Vital Question: Should I take a Synchronous or Asynchronous Online Degree Program?
When browsing for online degree programs, students encounter two main options: synchronous programs, and asynchronous programs.
Synchronous courses resemble a more traditional coursework model, in which students “attend” a course an instructor teaches in real-time, utilizing tools such as live streaming lectures, live chatrooms, phone or videoconferences, or Google Hangouts. All students are logged in at the same time to view the lecture and to actively participate in the discussion through typing or sometimes speaking through voice or videoconference technology. Synchronous courses allow students to respond or ask questions in the moment, change the discussion, engage with other students and their instructors directly, and participate more immediately in a learning community.
Asynchronous courses take a more non-traditional approach. Students do not “attend” class at a set time, but rather, access pre-recorded lectures and digital curriculum materials and respond through email, discussion boards, social networking, and collaborative documents at a time of their own choosing. Typically, students must attend classes within a set window, such as one week from the posting of course materials, but students control when they access these documents.
Asynchronous and synchronous courses both allow for direct communication access to professors and other students.
Pros and Cons of Synchronous and Asynchronous Courses
Each method of delivery comes with pros and cons, making synchronous courses work better for some students, and asynchronous courses work better for others.
Pros of Synchronous Courses:
- Allows for real time interaction. Students may ask questions, participate in discussion, and react to new material in a live setting.
- Students tend to develop a greater sense of community and connection with other students and with the professor, which can reflect positively in performance and retention.
- Regarding students with generally open and flexible schedules, synchronous courses can actually make their online coursework easier to pursue, as it comes with a set schedule similar to traditional coursework.
- Students who have trouble focusing on online courses may benefit from synchronous courses; a set schedule creates accountability.
Cons of Synchronous Courses:
- Synchronous courses have real time interaction; these courses require students to think on their feet; this may not be ideal for all learners, and fast typists may shut out those who need more time to think and respond.
- The traditional scheduling of synchronous courses, with the courses requiring students attend at a set time is not ideal for everyone. Students with busy professional schedules, or demanding personal lives may have difficulty attending a three-hour class at 2:00 P.M. every Tuesday.
- Some students enjoy the social dynamic of a traditional classroom, however some students feel overwhelmed and stressed.
Pros of Asynchronous Courses:
- Asynchronous courses provide flexibility. Students can engage in their courses when, where, and how they want.
- Students with demanding circumstances in their personal lives, such as children, aging parents, or ill spouses, asynchronous courses allow them to schedule coursework around their lifestyle, rather than their lifestyle around their courses.
- Asynchronous courses allow students to approach classes on their own terms and at their own pace, taking as much time as they need to study and respond to material.
- Students who are not comfortable in group settings, the social pressures of attending a class become a non-issue.
Cons of Asynchronous Courses:
- Many students may find asynchronous courses difficult to engage with, due to the sense of distance that comes with these courses. Without live interaction, asynchronous courses may feel tedious or dull to students who need a stronger sense of community.
- The flexibility of asynchronous courses can act as a burden, requiring a higher level of personal accountability than synchronous courses. Students need to have a system in place to ensure they complete their coursework on time.
- Not everyone learns best through reading and remote interaction. Some students need live interaction, active discussion, and a more traditional discursive model of teaching in order to learn material.
- If a course requires group work or group projects, scheduling and collaborating with other students may become an issue.