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Find a Mix of Synchronous and Asynchronous Teaching

Defining Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning

The terms "synchronous learning" and "asynchronous learning" are used a lot to describe online learning. Here are some clear definitions of what synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences are: 

  1. Synchronous: instructors and students gather at the same time and interact in “real time” with a very short or “near-real time” exchange between instructors and students.
  2. Asynchronous: instructors prepare course materials for students in advance of students’ access. Students may access the course materials at a time of their choosing and will interact with each over a longer period of time.

Instructors may choose to engage their students synchronously or asynchronously depending on the course content or material that needs to be taught. There are many advantages and disadvantages to asynchronous and synchronous teaching options. 

Advantages of Synchronous Teaching

  1. Immediate personal engagement between students and instructors, which may create greater feelings of community and lessen feelings of isolation
  2. More responsive exchanges between students and instructors, which may prevent miscommunication or misunderstanding

Disadvantages of Synchronous Teaching

  1. More challenging to schedule shared times for all students and instructors
  2. Some students may face technical challenges or difficulties if they do not have fast or powerful Wi-Fi networks accessible 

Advantages of Asynchronous Teaching

  1. Higher levels of temporal flexibility, which may simultaneously make the learning experiences more accessible to different students and also make an archive of past materials accessible.  
  2. Increased cognitive engagement since students will have more time to engage with and explore the course material. 

Disadvantages of Asynchronous Teaching

  1. Students may feel less personally engaged and less satisfied without the social interaction between their peers and instructors. 
  2. Course material may be misunderstood or have the potential to be misconstrued without the real-time interaction.

Even in-person courses balance synchronous and asynchronous work. You ask students to come into class having done some work (readings, problem sets) in advance, to make the most of your class time.

There is no single solution that will work for every class, but most synchronous online courses benefit from incorporating more asynchronous time. As a student, this makes the class easier to fit in with difficult time zones and broadband issues. For instructors, it can relieve some of the pressure of high-stakes classes that have to happen at a particular time. And it helps everyone feel more engaged in the time that is actually spent live. 

Reflection: What activities in your class need to happen in real-time?

Lectures are a popular candidate for going online, leaving a shorter class period just focused on discussion. If your lectures regularly draw in student voices, however, you might need to keep your lectures in person, but perhaps student discussion groups would work better as written discussion forums online. Perhaps one day a week should be in-person and the other remote. 

Knowing what most needs to happen in person helps you ensure that you get the maximum benefit for the time you do want to spend in-person.