The question is not really “which” but “how” and perhaps even “when” do we use Synchronous or Asynchronous E-Learning. It’s kind of like the relationship between the “text book” and the “teacher” or the more colloquial “hand and glove.” But before we can tackle the subject of “which” we need to determine “what” defines Synchronous or Asynchronous E-Learning.
Asynchronous learning is a student-centered teaching method that uses online learning resources to facilitate information sharing outside the constraints of time and place among a network of people. This approach combines self-study with asynchronous interactions to promote learning, and this combined network of learners and the electronic network in which they communicate is referred to as an asynchronous learning network.
Synchronous learning refers to a group of people learning the same things at the same time in the same place. This is the type of pedagogy practiced in most schools which emulate a face-to-face environment and with the advent of web conferencing tools, people can learn at the same time in different places as well. For example, use of instant messaging or live chat, webinars and video conferencing allow for students and teachers to collaborate and learn in real time.
Best practice E-Learning may use one or both Synchronous and Asynchronous learning to generate effective comprehension. Which method works best is defined by the nature of the content and the audience.
Some content is best suited for Asynchronous E-Learning, where more technical, regulatory or systematic knowledge needs to be imparted and the leaner can learn at their own pace within a preferred environment. This can often take the form of mandated learning such as workplace regulatory knowledge or compliance related information. Asynchronous E-Learning continues to utilize the broad spectrum of tools such as video, text, images, interactivity and photos and can incorporate a social aspect as well through forums, blogs, chat rooms, etc. Asynchronous E-Learning is a natural extension of Synchronous E-Learning and while these two components of learning complement each other they can be used independently of each other.
Synchronous E-Learning is often used when on-site physical demonstrations are required or when the learner has to be qualified as having gained the level of knowledge originally set out in the learning objectives or a given curriculum. Synchronous E-Learning can also be employed when the benefits of social interaction such as in a classroom, workshop or webinar will benefit the learning process.
Asynchronous E-Learning is a part of that process; it breaks information down and makes it more easily digestible as a stand-alone presentation, learn at your own pace, discrete segment of information that is required learning; or for information that is used as a building block for much more complex ideas and concepts. Asynchronous E-Learning is a natural extension of Synchronous E-Learning and while these two components of learning complement each other they can be used independently of each other.
Effective E-Learning, whether Synchronous or Asynchronous, emulates good teaching style and utilizes the attributes of the electronic medium and the best practices of learning, utilizing sound preparation, illustrative anecdotes, humour, personal experience and thought provoking insight to engage and inspire learners in an anytime, anywhere format (that’s the Asynchronous part.)
Ultimately E-Learning as a whole, whether Synchronous or Asynchronous allow for repeated and consistent deployment of well thought out knowledge without the day-to-day participation of an instructor. This adds significant cost savings, reduces teaching time, improves comprehension and standardizes the information to insure consistent delivery of knowledge. This does not mean that instructors are not used, it simply means that the instructor or in most circumstances, group of instructors develop the content and then deploy it in a Synchronous E-Learning module that uses best practices teaching strategies for developing the content.
Asynchronous E-Learning uses the discrete building blocks of Synchronous E-learning to emulate a classroom setting more closely and communicate complex ideas that allow the learners to engage in a more Interactive dialogue with the instructor and with other learners. This process combines best practices of teaching and E-Learning because such presentations are repeated and greater care and support is given to the dynamic of learning in the Asynchronous learning process. It is also expected that such curriculums, once developed offer a longer life cycle when the content is revised annually. It is my suggestion that Synchronous E-Learning will someday replace textbooks entirely and will be updated by organizations whose sole responsibility it is to maintain up to date information on learning topics, similar to text book publishers today.
I think it’s safe to say that E-Learning in any form is more than an amalgam of parameters, media and instructional design, it’s a learning environment that reflects the learning objectives, the nature of the content and the makeup of the audience.