As COVID-19 gathered momentum, universities across the world closed their campuses to control the spread of disease. Remote learning became the norm, even as instructors were struggling through unknown territories. Over the course of the last year, though, things have changed. Universities have moved to become virtual campuses and adapted their pedagogical methods accordingly. As the future is hopeful, yet uncertain, one of the key questions for educators is: How to deliver courses effectively online, in the long term?
Experts recommend a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning methods. In this blog post, we’ll explore what they are, how they help and what’s the best way to implement them in your classroom.
What is synchronous learning?
Synchronous learning mirrors in-person and peer-to-peer interactivity online. It simulates real-time classroom learning via video conferencing. An instructor, with the help of remote learning tools, delivers lectures for a large group. And uses digital versions of traditional tools such as shared whiteboards, live discussions, scheduled online examinations etc.
Merits of synchronous learning
Improves student engagement
A live classroom-like synchronous setup is the best way to deliver interactive sessions during remote learning. It enables students and instructors to communicate and obtain feedback instantaneously.
Enables a live online community
By creating a system for organized classroom interaction, like allowing students to discuss key concepts, having dedicated time for Q&A etc., you can build a student community online.
Encourages dynamic learning
A synchronous classroom setup is highly dynamic in nature. Between live lectures, spontaneous in-class interactions and multimedia resources, the classroom environment is agile — facilitating adaptive learning and immediacy.
What is asynchronous learning?
Asynchronous learning is the process by which students learn through pre-recorded lectures and coursework libraries at their own pace and time. Majority of online courses happen asynchronously as it has minimal restrictions on resources, space and time for students to access their lessons. Tools for asynchronous learning tend to encourage asynchronous interaction — message boards, discussion groups, interactive assignments and quizzes etc.
Merits of asynchronous learning
The very design of asynchronous learning puts accessibility at its forefront. The ability to read and access course content at one’s own pace eases enormous stress off students, whether it’s special needs or internet connectivity struggles.
Asynchronous learning allows you to adapt to your students’ needs. They can pause and listen to parts of the lecture multiple times, they can learn at the time of day they’re most active, they can even go back to complex topics when needed.
Improves ROI for educators
By lowering dependency on time, space, in-person classroom interactions and lectures, asynchronous learning reduces expenses for educational institutions.
Synchronous vs. asynchronous learning: Which is better?
That’s the wrong question to ask. Given the state of higher education today, and the uncertainties around reopening of colleges, the best student success strategy must include a thoughtful combination of both asynchronous and synchronous methods.
One of the key concerns of synchronous online classrooms is that it’s resource intensive. Video conferencing requires a steady internet, stable working environment, proper communication devices, and privacy for classes to run smoothly. Use asynchronous methods to overcome this:
- Record video lectures and make them available — along with other resources — for students to access at their convenience
- Speak slowly and clearly, as students can speed up the video, if they need to
- Include automated closed captions to help students understand the lectures better, even if the audio is patchy
- Allow students to download slides, so they can just listen to the lecture, while navigating through the visuals themselves, saving bandwidth
- Adapt the curriculum for special-needs students, and allowing them access through their LMS
On the other hand, one of the biggest challenges in asynchronous learning is the risk of apathy. While self-pacing gives students control over their coursework, the lack of peer-to-peer interactions and a guided learning structure can make them feel detached and less engaged with their studies. Use synchronous student engagement strategies to overcome this:
- Use the online classroom time to recap lessons and enable interaction among students
- Adopt flipped classroom methods
- Automate processes like attendance, scoring quizzes and other admin tasks using tech tools
- Use office hours to engage with students on an individual level — filling in learning gaps and improving student performance
- Get your teaching assistants to manage asynchronous interactions through community discussion boards and groups.
This would not only make it more student-centric, but they also have the potential to reduce the burden on the instructors in the process. While in the present, online learning has its teething troubles, in the long-run, by combining the best of synchronous and asynchronous methods, it can enable superior learning experiences for everyone involved.