A Guide To Online Learning Delivery

The term “online learning” is notoriously slippery. One person’s PDF handout is another person’s webinar.

While defining the way you deliver training online might be confusing to the uninitiated, there is a method that the industry follows. Here’s a handy little guide to how e-learning is delivered, which is summed up in two words: asynchronous and synchronous.

Asynchronous: Learning At Different Times

Asynchronous means that learners may be in the class together, but they’re not online at the same time. One person might log in to review their work in the morning, while another logs in at midnight. They’re reviewing the same information, they even might be completing assignments together, but they do their work at different times. The work gets done when the learner does it.

There may or may not be a facilitator or instructor with asynchronous learning.


  • College courses
  • Self-paced courses
  • Instructor-led classrooms
  • Bulletin boards or discussion forums
  • Communities of practice

Synchronous: Learning At The Same Time

In online training, synchronous means that everyone completes the training together, at the same time. In practical terms, this means there’s a scheduled time to show up and finish, and everyone has to follow the same schedule. The work gets done only during a specified time.

There is a facilitator or instructor with synchronous learning.


  • Webinar
  • Live discussions or chats
  • Live online classrooms
  • Meetings
  • Presentations

There are mixtures of these classifications, and many programs also incorporate an in-person element with blended learning (read more about blended learning). These classifications form the basis of most online training programs, and knowing the difference between them will help inform your decision about what kind of training is right for you.

Try Synchronous Learning For Yourself

Curious to see what some of these learning methods look like? Try out yourself in our free upcoming webinar Introduction to E-Learning: What Every AHEC Needs To Know About Online Training.

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