Asynchronous Learning: Definition, advantages, examples, and more

Learn about what asynchronous learning means, including best practices, tools and more.

By Videhi Bhamidi

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Asynchronous learning is a learner-centered approach using digital tools to facilitate the learner’s development outside the classroom. In this approach, learners get to decide how and when they engage in training, allowing them to manage their own time without dependency on a trainer. This article offers a deep dive into asynchronous learning, including its definition, case studies, best practices, and even some tools you can use.

What is asynchronous learning?

 

As the term suggests, asynchronous learning is defined as learning that occurs at different times and places. This means that if multiple learners are assigned the same material, they aren’t necessarily learning at the same time or in the same room.

Though learners wouldn’t be getting feedback in real-time like they would in a face-to-face session, feedback is still possible, namely through assessments.

Asynchronous learning content is typically digital and can come in many forms, including video lectures, online courses, and discussion boards. Communication happens in different ways too, including email, forums, and chats.

Because of this, an instructor isn’t always needed in the learning process. What’s most important is having internet connection and a suitable device. For example, learners across the world could all buy the same online course about Linux technology and watch it from various locations.

Now that we have a good idea of what asynchronous learning means, let’s explore how it differs from synchronous learning.

What is synchronous learning?

 

In contrast, what does synchronous learning mean? Unlike asynchronous learning, it happens in real-time classroom settings where people engage in live lectures and conversations. This means learners get to ask questions and get responses immediately. It also makes peer collaboration a notable part of synchronous learning.

Though learning happens in a live environment, learners don’t need to be physically present in one location. Synchronous learning can happen online too, namely through live webinars, video conferences, chat discussions, and virtual lectures.

Many organizations apply a synchronous learning approach to their training sessions. For example, a large enterprise that needs to conduct soft-skill training can benefit from the collaborative nature of synchronous learning.

Synchronous Learning vs. Asynchronous Learning

 

For a clearer contrast between asynchronous and synchronous learning, let’s take a look at their key differentiators:

  1. Flexibility

    Synchronous learning is not flexible because it depends on a scheduled time and place. Asynchronous learning offers more flexibility because learners are not subject to a fixed schedule and can choose to engage in their learning materials according to their own priorities and convenience.

  2. Instructor

    Synchronous learning happens in real-time and employs a traditional classroom setup. Because of this, synchronous learning is usually instructor-based, whereas asynchronous learning doesn’t need an instructor. Asynchronous learners engage with their content on their own and refer to resources and job aids if they find themselves stuck.

  3. Attention and engagement

    Because synchronous learning happens in real-time, learners can benefit from the attention of their instructors and peers on the spot. They can ask questions or express their opinions on the subject and expect engagement in return. In asynchronous learning, learners guide themselves through interactive learning content and do not have attention from instructors and peers along the way.

  4. Personalization

    Not only can learners expect ample attention under synchronous learning, but also personalized focus. Synchronous learners can leverage the possibility of live coaching that’s tailored to their unique needs. Asynchronous learners do not have personalized attention because they study on their own.

  5. Feedback

    For the same reason, synchronous learners can expect instant feedback on their progress by asking questions in a live conversation and getting responses straight away. In asynchronous learning, learners can request feedback through email or other messaging services, but they’ll have to wait for a response.

  6. Peer interaction

    Similarly, the real-time setting of synchronous learning makes way for live interaction with peers, allowing learners to collaborate and exchange opinions with fellow learners on the spot. Asynchronous learners experience little to no peer interaction.

  7. Motivation and discipline

    Because synchronous learning is instructor-based, learners can rely on their trainer to guide them through the material. Under asynchronous learning, learners rely on their own discipline to stay motivated and engaged.

  8. Suitable topics

    Synchronous learning is best suited for soft-skills training, while asynchronous learning is better for product training.

  9. Tools

    To facilitate live discussions and settings needed for synchronous learning, you can make use of real-time communication tools like virtual classrooms, live webinars, and live chats. Common tools to facilitate asynchronous learning include e-learning courses, videos, recorded lectures, and discussion boards.

  10. Measurement

    Measuring learners’ progress under synchronous learning can happen either through post-session feedback or by assessing their performance on-the-job. For asynchronous learners, it’s easiest to measure your learners’ progress through assessments and quizzes.

When considering asynchronous learning vs. synchronous learning, the latter offers the advantage of real-time conversations with trainers or peers. But as more people work from home, the benefits of asynchronous learning make it a more favorable option for employees who have families and other commitments at home.

When learning can happen in the form of pre-recorded lectures or readily available online courses, both instructors and learners benefit from having more control over their schedules. This makes asynchronous learning a better solution for the modern working world.

Asynchronous Learning Examples

 

With Covid-19 pausing in-person interactions, the need for digital learning has skyrocketed. Organizations worldwide have moved their operations online. And it’s not just happening to software companies. Industries like manufacturing, healthcare, logistics, and education all learned how to move online and apply an asynchronous learning approach.

Let’s look at examples of how some of these industries made the transition to asynchronous learning:

1. A hospital in India

Problem: A hospital in Hyderabad, popular for its orthopedic surgeries, didn’t have the bandwidth to serve the Covid-19 patients. They mainly served patients with bone-related problems and had to learn how to take care of them during the pandemic. Moreover, they were understaffed, with mainly low-level medical staff that weren’t fully knowledgeable to take on their unexpected needs.

