For several years now, online learning has become the standard across the board. Schools, colleges, and even professional development programs went remote as a response to the pandemic and consequent digital shift. At first, it was a means to an end — it’s better to have online classes than no classes at all, was the consensus.
However, years into the transition, students and instructors alike have realized that there’s endless potential in online learning. From thoughtful discussions in the chat to accessibility for differently-abled students, online learning has significant advantages over in-person education.
So we agree that online learning is great. But now, there’s another layer to consider. Should you go with synchronous or asynchronous online learning? The answer is that it depends.
In this blog, we’re uncovering the benefits of synchronous (real-time) vs. asynchronous (recorded) online learning and what each is best for.
One of the most appealing aspects of online learning is flexibility. In it, learners and instructors can sign in at the most convenient times — like in the evening or first thing in the morning. This is because their choice can be based on practical factors like work or other commitments. Or it can come down to personal preference.
Many argue that real-time online learning is unnecessary as it removes some of this flexibility. However, online learning in real time can still be valuable. These are some of the benefits of real-time online learning and when it works best.
Next, real-time learning (whether online or in-person) enables engagement. Synchronous online sessions are the closest to in-person education in that peers can ask questions and get feedback immediately.
Learners can use chat functions to interact or they can speak in the conference call, depending on the instructor’s guidelines. However, an added bonus is the ability to share resources (links, files, and more) with peers that would be more complicated in person.
Additionally, real-time online learning is more inclusive than in-person interaction. Students who may not feel comfortable speaking up during a lecture can participate in the chat more easily.
This one is obvious. Whether you work full-time, have children to take care of, or have a long commute to class, online learning makes it easy to hop on a call without traffic or hurrying between one stop and the next.
Having guest speakers can be a logistical challenge for instructors and managers of in-person programs. But an online talk can be easily arranged, so you’re free to invite virtually anyone from anywhere — time zones permitting, of course.
Another common challenge of online learning is self-accountability. It’s hard to follow through on a program when it’s self-paced simply because we fall into a loop of completing the work someday which seems to never come.
But again, real-time sessions help break this cycle because they work as an appointment with your class — one that you can’t postpone.
Many people are reluctant to participate in online learning because it feels too different. It’s unfamiliar and intimidating.
But real-time online learning is very similar to in-person learning. Tools like Zoom, which most people have adapted to seamlessly, make it feel just like in-person sessions. Real-time online sessions provide much-needed (to some) face time and put people at ease.
As we mentioned earlier, one of the main benefits of online learning is flexibility. In the case of instructor-led, asynchronous online learning, learners and instructors can hop in and do the work when it’s most convenient for them.
On the flip side, there’s also self-paced online learning, which is even more flexible. The program is completed beforehand, meaning the instructor isn’t an active participant while learners work through it. Learners are free to complete the work as it suits them.
Virtually anyone can participate in asynchronous learning. Asynchronous programs often have content in multiple formats for learners to use, which helps them learn and retain information more effectively. Many times, these programs are also available in multiple languages, with closed captions, and other accessibility aids.
Plus, learners can review the material as many times as needed to grasp the concepts.
Real-time online learning is much like in-person instruction. You need to coordinate a time when everyone can join, which can be increasingly complex if you have people in multiple time zones or drastically different schedules (like people working shifts).
Planning an asynchronous program is easier. For one, you don’t need to coordinate people’s schedules. All you really need is for instructors, designers, and creators to complete their work on time for the program to launch. Then, learners dive into course materials at a time that’s convenient for them.
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Online learning in real time is better for hands-on demonstrations such as taking blood pressure readings or teaching students to use specific tools.
This type of learning also works well for collaborative projects where learners need to interact to create something. For example, planning a presentation or building a model.
Motivational interviewing is also best taught in real time. This way, learners and instructors can pick up on non-verbal cues and practice via role play.
And finally, anything that needs timely feedback is better done in real time. Fieldwork, internships, and patient visits are better practiced in real time.
Please note: In some of these cases, “real-time” may be in person as well as online, depending on the program.
Asynchronous learning works well for theoretical topics like core competencies or compliance courses. It allows participants to take as long as they need to understand a topic and review materials without running out of time. Plus, combined with real-time instruction, learners can review the content before the live session and come prepared with questions they need to clarify — instead of questions arising during or after the session.
Other areas that work well with asynchronous learning are best practices and any topic with resources for learners to download. These resources can include study guides or community resources to help clients address health needs.
There’s no clear-cut answer to this question.
Both real-time and asynchronous learning have their ups and downs depending on your staff’s educational needs. Real-time learning is best to replicate in-person education and provide engagement and accountability. While asynchronous learning offers flexibility and gives everyone the opportunity to learn at their own pace.