Explore the distinctions between synchronous and asynchronous learning, their benefits, and how to choose the right approach for your needs.
Synchronous vs asynchronous learning, which should you use for employee development?
Online learning is becoming more and more prevalent and so is the focus on synchronous vs asynchronous for employee learning. It’s not just the fact that elearning is less expensive and easier for contractor employees to access but it offers a better learning experience.
With that said, we’d like to explore the two components of e-learning, synchronous and asynchronous.
What is synchronous and asynchronous learning?
If you aren’t familiar with synchronous and asynchronous learning, let’s define what each one is in terms of employee learning.
Synchronous learning happens in real or actual time. In other words, this could be a conference call with an instructor-led training course. Or this could also be a group collaboration training session. Other examples would be live chats and live-streaming lectures.
On the other hand, asynchronous learning happens on your own schedule. For example, you are assigned courses through a learning email and you take these classes when they work best. There may be a specific date you must complete these courses, but you still choose which day and time work best for you. Some examples would be PowerPoint presentations, pre-recorded video presentations, or assessment-style training modules.
The difference between synchronous vs asynchronous learning
The main difference between synchronous and asynchronous learning is when the training occurs. Synchronous learning happens in real-time during an in-person or online instructor-led training program. Asynchronous learning can happen whenever the employee feels they can learn best: before, during, or even after work
What are the advantages of synchronous learning?
- Increased interaction: Online learning is great, but for some employees, there’s a disconnect. The material is presented, learned and applied, but there is no human element. However, when you use synchronous learning, employees can interact with co-workers and the instructors. It humanizes the training.
- Instant feedback: If you have a question, comment or want to share your thoughts, synchronous learning lets you do so on the spot. Not only does this help address anything from the course you wish to clarify, but it can help your co-workers as well. And it lets you ask or get feedback before you forget your train of thought.
- Deeper subject knowledge: When you have a real-time conversation about a topic, you understand it better. Co-workers and instructors can paint a better picture of why you are learning what you are learning and why it will benefit you once back on the job.
What are the advantages of asynchronous learning?
- Can learn at your own pace: With asynchronous learning, employees can take a course as slow as they want to. If there is a particular module that they don’t understand, they can easily spend more time on it versus others.
- Cost-effective: Asynchronous learning is less expensive. Instead of hiring facilitators and trainers to run online courses, training modules can be pre-recorded and even used more than one time. For example, if you offer a training course in communications, you can use the same video snippets as you may have used in a team building training session.
- Flexible: If you employ team members globally, everyone can take the training on their own time and on their own timezone. Also, if you employ freelancers or contractors who may be taking your corporate training, asynchronous learning gives them the freedom to train when it works best around their current client workload.
- Chance to review: You have the opportunity to make sure your training sessions are as successful as possible before you post them. And if changes need to be made, you have the time to do so.
How do you incorporate synchronous and asynchronous learning?
Now that you know the advantages of both types of learning, you may wonder which one is best to use for continuous employee learning? The answer- both are useful given different situations.
First let’s discuss synchronous learning. It’s best to think of it as online classroom learning. So when you need to book training onsite, this presents an easier solution. If you need to brainstorm ideas or problem solve, synchronous learning is great. It also works well for applying concepts and collaborating on how those concepts would work in real-life examples.
Here are a few ways to use synchronous learning.
These are lessons, lectures or workshops that are led by an instructor. They can teach a new skill or introduce a new concept to use in day to day business operations.
Coaching or mentoring courses
Another example of synchronous learning is teaching soft skills like workplace communication or mentoring younger team members. Or on the flip side, this may be an outside coach who works with senior management on how to become better leaders.
In a webinar format, only the instructor is allowed to talk. All the participants use text chat to send questions to the instructor. And this class facilitator takes time to field questions or gage feedback during select times during the webinar.
Typically live streaming as it relates to synchronous learning is run through a company’s social media channel. This would be a private Facebook group not open to the public, but rather internal employees. It would feature an instructor demonstrating a “how-to” style class like operating a new product so employees could learn for themselves. Employees are able to upvote the video as well as comment on what they have seen.
On the other hand, Asynchronous methods involve getting training content, taking assessments and gathering feedback without one timetable attached. Basically, this training exists and can be accessed several times by various employees. And there doesn’t need to be a facilitator or administrator present to begin the training.
