Developing a Learning Culture

Synchronous Learning: Advantages & Disadvantages

What is synchronous learning?

Synchronous learning is real-time learning that takes place at the same time but not in the same place. Television was an early tool for synchronous learning.

Synchronous learning used to mean real-time learning in a face-to-face environment, such as in a classroom or lecture hall, allowing for interplay between student and teacher. In the 21st century—and after the COVID-19 pandemic—synchronous learning has seen a seismic shift. 

With school closures and employees working remotely due to the pandemic, the face-to-face element in synchronous learning has taken a hiatus: learners are interacting with their instructors and peers in real-time through technology, including video conferences, via applications such as Zoom, online webinars, and podcasts. Synchronous learning, in this virtual environment, often uses elements that resemble real classrooms, such as group discussions and team assignments.

Asynchronous Learning Advantages

In asynchronous learning, learners and instructors are not face-to-face or in real-time. An example of asynchronous learning is a class or degree program that students can complete in their own time, without direct interactions with peers and teachers. 

Indirect interactions, however, can take place via email, discussion boards, and social media groups, for example. The advantage of this type of learning is that learners aren’t limited to a specific timeframe or schedule for learning, allowing for flexibility and the ability to balance work, school, and family life—which, for many people, are all out of balance at the moment. Another advantage is that learners can work at their own pace and according to their needs. With asynchronous eLearning, learners can go back and review the lessons as many times as they need to. 

Asynchronous Learning Disadvantages

Disadvantages of asynchronous learning include the lack of immediacy in getting answers to questions, the lack of collaboration, and the need for the self-motivation required to get the work done. Limited access to an instructor often poses a problem for students who struggle without constant guidance. 

Asynchronous learning also requires a lot of planning on the part of the instructor. With collaborative tools such as discussion boards and interactive activities, as well as script writing and storytelling, course design can become extremely time-consuming. 

Synchronous Learning Advantages

Synchronous learning advantages outweigh the disadvantages by a lot for some. 

The biggest advantage is that learners can interact with the presenter and get questions answered in real-time. Another is that the instructor can gauge whether or not learners are grasping the material, and they can make adjustments as needed.

The main advantage to synchronous eLearning, however, is that the instructor is present at all times, which means they can explain difficult concepts and provide immediate responses. 

If you prefer classroom learning but can’t get into the classroom with your current job or family situation, synchronous learning acts as the perfect alternative. You still have a sense of community and the chance to interact with other students. In addition, learners don’t have to travel to get training on the latest product release or company initiative.   

Nowadays, we are entering a completely different phase of online learning—a  virtual-reality (VR) learning experience. These experiences can make you feel like you are in the classroom even though you’re still in your kitchen! 

Occasionally, adult learners avoid classroom training because they aren’t comfortable speaking in public and need time to gather their thoughts. With synchronous eLearning, the pressure of speaking in front of other people is often taken away. Students can easily type their questions and comments into the chatbox, which gives them the appropriate time to formulate their questions. 

Some synchronous courses don’t require you to have the webcam on either. Especially for webinars, the instructors take the time to go through the material and then address everyone’s questions. None of it involves the need to see your face, which is often a plus for adult learners. 

Additionally, for people who love having an order to their day, fixed schedules are essential. Knowing a class will be held at a particular time of the day sets them at ease and allows them to modify their schedule accordingly. 

Synchronous Learning Disadvantages

A major disadvantage of synchronous learning is that delivery is everything, and training quality depends on the quality of the instructor. Think about that college professor droning on about the numerous conquests during the Roman Empire, a presenter getting addled by PowerPoint issues, or a Zoom meeting leader fiddling with the screen share feature.

In synchronous eLearning, technological issues are not infrequent. For example, live classes require a better Internet connection than asynchronous courses where you can adjust the quality for faster loading. 

Because synchronous eLearning requires students to attend class at a specific time, different time zones might present a significant problem. Additionally, with synchronous eLearning, the pace is set by the instructor, not the students, which means that if learners miss something during the training or misunderstand a concept, they most likely won’t have an opportunity to go back and re-listen the lecture. 

To address these issues and target a wider audience, instructors can record synchronous sessions and make them available to learners who are unable to attend live sessions. While this solution resolves the issue, the recorded lectures end up making the course asynchronous. 

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning

Synchronous and asynchronous learning both have their upsides and downsides.

Asynchronous learning allows a student to set their own pace. They often don’t have a time limit in which they have to complete the course. This type of learning is great for people who need to sneak in a 5-minute lesson before work or during lunch.

Asynchronous eLearning is self-paced. It allows learners to go through courses as quickly or as slowly as they desire and at their convenience. Some of the most commonly used tools in asynchronous eLearning are forums, blogs, and webcasts.

On the other hand, with asynchronous learning, it’s too easy to procrastinate and never finish the training since no one is there to set the time limit, hold your hand, or answer questions. You must be disciplined and self-motivated enough to access the materials and take responsibility for your studies. 

Asynchronous learning is definitely a bigger hit with introverts and shy people. It takes away the pressure of social interaction that still follows you home with synchronous learning. 

Alternatively, synchronous eLearning can be truly immersive. It is a dynamic classroom where learners can bounce ideas off each other, work on projects together, and yet, don’t have to arrive at an education center physically. 

When deciding between synchronous and asynchronous eLearning, it’s important to consider the students, their needs, motivation level, and the availability and type of content you are teaching. For example, if your content is filled with complex ideas and technical terms that require a lot of explanations, asynchronous eLearning may not be the right approach.

An excellent solution that combines both synchronous and asynchronous learning is a blended learning approach. In most cases, blended learning is a combination of face-to-face delivery with eLearning activities. For example, learners might have to complete the lecture part of a course by watching a video and then attend a synchronous session for practice and hands-on activities. 

Final Thoughts

The pandemic has changed our education model, and the e-learning landscape has seen the most significant changes. Immersive and interactive apps, VR learning, webinars, and face-to-face video instruction mixed in with asynchronous learning tools have made it convenient in ways we never dreamed of before. 

There are plenty of people who still prefer sitting in a classroom. However, online synchronous and asynchronous learning makes room for people who struggle with social situations and time constraints.