There has been a great deal of research on asynchronous versus synchronous modalities in online education. Overall, researchers have found that the best approach to online education is one that blends both modalities, but with greater emphasis on asynchronous communication. Current research indicates that asynchronous modalities better fit students’ lifestyles and favor independent learning.
Asynchronous Fits Students’ Lifestyles
In the Online College Students report, Clinefelter and Aslanian (2015) found that although most online students (75%) are not opposed to participating in a synchronous meeting (such as a real-time online discussion or lecture), they are unable to do so regularly. Of the 75% who are willing to meet synchronously, 33% would not mind meeting two or three times per course, and 18% are willing to meet only once per course.
It is important to note that even the students who are willing to meet synchronously are willing to do so only a few times throughout the course as opposed to a required weekly meeting. The reason for this is reflected in the employment status of online undergraduate students from 2012 to 2015: In 2015, 44% of undergraduates were employed full time and 24% were employed part time (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2015).
The results from Clinefelter and Aslanian imply that the majority of online students choose online courses because online courses allow them to schedule school around their work schedules. Students can more easily work around a few scheduled synchronous meetings rather than weekly synchronous meetings. In “Asynchronous and Synchronous E-Learning,” Stefan Hrastinski (2008) stated that “many people take online courses because of their asynchronous nature, combining education with work, family, and other commitments” (p. 52).
Asynchronous Favors Independent Learning
Gee (1990) stated that successful distance learners “preferred an independent learning environment” (as cited in Beyth-Marom, Saporta, & Caspi, 2005, p. 246). The distance learner of the 1990s is today’s online student, and the desire for independence in learning is still characteristic of online learners. In fact, in 2015, “no set class meeting times” was the fifth overall reason why students selected an online program (out of 24 total reasons; Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2015, p. 17).
Beyth-Marom et al. (2005) cited numerous studies that suggest that administrators and instructors should think of students as individuals rather than a “homogenous group” (p. 247). Students’ learning styles impact their satisfaction with media, the instructor, and their peers. An asynchronous course allows the instructor to “be flexible and create learning environments that enable greater choice for students,” which in turn reaches a “greater variety of learning styles” (p. 247).
Asynchronous learning gives students independence that also aids in learning. Hrastinski (2008) claimed that the asynchronous approach allows students to log in any time that fits their schedules to download documents, send messages to peers or instructors, or submit documentation. This flexibility allows students to “spend more time refining their contributions, which are generally considered more thoughtful compared to synchronous communication” (p. 52).
Current research overwhelmingly shows that asynchronous learning benefits online students by giving them the flexibility they need and desire. Furthermore, asynchronous learning gives students more time to reflect on course content, which generally results in more substantive and quality work.
Although online students generally prefer asynchronous learning over synchronous learning, instructors need not do away with all synchronous aspects of a course. Synchronous communication in online courses allows students to develop a learning community among the participants (Hrastinski, 2008). It also allows for clearer communication among peers and can lead to “higher levels of learner engagement” (Giesbers, Rienties, Tempelaar, & Gijselaers, 2013, p. 31). As such, a blended approach is best (Giesbers et al., 2013, p. 30).
Online courses blend asynchronous learning with synchronous elements, with greater emphasis on asynchronous learning. Today’s students are independent learners who are balancing various responsibilities in addition to school. Thus, institutions should structure online courses to best meet students’ needs and grant them the flexibility they need to succeed.
Beyth-Marom, R., Saporta, K., & Caspi, A. (2005). Synchronous vs. asynchronous tutorials: Factors affecting students’ preferences and choices. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 37(3), 245–262.
Clinefelter, D. L., & Aslanian, C. B. (2015). Online college students 2015: Comprehensive data on demands and preferences. Louisville, KY: The Learning House, Inc.
Gee, D. G. (1990). The impact of students’ preferred learning style variables in a distance education course: A case study. ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 358 836.
Giesbers, B., Rienties, B., Tempelaar, D., & Gijselaers, W. (2013). A dynamic analysis of the interplay between asynchronous and synchronous communication in online learning: The impact of motivation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 30, 30–50.
Hrastinski, S. (2008). Asynchronous & synchronous e-learning: A student of asynchronous and synchronous e-learning methods discovered that each supports different purposes. Educause Quarterly, 4, 51–55.
Northey, G., Bucic, T., Chylinski, M., & Govind, R. (2015). Increasing student engagement using asynchronous learning. Journal of Marketing Education, 37(3), 171–180.
Pappas, C. (2015). Synchronous vs asynchronous learning: Can you tell the difference? Retrieved from http://elearningindustry.com/synchronous-vs-asynchronous-learning-can-you-tell-the-difference