Here are a few ways to use asynchronous learning:
Training videos are a great way to use synchronous learning. Just remember to keep videos short so you maintain the attention span of the learner. They should also be professionally shot using an outside vendor, with the aid of a video app or some learning management providers offering help with videos as well.
Another training method for self-paced learning is virtual labs. These labs offer ways to teach new skills without having to go in an in-person classroom setting. For example, if you want to teach programmers a new programming language, a virtual lab could be used to walk through the basic steps of how to program in this new language by logging in and following along on their own desktop.
Social media or discussions
While self-based classes have their positives, one drawback is less peer-to-peer interaction. One way to counteract this is by adding a social media or discussion component to your asynchronous learning. That way, once the training module is complete or if an employee is stuck grasping a certain concept mid-training, they can ask their questions to fellow team members and get feedback.
While asynchronous learning offers flexibility, it can also cause some employees to not take the training seriously. If for example, they don’t see the value in a certain training module, they could simply go through the motions and not truly absorb what is being taught. But if you break the training up with gamification, it not only makes the subject matter more interesting, but it holds employees’ interest better than other formats.
When should I use synchronous vs asynchronous learning?
As you can see both types of learning have a place within employee training. The key is understanding when to use each one. Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine which one is best to use and when.
1. Who is your learner?
The first question to ask is who is your audience for a training course and how do they learn best? For example, if you are giving call center employees a new customer training, this may work best using synchronous learning with a facilitator leading the course. However, if you are rolling out sexual harassment training company-wide, this may work better using an asynchronous style.
2. Do you need an instructor for the course?
If you have a very specific type of training for a targeted group of employees, you’ll need a facilitator and to use synchronous employee learning. Designing a course with such specific training may be a waste of company resources and time. However, if it’s managerial skills training that will be an ongoing course for team leaders, it’s best to invest time and money into designing a course that can be used repeatedly. And thus this lends itself well to asynchronous learning.
3. What are your main objectives?
Another point to consider is what you are hoping to accomplish with a training course? Is it to learn a key skill or to take a mandatory training course or is it a refresher course for continued learning? This is important because it will dictate which format makes the most sense. For example, if your objective is to foster creative problem solving, synchronous learning works well. However, if your objective is to learn a new programming language, asynchronous learning works better.
4. How will the course be designed?
Whether you use synchronous or asynchronous, you’ll need to consider course design. For synchronous learning, this should center around supporting the facilitator. In other words, what will make this person’s job easier to teach the course? This may include PowerPoint slides or a short video to better illustrate the key points the facilitator is trying to make.
When you design courses for asynchronous learning, you’ll want to use the ADDIE model of instructional design. If you aren’t familiar with ADDIE, it stands for analyze, design, develop, implement and evaluate. It will give your courses a framework to follow and keep your employee’s interest when utilizing a self-paced format.
Best practices for synchronous learning
Now that we’ve talked through both types of learning, there are few tips to keep in mind in order to make either format effective. Here are some best practices to keep in mind.
Opt for stories and activities
In order to keep a group class moving even online, you want to stay away from too much reading. Use videos, and testimonials and incorporate group activities instead. This will foster team learning and give employees a chance to interact with one another. Plus, it shows how the training benefits them once back on the job.
Break it up
No one wants to sit through a long lecture. So when you are using a synchronous format, at set intervals, break up the format into bite-sized learning. Insert a few questions about what was learned so far, ask for questions, or insert an exercise to reinforce what was learned up to that point.
Plan for leave-behinds
While synchronous learning is great because it’s in real-time, its drawback is, that it’s not ongoing. A way to counteract this issue is creating leave-behinds. After the training is over, be sure to upload house notes, an overview slide, or additional videos on the training on your learning management system. That way, it creates a reference for employees once the class is over.
Best practices for asynchronous learning
Offer course support
Unlike synchronous learning, employees can’t ask questions in the middle of the course. To create a way employees can get technical support should they have a glitch. Also, create a support email or chatbot so they can ask questions about course material, if they are confused.
Use online forums
Besides getting help from a facilitator standpoint, employees should rely on one another. Creating an online forum where employees can ask peer-to-peer questions about training modules is also valuable. Sometimes someone who has just taken a course can answer a question better than a facilitator.
Communicate learning direction
Since each employee will take the training at different times, communication is key. Set up an email system to remind employees of upcoming training, missed training, and why they are being assigned certain training modules. This will go a long way in keeping your asynchronous training running smoothly.
Whether you use synchronous, asynchronous, or a combination of both, remembering these best practices and delivery methods will keep your training running smoothly.