Online learning has exploded in the last couple of years. Everyone, from employees to learners and retirees, is using the new-found opportunities to study anything from a personal passion to adding new competencies to an existing skill set and taking full degree courses. The beauty of technology-based learning, other than that it is often more affordable, is that it can happen anytime, anywhere – removing barriers such as location, time of learning, and even speed of training.
However, while many learning institutions allow learners to study as and when they want, aka ‘asynchronously’, there is a distinct move towards the ‘synchronous’ model that requires learners to participate in lectures, discussions and workshops at a set time.
What are the pros and cons of asynchronous vs synchronous learning, how do they differ, and which one is best for you and your team? We unpack all that and more.
Synchronous learning is a real-time (live), instructor-led method of lecturing that requires learners to attend classes every week at the same time as their instructor and classmates. Similar to traditional campus-based education, learners have assignments to complete and readings to go through in preparation for (online) class discussions. They actively participate in pre-scheduled learning activities such as live-streaming lectures and video-conference discussions.
One of the main benefits of synchronous learning is that it allows for the creation of a community. Studies have shown that a significant limitation of online studying is the loss of social relationships. One solution to this prioritises collaborative learning strategies, where an instructor actively mentors small classes or groups, which is essential for online courses to be as effective as traditional classroom courses.
- Real-time interaction with instructors and classmates
- Facilitates powerful peer learning experiences
- Provides a sense of community and accountability
- Allows for immediate feedback and clarification
- Facilitates group activities and discussions in real-time
- Sessions are more productive and provide new learning opportunities
- Requires a set schedule, which may not be convenient for everyone
- Technical issues such as connectivity problems can disrupt learning
- Not suitable for learners who prefer to work at their own pace
- May not be possible for learners who live in different time zones
Asynchronous learning is a self-paced, on-demand approach that allows learners to access course materials whenever it suits them. While there will be a set time for deliverables, it is up to the learner to decide when to access lectures, readings, homework, and other learning materials and complete tasks and assignments.
The main benefit of asynchronous learning is that it provides flexibility for learners across the globe to participate, regardless of their time zone.
- Allows learners to work at their own pace
- Provides flexibility for learners who have other commitments
- Accessible anytime, anywhere, as long as there is an internet connection
- Can accommodate learners who live in different time zones
- Sometimes allows learners to fast-track their training
- Limited opportunities for real-time interaction and immediate feedback
- May require more self-discipline and motivation from learners
- Can feel isolated or disconnected from the instructor and other learners
- Group work and discussions may not be as effective as in synchronous learning environments
- Dehumanised approach leads to a lack of motivation to log in, read the material and finish the course
What the two education delivery systems have in common
- Set outcomes and delivery dates
- Require reliable internet connection, preferably uncapped
- Require a computer that can process a variety of interactive tools and web applications
- Access to virtual libraries, resource centres, forums, FAQs, past lectures and presentations, and coursework
- Delivery via a Learning Management System (LMS)
- Studying is time-consuming, regardless of whether it’s synchronous or asynchronous
Which learning model is right for you?
Whether in a synchronous or asynchronous class, you need to block off time to accomplish your goals and tasks. Knowing yourself, your work/life demands and commitments, your limitations and your sense of self-discipline are key factors in deciding how you will study.
If you’re still unsure, this recent study shows how a personalised, media-rich approach, where the learning model provides immediate feedback and allows for verbal and non-verbal communications – including discussing complex ideas and allowing time for deep reflection – significantly affects learners’ academic success.
Ultimately, the choice between synchronous and asynchronous learning depends on your individual learning style and preferences and the specific course and its objectives. Taking a self-paced art history course will work well synchronously, but if you sign up for a High-Impact Sales course, for instance, community and social learning opportunities will be invaluable.
The MasterStart approach – humans first
Working with leading online educational partners, MasterStart has adopted the synchronous, human-led educational model of online learning that has been proven to lead to better outcomes. We create safe spaces for peers to connect, engage with industry experts, share their experiences, and collaborate on real-world challenges. All our learners have constant access to learner success coordinators who assist during live sessions and assignment submissions.
Through this personalised, humanised learning model, obstacles are broken down, fear decreases, and learners gain the confidence needed to apply what they have learnt the minute they enter the workforce. It’s simple. When you’re supported, you learn better.
Explore our business school-backed online courses, and contact us when you’re ready to take the plunge and acquire the skills needed to thrive in a fast-changing world.