A Discourse On Synchronous and Asynchronous E-Learning

With e-learning rapidly gaining ground both in educative and corporate environments, there has been a proliferation of varied media of instruction. It is rather interesting that all these media are based either on synchronous communication techniques or asynchronous communication techniques. Synchronous and asynchronous e-learning is about how and when learning takes place. Lets have a look at the basic meaning of the two learning techniques.

Synchronous learning
When learning happens in real time despite the physical separation of learner-instructor or learner-learner, it is known as synchronous learning. The literal meaning of synchronous is ‘at the same time’. Making it possible to interact with the instructor or fellow-learners in real time through the web or telephonically, synchronous training provides a possibility of better learning through face-to-face conversations with the instructor, without being mindful of the geographical distance between the two.

Some examples of synchronous learning are

listening to a live radio broadcast

watching live a television broadcast

audio/video conferencing

Internet telephony

online lectures

two-way live satellite broadcast

Synchronous communication can be either fast or slow, with fast communication involving video and audio communication and slow communication comprising of text based chat.

Asynchronous learning
Asynchronous learning signifies a time gap and a physical distance between the learner and the instructor. In this type of training, the instructor prepares course material before commencement of the course, allowing the learner the liberty of accessing it as per individual schedule. Asynchronous literally means ‘not at the same time’. Thus, it is obvious that asynchronous learning does not involve live interaction with the instructor, and while this has its own perils, it allows the learners to access the courseware at their convenience. In short, asynchronous learning is learning made available at your fingertips. Time scheduling can be given a miss in this type of training.

Some examples of asynchronous learning include

self paced courses taken via Internet or CD-Rom

videotaped classes

stored audio/video Web presentations or seminars

recorded audio tapes

Q & A mentoring

reading e-mail messages

Asynchronous learning can be classified into facilitated and self paced learning. Interaction among the learner and instructor that does not occur in real time is called facilitated asynchronous learning. But, at the same time, it comprises of peer to peer interaction through online bulletin boards, where the learners discuss an assignment posted by the instructor on a web page. Interaction with the instructor can be carried out through e-mail. On the contrary, Instruction material that does not need additional interaction among students is delivered to learners in self paced asynchronous learning so that they can access it at their convenience. This could alternatively comprise of tutorials, simulations or exercises.

Advantages of synchronous learning
Synchronous learning comes to the rescue of students facing geographical barriers, by aiding face to face interactions with the instructor, physical constraints no bar. It has been observed that most learners find it difficult to learn without real time conversation with either the instructor or peers. This interaction, combined with an at-will access to web based courseware, augments comprehension. But, an in-depth look at the process reveals that synchronous learning has only been able to remove the physical barriers without actually adding much value to the traditional classroom based training. It supports all the learning methods that conventional learning hails, only with an added advantage of a wider student base. Though this is a pro, it is definitely not avant-garde.

Advantages of asynchronous learning
While synchronous learning has enhanced the conventional education system in its own powerful way, asynchronous learning is stupendously futuristic. While most will deny this argument, asynchronous learning is the best learning solution in case of a dearth of infrastructure or time. And though asynchronous learning is considered to be the minion of its synchronous counterpart, it is amazing that it still appeals to a wider – though overlapping – audience as compared to synchronous communication.

Comparison between synchronous and asynchronous learning
While synchronous learning overcomes geographical constraints, asynchronous learning, in addition to the same, also overcomes the difficulty of time scheduling, though it lacks on the ‘face-to-face interaction’ front. But asynchronous learning wins hands on where participating in a discussion is concerned. It grants the participants the liberty to gather thoughts and base their contribution on research, apart from which, they have the advantage of proofreading and spell-checking. This boosts the quality of discussion, and encourages participation, since participants can make informed choices before contributing. This participation would have taken a blow had the communication been in synchronous mode, with learners who have a language barrier or those lacking enough confidence, not daring to speak up. Even such learners are seen vehemently participating in electronic discussions through asynchronous mode. On the other hand, the schedule-free attribute of asynchronous learning has been stretched a bit too far, since there is some limit to the schedule, with the instructor providing a deadline for homework and assignments.

Thus, neither of the two is a winner or a loser, with the selection of either synchronous or asynchronous learning techniques depending purely upon the course requirements.