Solution: This hospital shifted gears to telemedicine with the onset of the Covid-19. For one, they moved from regular in-person appointments to taking appointments over the phone. They also installed new software to cater to engage with patients online and upskilled their onsite healthcare workers. To keep tabs on their patients’ medication intake, they activated online and offline messaging channels to stay in touch.

Doctors remained available for questions through email, text messages, and discussion boards. The hospital rolled out educational information through daily blog posts to help patients take care of themselves from home. Doctors also recorded video messages to share best care practices.

Impact: The hospital managed to take great care of their existing patients, but as a result, they also had an influx of new patients who couldn’t find other hospitals with online services.

2. An MBA institution

Problem: With schools being forced to close due to Covid-19, one management institution contemplated giving their students the right to move onto their next term regardless of performance – also known as a zero year.

Solution: With a completely classroom-based system, the school of about 450 MBA students decided to implement asynchronous learning. They delivered their previous in-person classes either through Zoom or pre-recorded lectures. This meant students engaged in digital learning from home.

Examinations, tutorials, student conferences, online courses and the earlier in-person discussions all shifted to online channels, including forums, email, and online assessments.

Impact: In the end, students completed their academic year without any major issues. The school eventually designed new asynchronous courses and they’re reaching more students than they were before, with a major increase in admissions inquiries.

Here are some best practices of asynchronous learning

 

Asynchronous learning best practices

Set clear objectives: Setting clear learning objectives at the start of a course gives learners realistic expectations about the intended outcome. They can easily track their speed, follow deadlines, and consider how effective the material is, enhancing their overall e-learning experience.

Bite-size modules: With busy schedules, learners don’t have the capacity to spend long hours on a course. For this reason, it worth making sure your courses take no longer than 20 minutes to complete. Bite-sized modules are also easier to retain.

Assessments: Having consistent assessments throughout your course enables learners to keep track of what they’ve been learning.

Device-agnostic: Create easily accessible courses so learners attend regardless of where they are or what device they have. Mobile-friendly courses, for example, are more popular than those that require desktops.

Engaging and Interactive: Adding interactive elements to an asynchronous course keeps the content interesting and inviting. Learners are more likely to be engaged with audio and video elements, simulations, discussions, and other similar elements. Interactive features promote active learning compared to long lectures.

Tracking and Tracing: Because asynchronous learning is not classroom-based, including track-and-trace features helps learners track their progress and performance.

Course pace: Learners have unique schedules and may not be able to take courses at pre-determined times. Assigning modules they can complete in their own time gives learners more control over their schedule.

Expressive feedback: Consistent and constructive feedback at the end of every module helps learners understand where they stand in their learning.

Provide resources for further reading: By giving reading suggestions, you can support learners in their learning journey outside courses. Providing specific links also makes it easy to explore more on the subject.

Online discussion forum: Having an online forum for discussion encourages learners to share their experiences, collaborate, and even exchange knowledge. A trainer can manage the forum by facilitating question-and-answer scenarios.

User-friendly: It’s important to make the course easy to navigate. An intuitive layout and design not only makes the experience seamless but also interesting. Make sure all links are working to avoid any interruptions throughout the course.

With these tips to develop asynchronous learning best practices in mind, it’s time to dive into some asynchronous learning tools to use.

Tools for Asynchronous Learning

 

Asynchronous learning tools

Whether it’s an online course, a discussion board, or a video lecture, there are many digital tools for asynchronous learning.

E-learning Courses: Carefully designed online courses can often replace classroom training, especially in organizations where employees have busy work schedules and may prefer completing a course at their own pace.

Videos: Videos are powerful for facilitating learning. The combination of visual and audio cues enhances a learner’s overall experience. Allowing learners to pause and rewind as needed gives them more control over their development too.

Performance Support Aids: Asynchronous learning makes use of performance support aids like checklists, how-to guides, curated links, and PDFs, allowing learners to easily revisit the knowledge they need on the job.

Recorded lectures: Recorded lectures are a good way for learners to get acquainted with their instructors without meeting in person. These lectures not only enhance learning but also provide a sense of teacher-student familiarity.

Blogs: Blogging encourage learners both to express their own views on a topic as well as to learn from another point of view.

Digital Library: Having online collection of audio and video files, courses, and e-books to turn to allows learners to access the learning content of their choice anytime.

Simulations: Animated video clips and other multimedia simulations not only keep learners engaged but also help illustrate complex concepts effectively.

Presentations: While learners aren’t meeting in-person, they can still give presentations online and discuss the content with their peers.

Discussion boards: Trainers can use discussion boards to engage with their learners as well as to facilitate interaction between learners.

Quizzes and tests: While feedback is not immediate in asynchronous learning, providing consistent and regular feedback still helps learners immensely. Scored quizzes, for example, gives learners a good idea of where they stand.

Conclusion

 

Because of its flexible nature, asynchronous learning offers many benefits. As more and more people work from home, asynchronous learning emerges as a better fit for employees who have multiple commitments at home. It also benefits large organizations that need to train many employees scattered across various time zones.

At the same time, asynchronous learning can also be combined with synchronous methods to create a blended learning approach that meets a more diverse range of learning needs. Learning to strike a healthy balance between both worlds can help you keep up with continuous needs for upskilling.

About the author

Videhi Bhamidi is a Learning Product Consultant at Easygenerator. With over 15 years of experience in e-learning, user-experience research, and thought-leadership projects, she is a regular contributor to L&D magazines. She is an Oxford alumnus and strives to fuse design, research, technology, and didactics in her solutions.

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