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The Relationship Between Synchronous and Asynchronous Delivery Options

What Do I Need to Consider when Deciding How to Apply Synchronous and/or Asynchronous Instruction?

The Flexibility of Asynchronous Approaches

Asynchronous approaches to instruction offer students flexibility in how they can engage in their learning, and instructors the ability to reconsider how they use synchronous time. Building asynchronous material along with opportunities to engage in synchronous sessions allows students to balance their work around the other commitments that they have within the home, at work or with their studies. Asynchronous material also eases the pressure on students’ to keep their weeks balanced around normal time pressures and engage in course content and assessment when they are available. It allows flexibility in your instruction techniques and allows you to integrate different technological tools into asynchronous material that may not be effective for synchronous delivery. Shifting some course material asynchronously allows for new opportunities to consider how to maximize synchronous time to enhance student learning.

The Inclusiveness of Asynchronous Approaches

The flexibility inherent in asynchronous approaches improves the inclusivity of course material because it lessens the necessity on students to travel and allows them to balance life realities like child or elder care, employment, illness, etc. Building asynchronous material assists student learning because it offers students the flexibility to balance their learning around their available time, bandwidth, and surroundings, while continuing to invest in their studies.

The Connectedness of Synchronous Approaches

Synchronous sessions, regardless of how they are structured, offer opportunities for community building and connection for your students. Building connection and community is an essential component of student learning and engagement and having a clear plan around how you will use this time (and how students will benefit from it) will increase success in your course. Without opportunities to connect with you and with each other, either during a drop-in session or synchronous lessons, students can feel adrift and isolated in their learning. Finding ways to create synchronous connections can encourage community and create a support network for students, in addition to providing you with a better understanding of how your students are progressing in the course.


The Balance in 'Balance'

While synchronous and asynchronous approaches each have their merits, no one approach can create the environment necessary for students to thrive. We consider a balanced strategy to be most advantageous for student learning. Balance here is between asynchronous material to support student knowledge acquisition and synchronous sessions to allow for deep connections and practical application of knowledge.

A suggested approach would be to break a three-hour class into two hours of guided asynchronous learning with a one-hour synchronous session to check for learning and offer opportunities for guided application of their learning, teamwork and problem solving. You could then break your class into three smaller groups each with a different one-hour session each week so that you can work more closely with smaller groups and develop deeper connections with your students as they progress through your course.

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How Should I Use Synchronous Sessions?

The Purpose of Synchronous Sessions

Using synchronous teaching  is a great approach to help create and sustain a sense of community and focused learning and lecture. Using synchronous methods helps when working through difficult or tricky topics as you are able to respond to students in real time with questions to help clarify any issues that may arise. Employing synchronous teaching methods will help all learners feel supported and included.

Ensuring Clarity, Understanding and Access

The role of synchronous sessions moves from knowledge delivery to the application of knowledge so that students can get clarity on their learning progression, develop understanding of the application of the content, and seek support around knowledge gaps or questions. Using synchronous time for knowledge delivery, or lectures, can undermine the potential in the medium and lead to a lack of connection and little information for you with regards to student learning progression.

The beauty in the online space is its ability to be dynamic, where students can use the tools available to interact with their content to ensure that they have the required understanding and know how to use the content. Leveraging asynchronous material to serve as the primary mode for knowledge delivery can allow you to use synchronous sessions as an opportunity for learners to connect with each other, course content, and you. This will help them clearly delineate each learning space and clarify how they should engage with it and understand its purpose.

Considering Synchronous Sessions

If you choose to engage with synchronous teaching methods, please consider:

  • Reserving synchronous teaching for spaces and places that it makes the most sense.
  • Consider keeping your synchronous sessions short with breaks for students to stretch, regroup and attend to any issues that arise during the lesson.
  • Consider recording your live synchronous sessions to share with learners so that those who cannot be there can still access the content. The synchronous session then becomes a piece of asynchronous content for the course that students can review and revisit as often as they want. 


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How Should I Use Asynchronous Material?

Purpose of Asynchronous Material

Engaging with asynchronous teaching methods allows both the instructor and the learner space to engage with course material when they have time and ability to do so. The increased accessibility, personalization, and ability to engage multiple times with material through the course are powerful for learning and decrease the cognitive load for students.

Things to Keep in Mind

When you choose to engage with asynchronous teaching methods, please consider:

  • Keeping recorded videos that you produce for your students to a 10-minute maximum; find natural breaks in your content to create shorter recordings that allow students to focus on the material rather than the how much time is left in the video;
  • All readings and learning materials you use should be open access and not require subscriptions or alternate technology to access;
  • Instructors can have a recommended schedule for students to follow so that they have some idea of what they should be doing and when, to ensure that learners do not feel adrift; and
  • Offering your students multiple forms of content and activities to create a richer, more robust learning environment.

The Importance of Connection

Asynchronous learning, by itself, can be a lonely experience for students. If you are planning to use significant asynchronous material in your course, it is important you consider how opportunities for connection can be factored into the student experience. A mix of asynchronous and synchronous learning leads to more holistic outcome achievement for students. If you have transitioned your material to be mostly asynchronous, you can still create connection through open office hours, discussion forums in learning management systems like MyLS, weekly video or audio course updates or facilitated group work. These can offer clear pathways to your students on how to connect with you, assist with their connection to course content, or create groups that foster peer connection and collaboration.

Understanding and Applying

When developing asynchronous content, the balance to consider is between what content the students can navigate by themselves (with appropriate supports and guided questions), and what content they need you to guide them through. Course material that students can navigate themselves is appropriate for asynchronous development, and course material that requires more guidance and support is best facilitated through a form of synchronous engagement. By moving the understanding (knowledge generation pieces) into asynchronous forms, supported by guiding questions, students can flexibly navigate their learning at their own pace as they work through readings, videos, quizzes, or other course content on their own. The focus of synchronous sessions, then, becomes working with them to apply this learning to ensure that it has been achieved and that they know how material relates to other parts of the course, their assessment, and their learning outcomes.

Make Sure Students are Supported

Courses which are structured primarily around asynchronous material can be isolating for students, and it is important that you create connection points with your students to understand how they are coping with the workload, the way you have structured the course, and the overall environment. If students are feeling lost or are unsure how to turn the content into meaningful learning, you can find ways to make subtle changes to your course structure to ensure that learning can take place and students can feel supported. The main consequence of a reliance on asynchronous learning is that students can feel lost and unsupported in their learning process – that they are "teaching themselves." This sentiment is often a product of confusion and a lack of clarity on how course materials fit together, or why they are engaging with the asynchronous material. By staying connected with students, and their learning, and repeating and refining the guiding questions that motivate those content pieces, you can respond quickly to these moments and put the supports in place so that students have more clarity around what they need to be doing.

Tools for Asynchronous Materials

  • Software such as Zoom and Teams can be used to record messages for students to engage with at their own pace.
  • Narrated slide-based lessons using PowerPoint can be recorded in PowerPoint or Zoom and uploaded to MyLS (please consider keeping your recordings short, no more than 10 minutes per video).
  • Surveys and polls can be set up with appropriate closing dates so that students have time to complete them.
  • Document collaboration between students through Microsoft 365 or the Google G-suite of apps can give students opportunities to collaborate with their peers.
  • Discussion boards on MyLS are a great place to engage with students and have them engage with each other and can be done at any time of the day or night.
  • Discussion posts on MyLS can also be used for reflective work throughout the term to give students the space to think through the content and give you a sense of where they are in their learning journey.

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