The Pros and Cons of Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning

A fifth-grade student in school collaborates with a classmate learning from home.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, students whose prior educational experience consisted of in-classroom lectures and at-home practice, in some cases, experienced a flipped model. They were asked to study independently or with their parents and come to virtual classroom sessions prepared to ask questions and discuss what they learned during self-study. And many students still flourished.

As we recover from the pandemic and reflect on what we’ve learned, we have to ask ourselves if we should draw on the unexpected but beneficial lessons of the COVID-19 classroom model or carry on as we have for generations—or perhaps a combination of both. The answer may be illuminated by assessing the pros and cons of the synchronous versus asynchronous learning models so that you are well-equipped to leverage either one to best suit your students’ needs.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning Defined

Synchronous learning is akin to the traditional classroom model in which students learn together, in a group, benefitting from one other’s shared learning experiences. However, educators can create synchronous learning environments in-person or virtually, thanks to online video streaming tools and digital engagement platforms.

Asynchronous learning leverages a learner-centric approach in which students complete self-based coursework online or independently using other self-study and practice modalities.

The Pros and Cons of Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning

Learning ApproachProsCons
Synchronous
  • In-person instruction helps create a sense of community and strong inter-personal relationships among peers and with teachers
  • Direct and immediate opportunities for assistance, guidance, and answers to questions
  • Structured, pre-determined learning hours
  • Classrooms with high teacher-to-student ratios can create challenges for students who need more dedicated support
  • In a virtual synchronous format, students can disengage by turning off their cameras during class or not attending scheduled instruction
Asynchronous
  • Students can learn at their own pace
  • Students can re-watch lessons or revisit study materials on-demand or if they need a refresher
  • Greater cognitive engagement during digital self-study periods
  • Students can set their schedule to complete work during the time of day that best suits their personality, preferences, and home-life situation
  • Elimination of travel stress and the interruption of classroom instruction due to snow days or other unexpected school closures
  • The need to take part in assignments via group meetings, polls, shared documents, and video lectures requires enhanced student engagement
  • The realities of the digital divide in some communities create inequitable access to classroom tools and educational materials
  • Lack of a teacher present to immediately clarify topics when needed
  • Lack of in-person social engagement  opportunities
  • Requires more self-motivation and proactiveness by the student

Which Model is Right for Your Students?

When considering which model—synchronous or asynchronous—could be the most effective for your students, consider the following factors:

  • What portion of your students may not have consistent access to high-speed Wi-Fi and a dedicated digital device in their homes?
  • What are the ages of your students?
  • How much are parents proactively involved in their children’s learning in your district?
  • What support do you have from your administration for an asynchronous model?
  • What preferences do students and their parents have for their learning model?

Regardless of which model you will need to leverage with your students, what matters most is that you have mechanisms to maintain visibility into each student’s unique learning needs. By further tailoring your teaching methods, you can ensure every student feels supported and capable of being an engaged and active learner.


Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

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