Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning

by Emma Jarman

For every student there is arguably a unique learning style that best fits their ability to absorb and retain information. With the past year of online/at home learning “opportunities” combined with the mass social migration to the digital sphere, more and more learning is taking place online and in front of screens as opposed to in the traditional classroom.

But although where education is taking place has changed greatly, education or the presentation of it, in its simplest form, has always and can still be broken down to two types: Synchronous and asynchronous learning.

Synchronous learning lends itself to the more “traditional” environment and online can take the form of a live lecture, chat room, WebEx or Zoom room or Google Meet. Most recently, Clubhouse has taken the synchronous learning experience to the next level in their (still Beta) audio-based social platform. Synchronous learning in the digital sphere is achieved through online virtual classrooms. Benefits of synchronous learning include students ability to ask questions in real time, feel a greater sense of community and connection to their peers, be more engaged in their learning and feel a strong sense of collaboration.

Asynchronous learning, however, is more traditionally what is thought of when “online learning” comes up. This learning can be provided through pre-recorded lectures, powerpoint slide decks or reading assignments that can be tackled at a self-paced rate. LinkedIn Learning is one of the largest online databases of asynchronous learning opportunities. Benefits of asynchronous learning include students’ ability to progress through the learning at their own pace and in the order they want and having more time to reflect on what they learned. Some students find it easier to communicate with professors through thought out emails as opposed to using their voices on the spot in live discussions.

So, which is “better?” 

Platforms like Clubhouse (synchronous), LinkedIn Learning (asynchronous) and Coaches Corner University (combination of both synchronous and asynchronous) all offer a massive catalog of professional-level, job- and industry-specific learning tracks for free or small fee to anyone with the interest and drive to create an account and commit the time to their own personal and professional development. So while each learning style has numerous benefits, as to be expected, the best approach is multifaceted.

The ability to learn a lecture at your own place combined with live group discussion of subject material questions and answers with an instructor is invaluable to the modern student. The improved learner outcomes associated with synchronous learning combined with the enhanced learner control found in asynchronous environments is a dynamic combination in giving each learner the greatest chances of success with the material. Real time collaboration in a “room” full of students who already have a general grasp of the material is ideal. Share a video to prompt a lively discussion. Send out a short quiz ahead of a lecture to gauge participant preparedness or where to start. 

But I didn’t answer the question, did I: Which is better? Well, both, and at the same time.

My question for you is: now that we’ve named these two learning styles, which do you identify more closely to, and how will you take that awareness going forward in your next educational, business or life endeavor to maximize the experience?

2 comments

  • Hey Gabrielle, thanks for reading! It’s DEFINITELY possible (and common) to learn best from a combination of both. Coaches Corner University for instance (the example mentioned in the article) puts out mountains of content online to subscribers/students including prerecorded lectures, articles and podcasts for students to absorb at their own pace and on their own time, then hosts multiple weekly Live Q&A’s with in somewhat of a Socratic seminar-style. Students really seem to benefit from the combination, though each does tend to lean slightly more toward one side or the other when it comes to optimal information absorption and retention.

    emma
  • Hi! Great article- is it possible to learn with a combination of both? I’m not sure which I lean towards, I’ve gone through coursework both ways, or self taught myself. I can’t really say which method I’ve learned “better” in.

    Gabrielle H

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