Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning

Synchronous vs asynchronous learning refers to different types of online courses and degree programs. Both options have a few things in common.

Both are primarily delivered online, accessible via online course modules from your own computer or laptop. Both could be completed from anywhere. Both are flexible options, designed to help all kinds of different students earn their degrees on their own terms. Both synchronous and asynchronous learning options, in some cases, might even be offered by the same program. However, beyond that, they can be a little different.

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Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning: What's The Difference?

Synchronous learning is when classes occur on set schedules and time frames. Students and instructors are online at the same time in synchronous classes since lectures, discussions, and presentations take place at specific hours. All students must be online at that exact time in order to participate in the class.

Asynchronous classes let students complete their work on their own time. Students are given a timeframe – it's usually a one-week window – during which they need to connect to their class at least once or twice. The good news is that in asynchronous courses, you could hit the books no matter what hour of day (or night).

synchronous vs asynchronous learning

Why Should I Choose Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning?

Whether you ultimately decide to attend a synchronous vs asynchronous program, or one that offers both, you’re sure to find some distinct perks to each. For example, some students like synchronous courses because they want to feel involved, in real-time, with the class experience. They might find it rewarding to ask a question or offer a comment, and to receive instant feedback. For some people, real-time communication could provide them with the educational experience they need to thrive.

For others, asynchronous learning could be a better fit. Many students need more time to form their thoughts or consider all the sides of an issue before offering an opinion. In a synchronous classroom, these students might get overshadowed by faster typists and spontaneous thinkers. When studying asynchronously, students could work at their own pace. Another perk to studying asynchronously: if your work schedule is on the hectic side, or if you work multiple shifts, you might not have to worry about logging on at a specified time each week. Your class schedule could bend to accommodate your real life.

As you’re researching asynchronous vs synchronous learning options, you may want to ask college enrollment advisors which elements from the following list are used at their schools.

Define Synchronous Learning Further

  • Chat: Synchronous chat rooms allow multiple users to log in and interact. This is a great way to ask questions and to share resources and insights. Many online course modules have chat interfaces built in, so you could participate right from your browser.
  • Voice (telephone or voice-over IP): If you work in a business setting, this might be familiar. Some courses might enable you to conference call with your professor and peers, using either your computer or phone.
  • Video or web conferencing: This type of feature could be a great option, especially if you want to mimic a classroom experience! Using your webcam, you could talk to your professor face to face, share media (like documents, presentations, and poll questions) and more! In some cases, you might even be able to save the video or web conference to review again later when you study.
  • Live Streaming: Some synchronous learning programs may go a step further in emulating the traditional classroom, by live streaming your professor’s lecture, as if you were sitting in the classroom with them! In many cases, this may also be recorded for later, so you can watch it over again if you missed something.

Define Asynchronous Learning Further

  • Digital Curriculum Materials: While this could also be found in synchronous programs, digital materials to supplement the curriculum may be especially prominent in asynchronous learning. This could be anything from uploaded PowerPoint presentations, to document sharing, to podcasts and video streaming. In many cases, these types of materials could be distributed through the online course module, helping you stay organized by keeping everything in one place.
  • Email: It might seem basic, but email is a foundational item in all online courses. It's a great tool for asking questions, keeping in touch, and receiving materials, updates, reminders, and even assessments. Some online course modules take this a step further, by allowing you to contact your professor by email without ever leaving the online course module!
  • Discussion Boards: The discussion board is another pillar in the online learning structure. Often, this is used to facilitate debates, collaboration, and discussion about course content, just like you might have in a physical classroom. The difference is that, in a discussion board, you could pop in and comment whenever it works for you.
  • Social Networking: Many online courses now incorporate social networking in order to enhance collaboration and learner interaction. Some learning management systems might even integrate social networking platforms into the course module, making it easier to connect with your peers and professors.
  • Wikis and Collaborative Documents: These might be used in a few different ways. For one, wikis could be a great way for your online courses to build and maintain class notes and references. Wikis and other collaborative documents also facilitate group work, creating a central hub for you and your classmates to work together on a shared project.

Example Online Schools with Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning

Asynchronous vs synchronous? A combination of both? With all these options, how do you figure out what option might be perfect for you? The answer, of course, is asking questions. Online programs, no matter the format, are a diverse lot. Each one might be put together in a unique way, with different expectations, priorities, and resources. Below, you’ll find a short list of some example schools, each one with a unique set of online learning offerings.

Full Sail University

Based in Winter Park, Florida, Full Sail University offers a wide range of career-focused degree programs in creative fields. This includes entertainment, media, arts, and technology-related disciplines. Degree options range from associate all the way to masters, and emphasize developing the skills you might need in the field in real life.

Full Sail University offers an array of online programs and courses, enabling them to educate students when and where they need it. Whether you prefer a blended program (combining campus and online learning) or studying fully online, you may find what you’re looking for. At Full Sail, students have the flexibility to choose whether to attend synchronous events like live streamed lectures and discussions, or complete courses asynchronously.

George Mason University Online

George Mason University Online offers an array of options, enabling each student to choose the format that suits their preferences. That means you could study fully online in either synchronous or asynchronous courses, or even choose a hybrid program and take some courses on campus! That means students might have the freedom to choose what type of course works for them on a case-by-case basis.

GMU Online offers more than 50 fully online or hybrid programs in a variety of fields. That includes business, education, engineering and technology, health, and the sciences. So, whatever your passion, you could learn it on-the-go. GMU prides itself on offering the same academic rigor online as they do on campus, with the flexibility today’s adult students need.

California Southern University Online

California Southern University has a unique approach to asynchronous online learning. Many elements might be familiar. For example, you’ll still work according to a designated curriculum, earn course credits, and submit assignments on a deadline through your online learning platform. However, despite the fact that all CalSouthern courses are delivered online, if you live near the campus, you could still choose to attend lectures there in person, or attend local events! That said, it’s not a requirement. Said lectures and events are livestreamed and recorded for on-demand viewing. That means you could opt to study synchronously or asynchronously—whatever you prefer, and works on your schedule!

CalSouthern Online uses technology like Office 365 cloud-based tools, email, Skype, online library services, and more. They even offer a virtual bookstore, to help you get the instructional materials you need as easily and efficiently as possible.

University of Illinois at Chicago

The University of Illinois at Chicago offers distance education options alongside their campus programs. That means that, whether you earn your degree online or on campus, you still have the benefit of the same rigorous education standards and reputation. At UIC Online, most courses are designed so that you could attend asynchronously, participating in classroom discussion forums and completing weekly assignments on your own schedule.

UIC strives to make online learning as simple as possible for each student from a technical standpoint. So you could attend your courses from any browser—all you need is an internet connection, a computer, and basic internet and word processing skills. And if you need help, technical support is available 24/7.

Online degrees and certificates at UIC may be offered in a wide variety of disciplines. Students could earn diplomas and certificates, and degrees from bachelors to doctorate.

Synchronous Learning vs Asynchronous Learning

Now that you understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous learning, we hope you'll select the online program that fits your needs best. Visit our degree program finder for a wide variety of online degree options. 

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