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Synchronous or Asynchronous?

If you teach primarily in-person classes, you are familiar with the concept of synchronous learning. But when professors shift to hybrid and online course delivery, they have to decide whether to offer or require class contact to happen synchronously or asynchronously. This page will help you decide which of these options fits your needs best.

  • Synchronous Delivery: Students and professor are engaged with the content at the same time, whether in-person or online. Examples include:
    • Zoom/streamed lecture
    • Live chat features using social media
    • In-person lecture
    • Conference calls
  • Asynchronous Delivery: Professors generate online content in advance and students engage with it on their own schedules. Examples include:
    • Recorded lectures
    • Online discussion boards
    • Wikis

There are pros and cons to both delivery choices.  Synchronous delivery tends to be popular with professors, probably in part because it feels comfortable and familiar to lecture to students in "real time." Students often find synchronous contact satisfying and more socially supportive.  Synchronous delivery is a good fit for:

  • Courses that serve first year students who are often learning how college works
  • Students and professors who need or want a higher degree of social interaction
  • Courses that rely on Socratic content delivery
  • Courses that rely on current events for content

But synchronous content can also introduce problems into your hybrid course.  For example, not all students can commit to a set learning schedule when they are learning from home. Shared resources, distractions in the home environment, and work commitments can make synchronous learning difficult or impossible.  Synchronous content delivery also tends to be resource-intensive requiring students to have high-speed and high-quality internet access, certain technical devices like webcams, and other supportive resources.  Some students cannot afford these resources and may be left out of the learning opportunities in an inequitable way. And last, but not least, synchronous delivery that is not recorded for later use is gone as soon as it happens. That makes going back and reviewing material difficult or impossible.

Asynchronous delivery can solve some of the cons of a synchronous model, but it is not necessarily right for all occasions either.  Asynchronous learning is a good choice for:

  • Students who are self-disciplined and comfortable with college-level learning
  • Students who do not rely on school-based social interaction for their primary social contact
  • Course concepts and skills that are complex or technical, requiring multiple viewings
  • Course material that is slow to change over time

As you work through the design of your hybrid and/or online courses, it is worth thinking through both synchronous and asynchronous delivery methods.  You can choose either method or you can choose to blend them in a single course.  Choices you should think through include:

  • If you have synchronous elements in your class, will they be required?
  • If you want to retain synchronous lecture, can it be recorded and presented online for asynchronous viewing?
  • How will asynchronous requirements be scheduled so students still have structure?
  • How will you keep your course engaging with student-to-student engagement, student-professor engagement, and student-content engagement?

If you need assistance thinking through the choices necessary for your particular courses, please contact Instructional Design and Access, and we will work to help you address your challenges, and for more information about all aspects of quality online courses, refer to the Wichita State University Office of Online and Adult Learning Procedure Manual.