchronous learning.


Synchronous learning refers to the most traditional learning style, where you listen to an instructor speak in a real-time, lecture environment. Just because it's in real-time, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that synchronous learning has to take place in person, it can also take place online.


Instructor-led training, for example, is a common elearning term that refers to a style of teaching where the instructor provides the closest thing to a traditional classroom environment through online teaching. Instructor-led training, or virtual training, typically involves an LMS platform and video conferencing software like Zoom or Google Meet.


Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, is a self-driven learning style where the student is in full control of how and when they pursue learning. A typical asynchronous learning environment takes place online (but doesn’t necessarily have to) and gives the student access to all the course materials at once, meaning they can create their own learning path with regards to absorbing the information.


An example of an asynchronous learning environment would be if you were to take an online course without a live instructor, like a typical elearning course teaching a new work policy or process. While these courses are structured (where it tells you the order in which to learn the material) that’s usually where it ends — the actual learning is completely up to you. 


However, an asynchronous learning environment doesn’t mean that the student doesn’t communicate with other students or their instructor at all, it’s just that this communication takes place through email, social media, or messaging. So rather than communication being completely cut off, it just takes a different form that is less immediate than if the lesson was taught live.


Next, let’s get into the pros and cons of synchronous vs asynchronous learning.

Pros and Cons of Synchronous Learning

The following table breaks down the main pros and cons of synchronous learning, focusing primarily on when it’s used in an online context:


Pros of Synchronous Learning

Cons of Synchronous Learning

More focused on community and togetherness because students and instructors can see and talk to each other in real-time

Online synchronous learning uses technology, namely a stable internet connection and computers with cameras are needed, which can be costly for schools and organizations on a budget

Immediate feedback, where the instructor can correct students immediately and/or adapt the course material on the fly to better support students

Internet connectivity and speed can pose issues with keeping students and instructors properly connected at all times

It’s cost-effective, where workplaces can save big on not having to spend money on travel, hotels, a venue, and more to teach staff

In a business environment, online synchronous learning doesn’t solve the issue of availability, meaning that classes still have to be scheduled based on employee’s individual working hours

Capacity can be scaled up with online synchronous learning to support more learners than a typical classroom

Time zone issues (where multiple employees are in different locations) can make scheduling synchronous learning classes difficult

Online synchronous learning is more flexible than a classroom environment, where if a student is unable to attend, most online learning courses are recorded for later viewing

Course material in a synchronous learning environment may not be as consistent as asynchronous, since there could be differences in how instructors teach the material.

Table sources: 1, 2


While synchronous learning mimics the most traditional learning environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best solution for every situation. Busy professionals may prefer an asynchronous learning environment where they can set their own study schedules, while students entering post-secondary for the first time might prefer the experience of synchronous learning vs asynchronous learning.


Workplaces and schools will need to weigh the pros and cons of synchronous vs asynchronous learning online to determine whether it’s the best overall solution for both them and their students.

Pros and Cons of Asynchronous Learning

Now that we’ve explored the pros and cons of synchronous learning, let’s move on to the pros and cons of asynchronous learning in the following table:

Pros of Asynchronous Learning

Cons of Asynchronous Learning

Students can create their own flexible learning schedule to work around their job, family obligations, etc.

It can be difficult for students to hold themselves accountable for learning, as there’s no set schedule to follow.

May better serve students with more introverted personalities, where a classroom environment (even if it's online) may cause anxiety or otherwise affect learning.

Asynchronous learning can be isolating in the sense that you’re missing out on the typical interaction with instructors and students that you would have in a live environment.

Provides a more accessible environment for students in different time zones, as there’s no obligation to meet at a certain time for class.

Getting answers to questions in a timely manner may be affected because of time zone differences between students and instructors.

Asynchronous learning can provide more consistent information than synchronous learning, due to the fact that the course material is static.

It’s possible that students may misinterpret or misunderstand the course material as they don’t have an instructor to explain it to them unless they have specific questions.

With the use of an LMS or other software, asynchronous learning gives better metrics on how a learner is proceeding through a learning path (page views, time spent on a quiz or exam, how a learner interacts with different parts of a course).

Some certification programs, degrees, diplomas, and more may require a specific number of learning hours to be completed. Careful attention needs to be put on typical course completion time by the instructor when developing material, with the knowledge that some students may take longer to complete the course while others may take less time.


Table sources: 1, 2

As our education and jobs continue to shift to a more online environment, it’s clear that asynchronous learning isn’t going away anytime soon. Workplaces and schools will need to weigh the pros and cons of synchronous vs asynchronous online learning instruction to determine what the best solution is for their situation.


Asynchronous vs Synchronous Learning in the Workplace

Many workplaces have already adopted some form of elearning to train their employees. According to a 2018 LinkedIn report that surveyed 4,000 professionals globally, 90% of companies offer some form of digital learning.


There’s no turning back on it, either. According to the 2021 LinkedIn report, 64% of Learning and Development professionals agree that learning and development programs within a company have shifted from a “nice to have” to a “must-have” in 2021, which is clearly a sign that companies that haven’t yet adopted elearning should jump on the bandwagon — and fast.


The pandemic certainly caused a marked shift from traditional in-office work to an increased focus on remote working, mainly due to necessity. Since the pandemic started, many workplaces have settled into a hybrid model of online training, meaning some parts of training include live, instructor-led training (ILT) sessions, while other parts are self-driven. According to LinkedIn, this blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning remains the most popular approach.


