Time is precious…spend it wisely

Welcome to Learning Event 4 (#LE4): Time is precious…spend it wisely

(Need more info about Learning Events in general? Visit the Learning Commons for a full description of this series.)

Learning Event 4 (#LE4) focuses on maximizing synchronous and asynchronous communication to connect with students, and with each other. When we consider online learning, technology has changed the way we work. Our learning environments no longer need to have all of their students in the same physical place to operate.

However, communicating with remote learners is not without its challenges. When your students are spread across various areas, and possible time zones, it’s tough to schedule a group meeting. This is made even more challenging as learners and course instructors all may be on different schedules with different commitments. The best way to make these remote communications more effective is to understand the difference between synchronous and asynchronous communication, and know when to use it.


Synchronous means working together at the same time. A good example of this in online learning includes chat rooms and online video conferences. In a chat room, student comments are relayed immediately, enabling a real-time discourse. Online video conferencing tools (e.g., Skype, Zoom) enable real-time conversations to take place online. Learning using synchronous communication is enhanced because real-time conversations allow learners to explore, through writing or talking, the class concepts. The act of verbalizing helps students build bridges between different ideas and concepts, thus helping them retain information more effectively. Synchronous communication allows for real-time, immediate feedback from peers and the course instructor.

Asynchronous means communicating and relaying of information with a time lag. Discussion forums and email are two examples of asynchronous communication in online learning. This time delay in the sending and receiving of messages in asynchronous communication is very helpful as students have plenty of time to formulate thoughts. By communicating via email, students are able to respond in detail to a question or topic that they might have answered incompletely in a real-time conversation. In a way, the instructor is allowing the students to “push pause” on learning as the time lag in communication helps students internalize information by giving them time to research certain ideas or merely extra time for contemplation. Asynchronous communication builds in time for student reflection, or self-paced learning.

If you already have designed and rolled out your course but need to move your work online, begin by considering the learning objectives and end goal of the course. As you adjust to online spaces and digital tools, consider the content, learners, and tools you have at your disposal. Think about time, space, place, and tools students will use as they engage with course content.

If you do make changes mid-semester, this is an opportunity to talk with students about their familiarity with some of the tools and spaces you’d like to use. Be sure to let them know that you are experimenting with these different elements in an attempt to make the learning you work together to help them achieve and succeed during the remainder of the semester.

Check out the materials presented below to learn and engage more!


Asynchronous and Synchronous E-Learning – Stefan Hrastinski. “…three types of communication in particular are important for building and sustaining e-learning communities: content-related communication, planning of tasks, and social support.”

Benefits of Synchronous and Asynchronous e-Learning – Michael Higley. “It is clear from the research that the technologies associated with synchronous and asynchronous learning can improve the quality of student-teacher interactions, foster increased student engagement, and improve learning outcomes.”

Synchronous and Asynchronous Text-Based CMC in Educational Contexts: A Review of Recent Research – Genevieve Marie Johnson. “Individuals who used both synchronous and asynchronous forms of online discussion were the most likely to complete required course activities.”


Synchronous & Asynchronous Learning in an Online Course (6:43)

8 Lessons Learned from Teaching Online (4:11)

Synchronous and Asynchronous Activities in Blended Learning (9:09)


How can we leverage synchronous and asynchronous communication and learning to support all learners?


Consider your content area, pedagogical content knowledge, and students as you identify opportunities to utilize synchronous and asynchronous learning.


While synchronous and asynchronous learning each have their advantages and drawbacks, the best approach for a given design project is based on multiple factors. There are generally four questions you need to choose between synchronous and asynchronous learning:

  • Your students and their learning needs. Your students may be accustomed to lots of peer interaction, and look forward to “talk time” in class. In this case, synchronous learning may work best.
  • Your content area. If your content area includes complex ideas and technical terms that require a lot of explaining, or providing context for learners, asynchronous may not work in certain contexts. Whereas if you want students to reflect on content previously learned, asynchronous may work well in supporting learners.
  • Time availability of your students. In a distance, or virtual learning environment, students may be working jobs during the day, or dealing with families. In these situations, asynchronous may work well as students can identify when and where they would like to work.
  • Access to the Internet and digital tools. Online video conferencing tools enable real-time conversations to address student concerns immediately. Synchronous communication also may be a challenge if students (and faculty) do not have a good Internet connection, or the equipment necessary to use these tools. Consideration should be given to ensure that all learners can engage and connect.

We would love to hear about what you created or implemented as a result of this Learning Experience! Please send an email to hello@digitallyliterate.net if you have something to share!