Balancing Synchronous and Asynchronous Activities
Regardless of course format, time spent together and the learners' focused attention is a scarce resource. Make the best use of this limited time by matching learning activities with the most appropriate temporal modality.
Synchronous learning activities
Synchronous activities refer to class activities that occur in real-time.
Immediate personal engagement between students and instructors can make it easier to foster feelings of community and lessen feelings of isolation. More responsive exchanges between students and instructors can also help prevent miscommunication or misunderstanding.
However, it can be challenging to schedule shared times for all students and instructors. And some students may face technical challenges or difficulties if they do not have reliable internet connections or devices available.
- Small group activities
- Digital sticky notes
- Live audience polling
- Digital whiteboard
- Breakout room discussions
Asynchronous learning activities
Asynchronous activities refer to class activities that happen at the student's own pace and on their own time.
Higher levels of temporal flexibility can make learning experiences more accessible to different students. Also, students will have more time to engage with and explore the course material which can contribute to deeper engagement.
Students may feel less personally engaged and less satisfied without the social interaction between their peers and instructors. Also, the course material may be misunderstood or have the potential to be misconstrued without real-time interaction.
- Online Discussion Forums
- Collaborative writing
- Problem Sets
- Peer Review
- Pre-recorded instructional video
Save synchronous time for active learning
The greatest benefit of sharing time and space with other people is the ability to communicate, collaborate, and be nimble in response. Therefore, learning activities that foster interaction between students such as discussion groups, practice problem-solving, collaborative brainstorming, or live polling is best done synchronously.
Also, consider the interaction between instructors and students. Often times this is the best way for instructors to check comprehension, provide feedback, and model effective problem-solving and ways of thinking.
Leverage asynchronous activities
Students might benefit from approaching activities like lectures or reading on their own time so that they can process, absorb, and engage with that content at their own pace. These kinds of asynchronous activities can prepare students for deeper engagement during a class meeting, or act as continuing engagement with something that took place in class.
Also, simply moving some activities to asynchronous formats, by recording lectures, for example, can free up precious in-class time for more engaging synchronous activities.
Because focused attention on lectures can be harder to maintain in a web meeting, most online courses that have recently converted from traditional face-to-face formats can greatly benefit from increasing their amount of asynchronous content.
- 10 Strategies for Engaging Discussions Online, Stanford Teaching Commons (2020).
- Creating multiple pathways for student participation, GSE IT Teaching Resources (2020).
- Small group activities for Zoom breakout rooms, Stanford Teaching Commons (2020).