However, the report also mentions that company budgets have shifted to support less ILT and more autonomous online learning, with 73% of Learning and Development professionals saying that they expect to spend less on ILT and 79% saying they will spend more on online learning.


While this means less support for live instruction, some professionals may appreciate the ability to further their skills on their own schedule.

Top 5 Industries that use Synchronous vs Asynchronous Online Learning

Top 5 Industries that use Synchronous vs Asynchronous Online Learning

Some industries have wasted no time in jumping on the online learning bandwagon, fully taking advantage of synchronous and asynchronous learning in an online environment to train employees. 


Here is a breakdown of the top 5 industries that are known for implementing elearning into their employee training programs:

Education

It’s pretty well known at this point that universities and K-12 schools are embracing the world of online learning. According to ThinkImpact, the majority of students learning online in the K-12 space are high school students, with the next biggest percentage being students in middle school. However, post-secondary schools have fully embraced online learning, with 98% of universities moving classes online since 2020. It’s important to remember that the pandemic could have had a large impact on this statistic. 


Regardless, the education industry continues to embrace elearning and online learning technology in general, with large investments being made into education technology companies to support remote learning environments. While still providing quality education.

Healthcare

The healthcare industry continues to grow and requires a steady stream of new, fully-educated professionals ready to serve the medical needs of our population. Online learning has been used in the healthcare industry for years, with elearning being implemented into various aspects of healthcare education with positive results.

Computer and Information Technology

As a tech industry, it’s no surprise that computer and IT is a fast-growing industry with projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 13% growth rate for computer and information technology occupations from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than any other occupation.


It makes sense then, that computer and IT industry professionals often use elearning to stay on top of current advancements and trends when it comes to technology, as well as collaborate with other professionals in their industry.

Retail 

It’s no surprise that elearning can provide a ton of benefits for training needs in the retail industry. The retail industry is highly competitive and has a relatively high turnover rate, meaning that the need to provide effective, fast education is paramount. With online training, employers see 40-60% less employee time dedicated to learning, with 25-60% higher retention rates when compared to in-person training. 


In such a fast-paced industry where customers expect associates to have great product knowledge, it’s a no-brainer that the retail industry would be among the top industries to adopt elearning.

Construction

You might not expect such a hands-on industry to be a leader in elearning adoption, but in reality, elearning is a great way for construction professionals to keep their certifications in good standing, fulfill training requirements for job sites, and more. 


There have been predictions of continuous growth in the use of elearning in the construction industry, and professional construction organizations like the Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) adopting elearning courses for training purposes.



It’s clear that elearning comes in all forms, and whether asynchronous vs synchronous learning works the best for your company doesn’t really matter when it comes to Tovuti. We provide an easy-to-use LMS to handle all your learning needs, and if at one point you want to switch from fully synchronous ILT elearning to a 100% asynchronous learning environment or a blend of both, our LMS can support that flexibility.

Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning FAQ

Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning FAQ

 With all this talk about synchronous vs asynchronous learning, you’re likely to still have questions. Let’s break through the confusion with some frequently asked questions.

Do Students Prefer Synchronous Learning vs Asynchronous?

What students prefer in terms of synchronous and asynchronous learning will likely depend on the course or program being taught, its complexity, and the course material. While that sounds a bit vague, there’s some more definitive information: according to one study that asked 4,789 undergrad students from 95 countries on Instagram whether they prefer synchronous vs asynchronous learning, the study found that most students (84%) prefer synchronous learning environments.

Does Asynchronous Mean no Video Conferencing?

Not necessarily. While asynchronous learning means the student learns on their own time and schedule, they can typically still meet with their instructor or teacher through video conferencing or other means to get questions answered. Students can also use alternative communication methods to keep in touch with other students and their instructor, such as social media, messaging, and email.

What is Better, Synchronous or Asysynchous Learning?

In terms of learning styles, whether synchronous or asynchronous learning is better is subjective, meaning it depends on the student, course material, complexity of the course, and other factors. For instance, if the course has been designed and tested to suit asynchronous learning, chances are it will be better for the student to learn it in that way rather than opt for a synchronous version, and vice versa.

Is Blended Learning Asynchronous?

Blended learning is typically a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning styles. With blended learning, the theory portion of a course is usually completed online by the learner within a set schedule or on their own time, with no direct instruction from an instructor. The practical portion of the course (where an instructor is present, either in-person or online for a lecture) is then scheduled to build off of or support the material in the asynchronous portion of the course. 


An example of the blended learning style in action is within the construction industry. Most Working at Heights courses like the one linked allow you to complete the theory portion of the course online through elearning, while the more practical components of the course are reserved for the classroom.

How Does Technology Support Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning?

Technologies like virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and mixed reality (MR) can often be integrated into Learning Management Systems to support gamification scenarios or to add fun and engagement to other aspects of the elearning course to support synchronous or asynchronous learning. Since any kind of interactive content is great for enhancing learner engagement, incorporating some form of reality-based technology into your course, if possible, is always an important consideration.

Conclusion

Online learning in all industries continues to evolve depending on the needs of students and the state of the world. Synchronous learning and asynchronous learning, or a blend of both continue to be adapted to be used for elearning courses for all industries and professions. As technology gets better and better, it’s likely that we’ll continue to see huge strides in teaching and learning online.


Creating your own elearning courses might seem daunting at first, but with the right tools and support, it can be easy! Contact us today for a demo that outlines our software and how it can benefit your next teaching project. 

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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