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Balancing the Synchronous and Asynchronous Parts of Your Course

In this section, we review strategies for developing a hybrid course that integrates synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities in ways that promote student learning, be it in a remote environment, or face-to-face.

The term hybrid is often used interchangeably with the term blended. We choose to use the word hybrid throughout this section to describe the intentional combination of in-class and online learning experiences, but some of the external resources that we link to may use the term blended.

As you think about your hybrid course, we’ll look at decision-making strategies for choosing which elements of your course will be asynchronous and which will be synchronous. You’ll then think through what asynchronous materials and activities you will include to help support your students in developing the skills and competencies they will need in their synchronous sessions. Finally, we’ll consider some models that make the most of remote instruction, and reconsider ways that remote learning may offer improved or additional opportunities for effective teaching and learning.

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How Do I Choose which Material Should Be Asynchronous and which Should Be Synchronous?

Identify the Opportunities

A remote course is an excellent opportunity to explore the best aspects of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning in one course. Give some thought to the aspects of synchronous teaching that are most important to you, identify the purpose of synchronous sessions, and which course content benefits from the access and self-directed learning inherent of asynchronous approaches. Capitalizing on those strengths will allow you to weave together the best of both modes.

Identify the Time Constraints

Remote teaching exists on a continuum and can be very flexible. You may have a lot of synchronous time with some asynchronous instruction or assessment. You may be almost wholly asynchronous with some synchronous time for practical or experiential learning and community building. You may have a near balance between synchronous and asynchronous content. The time that has been allotted to synchronous and asynchronous instruction within your remote course will have significant implications for what learning and assessment activities you choose and how you divide these activities between the synchronous and asynchronous domains.

Consider the Advantages of Each Delivery Mode and How they Relate to Your Course

Synchronous learning allows students to engage with content and develop skills with immediate instructor guidance and supervision. This is especially true in classes where students require access to situations or equipment that they are unlikely to have at home. Questions can be answered immediately by the instructor, and the class navigates this content as a whole in a supported, structured way. Asynchronous learning offers students the opportunity to learn when it is most convenient for them, offers flexibility, and allows multiple viewings and engagement with class material for studying or capstone projects.

Start with Your Outcomes

Beginning with the course learning outcomes and working backwards to plan your assessments is critical to understand (and communicate clearly so that students understand) what skills and knowledge constitute attainment and progression. Evaluate if those assessments have to happen face-to-face, online, or whether they can happen regardless of delivery mode. Once you know what your assessments are, you can start to think about which course materials and activities will support students in developing their knowledge and skills.

Evaluate What You Already Have

Consider which materials, activities, and assessments already make up your course. Separate your materials, assessments, and learning activities into content that will most-easily go online and can be accessed most naturally asynchronously (e.g., journal articles, film clips), content that could go online with some modifications (e.g., group work), and content that can’t be effectively delivered online and will need to be revisited.

Consider Moving Towards the Flipped Classroom Model

A flipped classroom is a hybrid teaching model that shifts the majority of the content and knowledge delivery into the online learning space while reserving synchronous class time for active learning, hands-on work, prototyping, and other higher order skills development. In this model, students are exposed to new content that supports learning asynchronously prior to coming to class. This frees up the synchronous time for interactive, engaging activities that allow students to apply course concepts.

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Set Your Priorities

Asynchronous time, like synchronous time, is limited, and students can only absorb so much content, so it is important to prioritize material and consider the time balance between synchronous and asynchronous time to keep students’ focus on what’s most impactful and that using multimedia to present content in a variety of ways does not become repetitive.

Consider evaluating your content in terms of identifying what has to be included, what would be nice to have, and what can be left behind. If you have too much content for your course, you should pare down elements that are not essential for students to achieve the course outcomes, or that are adequately covered in other courses in your program. Keeping the focus on achieving the stated course learning outcomes allows content to be included for its overall value to students, rather than because it has traditionally been included.

Don’t Overdo It

In navigating the balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning, it is easy to add content in an effort to ensure that courses remain rigorous. While it’s important to have a robust amount of content, a well-designed course avoids packing in too much and overburdening students. Consider adapting materials and activities that you already have, but also take remote instruction as an opportunity to consider other creative assessment tools and technologies that keep the focus on attaining outcomes and are meaningful measures of performance.

