Synchronous and asynchronous learning: two seemingly complicated words. So, what exactly do they mean and how can you decide on an approach that’s going to allow you to most effectively deliver training to employees?

First Things First: A Comparison

Synchronous learning is somewhat like instructor-led training within the e-Learning or virtual environment. With this learning approach, you’re still relying on a learning management system and an online delivery format, but there is an instructor present within the experience.

For synchronous employee training to take place, students and the instructor must “come to class” at the same time. Let’s say you have a global workforce and you want them all to participate in an instructor-led virtual training course. They would all agree to sign in to the learning management system at the same time, regardless of their location in the world.

On the other hand, asynchronous learning is similar in style to self-guided training. In this scenario, everyone can complete employee training at their own pace, and in their own time. As the employer or training manager, you may provide a deadline for everyone to complete a certain training course, but they have the option to do so in any way they see fit as long as it’s done on that particular date or time.

Exploring Synchronous and Asynchronous e-Learning and How to Decide on an Approach

Synchronous learning can be advantageous because it allows students or employees to feel as if they have a support system in the training process. They’re able to ask questions as they occur and receive real-time feedback from an instructor. For some employees, this can also be a more motivating way to complete training because they’re required to attend a class and they don’t have to rely on their self-motivation. It can also be a good way for employers to gauge the understanding and retention of material by employees, without the use of traditional assessments, which may not always give an accurate picture of how successful training is.

Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, can be a good way to prevent employees from being moved along at a pace that’s either too fast or too slow for them. Often instructor-led training, even in an online environment, is guided by the fastest or slowest learner. With self-guided asynchronous training, employees can map out their own experience, which they may find more engaging and effective. Asynchronous learning is also beneficial when employees are dispersed globally, or an organization has a lot of workers who are on-the-go or rarely in the same physical place at one time—for example, sales employees.

Delivering Synchronous Employee Training

If you’re considering an instructor-led approach to e-Learning, some technology components can simplify how content is delivered:

  • Chat rooms: A chat room is a fundamental and relatively simple way to have instructors and employees collaborating within a learning management system. It’s easy for everyone to ask questions and work with one another in a chat room, and most employees are going to have a pretty basic understanding of how they work. The primary disadvantage of a chat room is that it can become overwhelming and challenging for instructors to address everyone in this situation. It’s often best to limit the number of people that are together in a chat room at one time, to make learning more effective.
  • Video chats and Webinars: Webinars are an incredibly popular way to combine the best of both worlds regarding e-Learning and instructor-led training. Members of the class feel like they have a personal connection with instructors, and much of the delivery and pace is similar to what you would have in a classroom, but employees don’t have to share a physical location.
  • Voice-over-IP: With voice-over-IP everyone can dial a phone number where they’ll then be on a conference call. To make this more effective and engaging, instructors can use their LMS to provide visual representations of what they’re talking about during the phone call.

Asynchronous Learning Options

With asynchronous learning, you want to incorporate some elements of personal collaboration, but you don’t have the real-time benefits of instructor-led training.

When you’re using this type of learning, you can still include personal interactions, with the use of features like e-Mail, social networks, and discussion boards. Discussion boards are great because even though everyone doesn’t have to be present at the same time to ask questions and share thoughts, they’re still getting many of the benefits that come with synchronous learning.

How to Choose a Method

The first thing to do when deciding between the creation of asynchronous and synchronous employee training is to consider employees themselves. Are they a group of high-performing self-motivated individuals? If so they may be happier with asynchronous learning that lets them guide their own experience and work at their own pace. This approach also works well in a workplace that has a culture of learning, and one in which learning and development are viewed as rewards rather than punishments.

On the other hand, synchronous learning can work well for employees who may have performance gaps or may have trouble self-motivating. It can also work well in an industry where a lot of feedback is required. One example of this would be medical and healthcare training. Presenting scenarios and case studies are important in these areas of employee training, but these situations also often require real-time feedback, which can be facilitated through synchronous e-Learning.

It’s also important to think about issues of accessibility. If all of your employees are in the same time zone and can access e-Learning from their mobile devices, synchronous learning is more of a realistic possibility, as compared to a workplace where people may be globally dispersed in different time zones or may only have sporadic Internet access.

Finally, think about the resources you have available. In some organizations having an instructor lead e-Learning training may just not be feasible, or it may strain time or budget resources too much. At the other end of the spectrum, if an organization has a large training budget it may be possible to have a number of dedicated online training guides for synchronous learning.

Does your organization prefer training delivered through a synchronous or asynchronous format?

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