Synchronous vs Asynchronous eLearning: The Great Debate

When it’s time to put together a new eLearning course or module for your learners, one of the first things you have to figure out is how you’ll resolve the great debate between synchronous vs asynchronous eLearning. In this article I’ll describe not only the pros and cons of each approach, but also what should be driving your process for deciding which one will be used.

Asynchronous eLearning is when learners are able to engage the content whenever they want because they aren’t required to interact with each other or the material in real-time.

Defining Terms: Synchronous vs Asynchronous eLearning

Let’s start at the beginning with a clear understanding of what is meant by the terms synchronous and asynchronous as applied to eLearning:

Synchronous eLearning: This is when your learners are all involved at the same time, whether that’s participating in a live videoconference with an instructor, engaging with each other in a live chat session, or any other real-time interaction with content and participants.

Asynchronous eLearning: This is when learners are able to engage the content whenever they want because they aren’t required to interact with each other or the material in real-time. Note that this doesn’t mean they don’t interact at all. Posting messages back-and-forth on a forum is a way to interact with each other, but it’s not happening or required to happen in real-time.

You can probably also imagine synchronous and asynchronous eLearning on a continuum where elements of both could be blended within any given course. For example, learners may be given the opportunity to watch a series of videos over some period of time and then be required to discuss those videos during a live-chat or videoconference session. Watching the videos was asynchronous (no real-time interaction with other learners) while the live discussion portion qualifies as synchronous.

The Pros and Cons of Synchronous vs Asynchronous eLearning

Defining the two terms goes a long way towards revealing the pros and cons of the two approaches. With asynchronous eLearning, participants have maximum flexibility to engage the content when and where it suits them best without worrying about scheduling conflicts. Lots of learners love this self-paced approach to eLearning because they can supplement their learning with their own research, take as much time as they need to move through the material, and so on. Other learners, however, might end up feeling isolated or lost when they’re totally on their own.

Learners may be given the opportunity to watch a series of videos over some period of time and then be required to discuss those videos during a live-chat or videoconference session.

Synchronous eLearning, while less flexible since participants have to work out their schedule to be able to participate in real-time sessions, has the advantage of keeping learners from feeling isolated, gives them structure for moving through the material with other learners, and all the benefits that come from learners engaging with each other or the instructor in real-time for richer discussions and learning.

What Should Drive the Choice in theSynchronous vs Asynchronous eLearning Debate?

I mentioned that besides just defining the terms of the debate, I would also give some insight into how eLearning professionals should frame their decision-making between the two. First off, I’ll just say that it never has to be a mutually exclusive either/or choice. Any eLearning course can have both synchronous and asynchronous elements. But you’ll also notice that when I was defining the two approaches and outlining their pros and cons, it was all from the perspective of the learner – and that’s one of the most important factors that should drive the decisions you make about making use of either or both in any given course. It’s not about which approach is more convenient for your learning staff to develop, implement or manage. It’s about which one or what kind of mix of both will best suit the learning styles of the learners who will be participating.

Notice how deciding the synchronous vs asynchronous eLearning debate with your learners in mind means you have to actually know something about your learners! What is their preferred way to learn? If your learners exhibit a strong preference for one over the other, then you would want to weight your course towards that end of the spectrum. How can you find out if your learners prefer synchronous vs asynchronous eLearning? You could go back through course feedback from previous programs to see if you can figure it out, or you could do a quick survey or poll online to find out.

But there is another factor to consider, which is the content of the course. There might be some topics where the learning will be richest when participants interact with each other and/or the instructor in real-time sessions. Again, keep in mind that it rarely needs to be a forced either/or choice. Do what’s best for your learners and the content!

Wherever you end up in the great synchronous vs asynchronous eLearning debate, you still need an effective way to create, distribute and track all your learning programs in order to know who has done what and the effectiveness of your efforts. The eLeaP LMS can help you accomplish all of that with its simple but powerful web-based platform available at very reasonable monthly subscription pricing based on the number of users. Sign up for a FREE 30-day trial to see what eLeaP can do for you, including our robust library of 850+ video courses ready to go on a variety of compliance and business topics!

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