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Asynchronous E-Learning vs. Synchronous E-Learning: What are They?

E-Learning is growing very popular, with new channels and mediums popping up what seems like daily, there are various types of learning happening. Learning on one’s own no longer means studying through purchased book materials and instead takes on the form of the popular Skillshare website, or even free university classes offered through online mediums. These classes come ripe with like-minded students that can oftentimes be more engaged than students that are forced to attend classes on subject matter they are not interested in. While there may be few students in each class that are not as engaged as others, there are support articles and an abundance of additional information available online to supplement learning and really propel the most successful uptake of the knowledge at hand.

e-Learning is not just reserved for education systems and universities any longer, and instead serves a larger purpose for businesses that are looking to improve training and continued education, the self-employed who are looking to continue honing their skills and enhance their craft, even those that are looking for a new career in a field outside their current skill set. With the increase in competition for talent at companies, in any industry and job role, e-learning is seen as a way to differentiate oneself in the marketplace and continue to hold on to the talent a company has. With a new generation rising in the workforce that values continued education, there is no time like the present to adopt a learning platform, known as an LMS or learning management system, and begin creating an environment for your employees or students to learn in.

All online learning can be broken down into two categories: Asynchronous e-Learning and Synchronous e-Learning. Asynchronous e-Learning is centered around the student and his/her schedule. This type of learning is characterized by message boards, discussion groups and self-paced courses. While there may be an end in sight where the student will need to have completed the lessons, there are no deadlines for completing materials or tests and instead everything is self-paced. This type of learning, while seen within the education industry, is more common for self-learners and businesses that are interested in learning new skills or enhancing existing ones. This type of learning environment is complemented by open-ended discussions and message boards that are constantly abuzz with new conversations and activity based on who is enrolled in the class.

Online e-learning course being completed between two people.

Some of the downsides to this type of e-learning is that a certain type of student excels in this environment - while that is not necessarily bad, if a company is working to hold its entire department or workforce to completion standard, giving them free reign of course materials without checkpoints can mean that courses are left uncompleted. Another potential source of trouble is students memorizing material to complete the course, without needing to apply the learning to real-life examples and thus diminishing the likelihood for retention. Again, this type of learning is best used for students that are motivated to learn the content in their own time and apply it as needed. While there are downsides to this type of learning, when businesses deploy this type of education model, it shows a deep level of trust for its employees and can help to differentiate those that take their jobs seriously with those that may need a little extra hand-holding.

The opposite of asynchronous e-learning is synchronous e-learning, this type of online learning is categorized by completing an enrollment option and then pacing out the learning by attending classes in a virtual environment or completing assignments/tests at certain intervals on a schedule. Complete with quizzes, assignments, and instructor check-ins, this type of learning is most associated with colleges and universities that employ distance learning. Instead of students having complete command of the material as soon as they opt in to the class, there is a start date and an end date, with multiple types of check-ins to ensure students are completing the learning at a controlled time. This style of education can also be helpful for businesses, especially when it comes to training new employees to a business culture or a style of completing work that the organization deems necessary. This ensures checkpoints are passed with accuracy and any poorly formed habits are able to be combated in a timely manner.

As one can infer, there are no “one-size fits all” solutions when it comes to e-learning, and instead it is common to see some sort of hybrid solution of asynchronous vs. synchronous styles of learning. Ultimately, whichever path is decided can be highly successful in any organization it is employed. Some of the most important parts of e-learning are not, in fact, the way in which learning is allowed and instead the way that content is put together to optimize for the best type of learning. So whether your organization decides to open learning for an indiscriminate amount of time, or maintain a more regimented approach, it is important to continue pushing the limits of your education program and refine as necessary to promote the largest amount of learning as possible.

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