Elearning can essentially be divided into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous.
What Is Synchronous Elearning?
Put simply, synchronous elearning involves any type of learning that is completed in real-time. That’s to say through video-conferencing, instant chat and other means of real-time interaction, albeit remote, between learners and learning professionals.
Virtual classrooms are the typical example, whereby one or more teachers are leading an online course, and any amount of learners are following it in real-time online, and can ask questions and contribute along the way, usually by posting comments.
Rather than being left alone to engage with the learning material in their own time, users of synchronous learning have the ability to interact directly with the course, lecture or class as it unfolds, as well as with each other.
And Asynchronous Elearning?
Asynchronous elearning basically encompasses all other types of elearning that doesn’t require the learner to be online at a specific point in time.
Asynchronous elearning involves courseware that is normally delivered via the web but the learners are generally allowed to engage with and complete the course in their own time and at their own pace, albeit with a probable deadline in sight.
With asynchronous elearning, the internet is primarily used as a support tool and linking device, rather than a real-time platform for online interaction. In some cases, the course may even be completely ‘off-line’.
The Benefits of Synchronous Elearning
One of the main attractions of synchronous elearning is its ability to closely imitate the experience and engagement of a more traditional classroom environment.
The meaningful interactions that synchronous elearning allows offers the opportunity for learners to become actively engaged in the course as it unfolds, and participate in the class by asking questions and collaborating in discussions in real-time.
Student engagement is one of the most obvious key benefits of synchronous elearning.
Video conferencing and telephone conferencing, as well as webcasts and online seminars are the most prominent examples of this type of learning, and all allow a level of actual participation that asynchronous elearning simply can’t offer.
Collaboration, too, is an important factor of meaningful elearning. Indeed, the ability to collaborate with peers can go a long way in providing an overall sense of satisfaction and achievement in the learner, and can positively affect the overall learning outcomes of the course.
The learning professional’s role in synchronous learning becomes much more like that of a teacher in a classroom. They will guide, assist and facilitate thought progressions in their learners, motivating their engagement by intervening with key questions and pointers at given instances.
Indeed, this type of instructional pacing can in fact bolster the whole learning experience altogether. Students participating in synchronous elearning are presented with the opportunity to express their thoughts and have them considered in an on-going process, which can indeed enable advanced learning opportunities as questions and thoughts can be addressed as they occur, without them losing any relevance or pertinence through time delay.
The Benefits of Asynchronous Elearning
The main benefit of asynchronous elearning is that students have the ability to manage their own time for completing the course. Indeed, asynchronous elearning doesn’t prevent learners from entering into dialogue with their peers and the learning professionals behind the course it simply means that every participant is doing so in their own time and at their own pace.
There is much more time for reflection in an asynchronous elearning environment, which can indeed allow for a more thorough understanding of the material, as there is no time pressure nor even immediate peer pressure to get to grips with the work.
From an organisational perspective, that alleviation of time pressure can be very appealing as well for learning and development professional in achieving the highest amount of participation in their course.
Since anyone is able to access the material anytime or anywhere, then there is no reliance on gathering all students online at a specific moment in time. Indeed, asynchronous elearning is probably the more popular of the two categories specifically for this very reason.
Collaboration is of course still very much possible with asynchronous elearning, and the same benefits apply, with again the only real difference being that there are no time restraints or restrictions.
A sense of community and peer engagement is always important for bolstering the experience for all learners, and so asynchronous collaboration projects should always be encouraged.
Both synchronous and asynchronous elearning have their benefits, and in the end it will really come down the learning objectives. There is perhaps a higher level of immediate engagement with synchronous learning, though arguably such engagement is sustained for longer periods in an asynchronous environment, but again, this will all largely be affected by the quality of the course in the first instance.
Asynchronous learning definitely offers the learning professional the ability to reach a larger audience, and the organisation element of getting all participants online at the same time is, of course, eradicated.
There is room to integrate both categories into your learning programme, and indeed, if possible, this will likely result in the most positive outcome.