If you work in education in 2020, you are making tough decisions about how to best reach and teach your learners in the midst of a global pandemic. There is a dearth of evidence to help teachers make informed choices on how to allocate time to asynchronous vs. synchronous online learning. By looking at research into online learning and human development, we can begin to grapple with the advantages and disadvantages of each approach.
Let’s start with the basics. “Synchronous online learning” generally refers to live learning activities that must happen at a set time (often over Zoom or a similar platform), while “asynchronous online learning” refers to almost everything else (completing assignments, doing readings, watching videos, etc.). Research studies don’t provide strong evidence that synchronous learning universally leads to better student engagement and learning outcomes than asynchronous learning or vice versa. Each approach is best suited to different contexts.