Synchronous vs Asynchronous Learning: Which is Right for Your Learners?

I have been reaching out to our friends/clients (fri-ents, as my colleague Terry Aurit calls them) just to see how they’re doing and if they need any support. I recently received this note:

“Things are ok. Plugging along. It’s been extremely busy for me – just as busy, if not more so, than actually being at work. Harder for sure as I have kids to educate/entertain. We’ve been making good use of Savvy – I had a new hire start the day we started working from home and, well, there was so much to do with getting people working that she got sent to the LMS right away. I think she and an asst who started the week before have done almost all the courses because they aren’t being utilized as much as they would be if we were actually at work. I think this will lead to a change in how I do my new hire training and will certainly have them do more training on their own. Yay!”

As we all know, the world will be a different place when we finally get to emerge from quarantine and, in some ways, things might be better… like how we train our new hires!

I’ve often compared new-hire training to Groundhog Day: it just keeps happening over and over! Because of the repetitive nature of this task, there may be no better way to onboard your new law firm employees than by utilizing your learning management system (LMS) for asynchronous learning.

Asynchronous learning? Sounds like a bad joke about synchronized swimmers. But it actually may be the answer to your prayers, much like the “fri-ent” above described.

Synchronous versus Asynchronous Learning

Synchronous learning is any type of learning that takes place in real-time, where a group of people are engaging in learning simultaneously. Although learning occurs at the same time, learners don’t have to be there in-person, or even in the same location. Synchronous learning enables learners to ask questions and receive answers on-the-spot, while also collaborating freely with their co-learners.

Some examples of synchronous learning include:

  • Live webinars
  • Video conferencing
  • Virtual classrooms
  • Instant messaging

Asynchronous learning is more learner-driven. It enables your learners to complete courses without the constraints of having to be in a certain place at a certain time. In essence, asynchronous learning doesn’t hinder learners by place or time. As long as they have access to the internet, asynchronous learners have the freedom to complete course materials whenever they choose, and from any location.

Although not taking place then and there, asynchronous learning still allows the opportunity for feedback. Learners are free to share thoughts and questions with instructors and fellow learners, though they may not receive an immediate response.

Some examples of asynchronous learning include:

  • Online courses
  • Email
  • Blogs
  • Pre-recorded video lessons or webinars
  • Online forums and discussion boards
Synchronous vs asynchronous learning: Pros and cons

When comparing synchronous and asynchronous learning, both have advantages and disadvantages; what may appeal to one learner may not appeal to another.

Pros of synchronous learning:
  • Because of the social nature of synchronous learning, learners can easily interact with instructors and other learners, making group activities possible.
  • Synchronous learning takes place in real-time, which means learners can get immediate feedback. Ideas and opinions can also be promptly shared with fellow learners.
  • Similarly, if your learners are having trouble with any of the course content, synchronous learning allows them to ask questions and get instantaneous answers.
Cons of synchronous learning:
  • Synchronous learners have to be online at a certain time, and therefore their learning has to adhere to a specific training schedule. Learners can’t access content where and when they like. To accommodate your learners and offer more flexibility, you could provide a webinar recording of the training session through your LMS.
  • Due to the group dynamic of real-time synchronous learning, some learners may feel they’re not receiving the individual attention they need. This is especially true if there’s any part of the training they do not fully understand. To bypass this, try checking in on the progress of your learners by setting aside time during training for one-to-one or group Q&A sessions.
  • The effectiveness of how well your learners understand the course content depends more on the quality of the instructor than the learners themselves. To overcome this, ensure your instructors receive relevant training so they’re fully prepared for their role. Requiring instructors to plan their sessions ahead of time will also ensure they’ll deliver a great learning experience for your learners.
Pros of asynchronous learning:
  • Asynchronous learning offers lots of flexibility. Although there’s usually a deadline in sight, asynchronous learners can progress at their own pace and access their course at any time they choose and from any place.
  • It’s a cost-effective way to train learners that are based in varying locations. Asynchronous learning means your learners can engage in courses regardless of their time zone or location.
  • With asynchronous learning, learners have significantly more time to reflect on the material they are learning, which means they are likely to understand it more thoroughly.
  • Additionally, asynchronous learning lends itself better to a fast-growing business. If you’ve hundreds or thousands of learners to train across the world, you can get them up to speed without the need for face-to-face training.
Cons of asynchronous learning:
  • Although learners may have access to an instructor, contact through asynchronous learning may be limited. Answers to queries cannot be given instantly (for example, learners may need to wait for an answer to an email). This can be overcome by ensuring you choose an LMS that makes communication as easy as possible.
  • The lack of interaction with instructors and fellow learners leaves some individuals feeling isolated. This could lead to a lack of motivation and engagement in courses. So, combat learner isolation by focusing on creating great course content.
  • Asynchronous learning is learner-centered, so those taking courses in this way need self-discipline and focus to be successful in completing the required course work. Using tools like Gamification or a Forum helps to keep your learners engaged.
Synchronous vs asynchronous learning: Which is best for your learners?

Ultimately, the method of learning you choose for your learners will depend on a number of factors – learning objectives, the types of course content you create, how you deliver your training, and the availability of your learners. However, if you have the resources, using both synchronous and asynchronous learning is a winning formula.

For example, creating a largely asynchronous course with supplementary live webinars scheduled for varying days and times, ensures that learners have the additional benefit of interacting with each other and instructors. Alternatively, blended learning is another option that supports both synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities.

No matter which method you choose, variety is the best approach. Especially if you’re building a course; aim to keep your learners as engaged as possible by mixing different methods of content delivery.

Need help developing an engaging training program for your law firm that uses both synchronous and asynchronous learning? Contact Savvy today!


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