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Synchronous vs asynchronous learning: What’s the difference?

synchronous vs asynchronous classes synchronous vs asynchronous classes

With the advent and increasing popularity of online education, it’s important for students and educators alike to grasp the full differences between synchronous vs. asynchronous learning. While both learning techniques can be beneficial and advantageous, their similarities and differences may lead to one being better than the other in certain situations.

Let’s break down the differences between synchronous vs. asynchronous classes in detail.

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What is synchronous learning?

Synchronous learning is an educational experience where a group of students or participants engage in learning at the same time. A traditional classroom experience at a high school or college is an instance of synchronous learning. A single educator teaches a class of students about a particular topic, and everyone learns the same content at the same time. And receives the same class materials. It’s what you might sometimes hear referred to as cohort-based learning

For synchronous learning to occur, all students and instructors must be in the same physical location or have the same online educational environment, like a virtual classroom. In the latter case, synchronous learning usually occurs through online educational profiles, webcams and microphones, and other digital learning assistant software, such as digital whiteboards. 

synchronus learning synchronus learning

Pros and cons of taking synchronous classes

There are many benefits – as well as some downsides – to taking synchronous classes.

For example, class participants benefit from more interaction. In a college classroom environment, students can form friendships, network for job opportunities after graduation, and benefit from other social interactions that asynchronous learning does not necessarily offer.

Furthermore, synchronous classes can be ideal for many students because they enable students to ask questions from the teacher or lecturer in real-time, such as in response to a confusing statement or lesson element. If a student doesn’t quite understand an example their professor gave, they can raise their hand and get an answer almost instantly.

By the same token, teachers can give their students real-time feedback to prevent bad habits from setting in. All training in a synchronous learning environment happens on a fixed schedule as well. Some students may appreciate this if they like to organize their lives around set times.

There are some potential negatives to consider, though. Synchronous learning requires that students keep stricter schedules, which prevents flexibility. Furthermore, synchronous learning sometimes requires more work on the part of particularly gifted students, who may feel slowed down or held back by their peers.

In addition, synchronous learning can feel repetitive on the part of lecturers, especially online teachers. They have to repeat the same information again and again, as well as sometimes do more busywork like grading the same papers from each group of students at the same time each day. For teachers and students who hate routine, synchronous learning can feel stifling.

cohort-based course cohort-based course

What is asynchronous learning?

Asynchronous learning is the opposite of synchronous learning. While synchronous learning requires all of a class’s students to learn the material simultaneously, asynchronous learning does not. It’s more like self-paced leaning. Through asynchronous learning, each learner discovers, absorbs, and processes the material at a different time. Furthermore, learners receive educational materials when the instructor is not necessarily present or communicable.

Put another way, there’s no interacting in real-time or face-to-face with others in asynchronous learning situations. For example, some online college classes are asynchronous. The professor may upload class materials, such as worksheets or pre-recorded lessons, to an online portal using an internet connection. Each student can then download and review the materials at their own pace. Assuming they complete homework or other assignments by a certain deadline. They may also use discussion boards.

Another example of asynchronous learning is any pre-recorded online video, like a replay of a corporate training seminar.

Pros and cons of taking asynchronous classes

There are many benefits of online learning and asynchronous classes.

For one, participants can learn class materials on their own schedules and at their own pace. This additional flexibility enables students to absorb class materials in a way that works best for them and their unique personalities and learning styles.

Another pro of asynchronous online learning is that there’s usually less work involved for educators and online class teachers. They can create an online course by recording their lessons, then give the same lesson to all of their students rather than having to lecture the same materials repeatedly.

Asynchronous online courses often allow teachers to reach wider groups of students. Because with asynchronous leaning, no one is limited by travel requirements or time zones. 

On the flip side, asynchronous learning can be challenging because it doesn’t allow real-time feedback or question-asking. This minimizes the learning experience for some students. Furthermore, asynchronous learning can feel less supportive or comprehensive to certain students.  Leading them to experience a subpar class or program than they would otherwise get.

Online learning environments also present a security threat that schools and educators must address. One of the main reasons why security risks are higher in online education is how individuals use technology. 

For example, students and teachers might be using insecure networks or devices to access online learning platforms. The lack of security may introduce additional risks, such as phishing attempts if hackers are able to breach a device and send malicious links via spam texts and emails pretending to be teachers or school staff. 

live streaming lectures live streaming lectures

What’s the difference between synchronous vs. asynchronous learning?

To reiterate, the primary difference between synchronous and asynchronous learning is how students learn materials – together or separately. If students learn class materials together, whether in person in a physical classroom or online in a digital class, it’s synchronous learning.

If students learn class materials separately – again, whether that’s via picking up class materials in person at different schedules or attending a prerecorded online class – it’s asynchronous learning. 

Asynchronous and synchronous classes can teach the same content, be taught by the same person, and be useful to the same people in some contexts. It’s up to you to determine which learning style is best for your personality and educational goals.

How does Teachable support both ways of learning?

Both synchronous and asynchronous learning are effective ways of delivering knowledge to your students. Teachable also supports both ways of learning through different tools and features. You might hear us refer to them as cohort-based courses and self-paced courses.

For example, Teachable enables you to host live cohort-based courses.  Through these synchronous meetings or educational experiences, you’ll be able to respond directly to student questions or concerns in real-time.

If you prefer asynchronous learning, however, Teachable can also help. Teachable let’s you upload courses to be taken by students on their own schedule. Features like comments and quizzes, enable you to deliver tests and other learning materials to students, facilitating an educational exchange that can occur even when one party is not present.


Which is better – synchronous or asynchronous learning?

Neither the synchronous or asynchronous learning type is better than the other. They both have distinct advantages and potential downsides to consider when selecting an online class, online coaching experience, or online degree program. 

What is an example of synchronous learning?

A regular on-campus college class in a physical classroom is an example of synchronous learning. All of the students in the classroom attend the class at the same time and listen to the lecturer in person. They receive class materials at the same time as well. 

What is an example of asynchronous learning?

A prerecorded online class is an example of asynchronous learning. For example, a professor may upload a prerecorded lesson for a specific book module, and students must watch the lesson and complete a small paper on the topic by a certain date. However, no requirements or restrictions are placed on when exactly students must complete that work, provided it is done by the deadline.

Note that synchronous online classes exist as well; they just require everyone to log in and watch a video lecture at the same time or attend live-streaming lessons.

Author: Nahla Davies, Nahla Davies is a software developer and tech writer. Before devoting her work full time to technical writing, she managed—among other intriguing things—to serve as a lead programmer at an Inc. 5,000 experiential branding organization whose clients include Samsung, Time Warner, Netflix, and Sony.