Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Classes: What’s the Difference?

| Doug Wintemute

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Synchronous classes run in real time, with students and instructors attending together from different locations. Asynchronous classes run on a more relaxed schedule, with students accessing class materials during different hours and from different locations.

Online classes fall into two categories — synchronous and asynchronous — each of which aligns with different students' interests, personalities, and learning styles. This page explores these two types of online delivery, breaking down their advantages and disadvantages to help students find the best match for them.

What Is the Difference Between Synchronous and Asynchronous Classes?

Online learning allows people to study in new and exciting ways, but the best type of online learning comes down to personal preference. Synchronous virtual classrooms operate much like traditional classrooms, with set study schedules and live discussions. Asynchronous classrooms look a little different, as students digest the instruction and communicate with each other on their own time.


What Is Synchronous Learning?

Synchronous learning allows students to engage with class materials at the same time as their peers as long as they can connect to the internet. This delivery type provides learners with a structured and immersive learning environment without the worry and stress of travel.

Synchronous classrooms use web and videoconferencing technologies — like Google Meet, Google Hangouts, or Zoom — to create learning spaces. Teachers may choose synchronous delivery over asynchronous formats because the format allows a more conversational approach, especially if the material requires instant feedback and discussion.

What Is an Example of Synchronous Learning?

A common type of synchronous classroom includes a live-streamed lecture that students attend virtually. Teachers or guest lecturers stream their presentations, and students can ask questions via webcams, microphones, and chat or message boards.

For more classroom engagement, teachers can incorporate videoconferenced discussion groups. They can divide students into smaller groups with breakout rooms, facilitating direct discussion.

What Is Synchronous Online Class Like?

Synchronous online classes run similar to traditional classes, with attendance, lectures, and discussion periods. Students typically attend and participate via webcam or livestream forum and may move into smaller virtual rooms for group work or a teacher's office hours. Instructors can physically demonstrate specific problems or processes and ask questions as they go.

Synchronous classrooms incorporate interactive components, like chat rooms, polls, surveys, and shared documents. Online classrooms may not provide the same opportunities for visibility as in-person classes, but students can stand out by showing themselves online and participating thoughtfully while following synchronous classroom netiquette.

Pros and Cons of Taking a Synchronous Class

This data highlights common benefits and drawbacks of synchronous classrooms.

Pros

Greater engagement Immediate responses Dynamic learning opportunities Direct communication with teachers More structure in classrooms

Cons

Set schedules Requires strong internet connection Requires webcam and mic Can be hard to speak up Needs a quiet space to log on


What Is Asynchronous Learning?

Asynchronous classes offer learners the flexibility to study in a self-paced manner. While most asynchronous classes still have submission deadlines, students can connect with materials, peers, and instructors on their own schedules, often over an extended period of time. Teachers may prescribe an order of operations for the materials, but learners can often choose how much or how little time they spend in each area.

Asynchronous online classrooms use forums and message boards to keep a running dialogue between participants. They also incorporate self-guided lessons, workshops, and shared files. Many students find asynchronous environments more comfortable for certain types of learning, though participation expectations may actually be higher in this format than in others.

What Is an Example of Asynchronous Learning?

Asynchronous classrooms often feature prerecorded lectures that students watch independently. Teachers post video or audio files and lecture notes online for learners, and then post quizzes on the material to ensure students followed up with watching or listening to it.

Another component of asynchronous learning is the discussion board. In this space, teachers can post discussion prompts, and students can ask questions and interact with their peers. This provides learners with an interactive experience and space for social learning.

What Is Asynchronous Online Class Like?

In asynchronous online classes, students can access their studies on their own schedules. Teachers may mark attendance in different ways, such as by tracking who watched the lecture or posting comprehension quizzes. More interactive lessons can require learners to answer polls or click buttons, which also tells the instructor who has engaged with the content.

An asynchronous class allows learners to digest material in different ways: Students can dedicate more time to challenging content and breeze through lighter content. Since teachers cannot evaluate a student's readiness in person, online participation plays a large role in asynchronous classrooms. This delivery mode also requires a great deal of self-motivation and proactiveness, especially if a student is having trouble with a topic.

Pros and Cons of Taking an Asynchronous Class

Asynchronous learning environments differ greatly from traditional classrooms. Below are a few pros and cons of the format.

Pros

Schedule flexibility Individually dictated pace More democratic More accessible More time with material

Cons

Less immersive Challenges with procrastination Disconnected social environment Independent learning difficulties More distractions


Which Class Style is Right for You?

Which is the right class style depends entirely on the individual learner. Prospective students should first consider their schedules, as those who work unconventional hours — like military service people, ROTC cadets, or night-shift workers — might find asynchronous classes more accomodating. Students with unorthodox sleep schedules may find value in asynchronous learning as well, whereas learners with poor time management skills might not.

Aspiring online students should carefully consider their own learning style and personality type. Where social learners might benefit from synchronous environments, solitary students might prefer asynchronous ones. Moreover, extroverted personalities can thrive in synchronous classes, while introverted personalities can succeed in asynchronous courses.

Finally, online learners should consider their field of interest. Certain majors or classes may work better in synchronous or hybrid environments. If students wish to fast-track their training, asynchronous classes might be best. For those looking for a more immersive college experience, synchronous training might work better.

Frequently Asked Questions

true Are Asynchronous Classes Good?

For many students, an asynchronous class provides flexibility and accessibility. Working professionals and busy students can complete their studies without disrupting their schedules.

What Are the Advantages of Asynchronous Learning?

In addition to schedule flexibility, asynchronous learning allows for self-paced and self-directed learning. Students can spend as much time as they need with material, and they can think about and edit their thoughts before participating online.

Which Is Better: Synchronous or Asynchronous Learning?

Both synchronous and asynchronous classrooms offer advantages and disadvantages. Degree-seekers should consider their own learning styles and educational interests when choosing the most suitable delivery method.

Doug Wintemute is a Toronto-based freelance writer with professional writing interests in higher learning and entertainment. He completed his BA and MA in English at York University, graduating summa cum laude and earning academic merit, research, and writing awards at both levels. Since 2014, he has contributed content and editorial work for award-winning digital trade publications, global SEO copywriting projects, and hugely popular online brands. He can be contacted through LinkedIn.

Header Image Credit: blackCAT | Getty Images

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