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eLearning: Synchronous, Asynchronous or Both?

March 13, 2015 | Posted in Concepts of Unified Learning, eLearning Best Practices by icohere

Guest Contributor: Amanda Batson, Ph.D, ADB Partners, LLC

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eLearning: Synchronous, Asynchronous or both?

In the world of eLearning, there have been two dominant descriptors related to time:  synchronous and asynchronous.  These terms shape learning in the realm of continuing education and thus, eLearning.  Let’s sort through this terminology and implications for professional development.

Synchronous.  At the basic level, synchronous learning describes an event or experience in which all parties engage at the same time, e.g., the class meets on Tuesdays from 2 – 3 p.m.   Participants – students and instructor – meet at a designated time.   Pre-Internet explosion, synchronous also generally meant same time, same place.   In association lingo, this could be a course held on a specified date, 9 – 4:30, at XYZ Hotel in conference room B-2.  The association annual conference, if you will, has been the most synchronous of all.  Hundreds or thousands of individuals travel to a designated host city for a few specific days, where learning, f2f networking, and related professional activities occur.

However, digital tools expand synchronous learning options exponentially.   Within eLearning, synchronous experiences do occur at the same time, however, participants may be scattered across the world.  Geography is not a barrier to participation as long as there is Internet connectivity.    One example of a synchronous digital event is the live webinar.  In this example, the presenter facilitates a learning event that usually includes a PPT deck and chat options.  For more engagement, there may be polls, open Q&A, and chat facilitation – monitoring the online discussion stream and highlighting issues or questions for broader exploration. Nevertheless, participants and presenter meet on a designated date at a specified time for the live webinar.  Of course, such a webinar and similar assets can become part of the asynchronous offerings.

Asynchronous.   Asynchronous eLearning allows the learner to choose her time and place for learning.  Each learner completes requirements, course offerings, webinar viewings, or virtual conference experiences via digital but on an individual schedule – thus 24/7/360 learning.   Organizations that provide effective asynchronous learning operate from a defined education strategic plan in which eLearning plays a prominent role.   Using the webinar example mentioned above, that live webinar when recorded can become an asynchronous asset.  The recording is placed in the online library with viewing options anytime and any place.    For that matter, live f2f events when recorded can become part of the online library.    The quality of any recording, however, can make all the difference in its effectiveness for eLearning.  Production values and their impact on learning are topics for another day.

Asynchronous eLearning has several benefits.  It expands learning opportunities, especially for those who cannot participate in the synchronous experience.  Assets in the online setting extend the value and brand of the organization.  Asynchronous learning is extremely important for the professional learning provider and the professional learner.

A world-class exemplar of synchronous and asynchronous learning is TED Ideas Worth Spreading.   And the history of TED highlights deliberate planning for continuous expansion of both synchronous and asynchronous learning.  The asynchronous power of TED is the availability of great ideas anytime and any place via video or audio.

Both.  Next generation eLearning flourishes in an environment of synchronous and asynchronous experiences.  The synchronous event allows learners to gather and interact digitally in real time.  There is a dynamic, synergy that cannot be duplicated in a static setting.  Yet the asynchronous event is rich with benefits:  convenience, flexibility, focus, and reflection.

As inspiring as the TED model is for most individuals, there is a difference between TED and organizations committed to professional development:  standards-based curriculum. For professional learning success, standards-based curriculum is required as an inherent part of education strategy.  The iCohere Unified Learning system provides a one-stop solution for aligning standards-based synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities.

Deliberate design of uniquely asynchronous and synchronous experiences rounds out professional education.  In eLearning, both types of experiences are required:  synchronous and asynchronous.

Amanda Batson, Ph.D About the Author:

Dr. Amanda Batson, education architect and consultant, founded ADB Partners in 2004 specializing in Education on Demand.  A major focus is quality hybrid learning and helping organizations achieve dynamic balance between face-to-face (f2f) and online experiences.  Her consultant services include organizational planning, education design, speaking, research, writing, and facilitation of both in-person and virtual events, communities and courses.

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