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How Do I Ensure that the Asynchronous and Synchronous Components of My Course Work Well Together?

Consider How Asynchronous and Synchronous Sessions Relate to Each Other

Synchronous portions of a remote course are often used to practice and demonstrate concrete skills that can best be accomplished and assessed in a supervised, synchronous environment like a classroom or lab space. In turn, asynchronous portions are often used to have students develop knowledge and skills through reviewing course materials and completing asynchronous learning activities and assessments. Ensuring that the asynchronous material and synchronous sessions relate to, build on, and support each other will help to create a cohesive course that supports students’ learning.

Identify What Students Need to Know Prior to Synchronous Sessions

Approach synchronous sessions using a backwards course design model and identify the outcomes students will be expected to develop during each synchronous session. Next, write out the knowledge and skills students will need to have in order to do what’s required of them. Use this list to guide your synchronous planning and to ensure that students have access to the content and practice they need to achieve each sessions’ outcomes.

Start with What You Would Usually Do

Give some thought to the kinds of materials, resources, and activities that you would typically use in your fully face-to-face classes. Identify what can be easily moved online and what changes could be made to your existing teaching for effective remote delivery.

Build Materials and Activities that Support Knowledge and Skill Development

When students are expected to demonstrate specific skills, it’s important to work towards developing them throughout your remote course. In addition to planning learning activities that build students’ knowledge, plan learning activities that also require they apply that knowledge to develop and connect skills and then start to bring those skills together across the course and program.

Look for Open Educational Resources (OERs)

Resource creation can be time-consuming, but there are a lot of freely available resources that you can make use of in your teaching. Laurier’s library has a guide to Open Educational Resources accessible to the whole Laurier community.

Identify Simulations

Online simulations can introduce students to technical concepts and engage in virtual experimentation to supplement synchronous learning. Simulations reduce the stakes for students, allowing low-risk opportunities for formative feedback by allowing students to “fail” without consequences in the broader course. Collections of openly available simulations can be found online.

Develop At-Home Activities for Practice

Consider what opportunities exist in an average home that illustrate and build skills and competencies that students need. Activities that help students to build skills like hand movements, coordination, spatial awareness, appropriate pressure, and strength may all help to build towards the skills that students need. Here is one such activity that an instructor developed for inspiration: "How to create the pedagogy hand."

Challenge Students to Create their Own Examples or Applications

Allowing students to conceptualize and develop their own ways of demonstrating key course concepts gives them the opportunity to apply and demonstrate their knowledge in ways that are meaningful to them. Sharing these ideas with the instructor or the class can be used to check the validity of the idea, which may also be useful to other students.

Challenge Students to Demonstrate Course Concepts

Encourage students to be creative and use materials around their homes to model course concepts. Developing their own ideas leverages critical thinking, helps improve recall, and allows them to demonstrate their understanding of concepts through application.

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What is the SAMR Model and How Can I Apply It to Reconceptualise Asynchronous Learning in My Remote Course?

SAMR is a model that’s focused on using technology to benefit teaching and learning by seeking opportunities to improve delivery and access. The model progresses through a class where technology is used to Substitute, Augment, Modify, and then Redefine class components. This can be an excellent model for identifying opportunities to add technology to class content in interesting and innovative ways that help to support student learning.

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Focus on the “Modify” and “Redefine” parts of the SAMR Model to Effectively Develop Your Remote Course

Modify/Modification prompts instructors to think about how they can use technology to modify, enhance, and transform the classroom and associated learning activities. What activities can be effectively enhanced by using online learning technologies and tools?

Redefine/Redefinition asks instructors to consider what new tasks, activities, and assignments are possible because of the use of online technologies and tools? What can you do now that was previously inconceivable? How can you leverage MyLS to better support your students’ learning?

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Consider Incorporating Universal Design Principles into Your Remote Course

Teaching remotely offers many opportunities to improve the accessibility of materials and resources for students. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that offers flexibility and adaptability to meet the needs of increasingly diverse learners in your course. UDL encourages you to begin the course design and teaching process with learner variability in mind.

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This section was modified from Niagara College’s Centre for Academic Excellence, Design, Develop and Deliver: A Guide to Effective Online Teaching, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License.

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