This school year will look very different for most teachers. Some are beginning entirely online and others are returning to school on a modified schedule where they will only see students in person a couple of days a week. So, the question many teachers are asking is, “How should I spend my limited time with students in the classroom or in video conferencing sessions? What is the best use of that time?”

First, let’s be clear about the differences between asynchronous and synchronous learning.

Asynchronous LearningSynchronous Learning
Occurring at different times and in different places (e.g., students working at home).Occurring at the same time and in the
same place (e.g., students working in the classroom or meeting online for a video conference session.
Students can access content, resources, activities at any time, and from anywhere.Students can access content, resources, and activities at a specific time and location.
Students can control the time, place, and pace of their learning.Students may have some control over the pace of their learning, but they do not control the time or the place.
Students work independently to complete assignments and tasks. Students have access to teacher and peer support while completing assignments
and tasks.

If we take a step back and think about the benefits and challenges of asynchronous learning and synchronous learning, that can provide clarity about how to think about the design of our curriculum in an online or blended learning course.

Asynchronous learning provides students with a high degree of flexibility and autonomy. They can control the pace of their learning, which lends itself to the following activities.

Teachers who are seeing students for synchronous face-to-face sessions in a classroom or virtual conferencing sessions online may find it useful to think of the asynchronous learning as pre-work and post-work for the synchronous sessions.

The pre-work may involve students reading texts, watching videos, listening to podcasts, exploring teacher-curated resources online, and taking notes. Completing this work asynchronously lets the students control the pace at which they consume and process information. Teachers may also want to engage students in online discussions to encourage them to think critically about that information before attending class.

If students engage in meaningful pre-work prior to class, the teacher can maximize their limited synchronous time with students in a blended learning or online learning course. They can focus their time and energy on high-value learning activities when working directly with students. Instead of feeling pressure to cover the curriculum or present information, the teacher can use their precious synchronous time to do the following.

Teachers can follow this synchronous time with post-work activities, like additional review and practice, research and exploration, or reflection that build on the work students did in synchronous sessions.

The biggest advantage of synchronous learning is human connection. When students learn in a shared time and space, they have access to their teacher and each other. So, teachers should design with that in mind, prioritize community, and leverage those human connections to engage students in social learning.

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75 Responses

  1. Asynchronous learning also depends largely on the capability of the student to do work on their own. Teachers will have to prepare students for asynchronous learning. This might add up to their work load.
    What if students prefer synchronous learning and be done with the work in the classroom under the guidance of the teacher?

    • That is a great point, Tangirala.

      There is a lot of skill-building (academic and self-regulation) involved in helping students thrive during asynchronous learning. You are also correct that some students will gravitate to one type of learning over the other. Unfortunately, many teachers going back entirely online or on a hybrid schedule won’t have the luxury of a lot of synchronous time with students so there will likely need to be a blend of synchronous and asynchronous work.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  2. This is so clear and succinct – it really captures the power of both learning environments. Thank you for this excellent work!

    • Thank you, Jeanne! I appreciate that. I’ve had several teachers ask how to plan for each type of learning, so I wanted to provide some ideas for thinking about this as they plan. These are the types of activities I focus on when coaching teachers who are planning for blended and online learning. I’m thrilled you found it useful!

      Catlin

      • Hi Catlin,

        I am the principal of a small school in So Cal. Our district has reopened virtually using the am/pm model which includes both asynchronous and synchronous learning times. This was in preparation for having students back on site soon using the hybrid model of am/pm cohorts. Not all families are choosing to send their students back in person, so we will now be blending online with in person as our teachers navigate streaming to students at home while teaching to some in person. This really modifies what the synchronous learning looks like. While it’s a lot to learn all at once, I am excited to have these opportunities to try out various models of teaching/learning that break our traditional molds of education.

        I appreciate how you clearly laid out meaningful activities that can be completed during the asynchronous learning times. I think that if we can leverage that time most effectively, we can set ourselves up for yet another blended learning model that allows schools and families to take advantage of the best of both worlds: online and in-person learning. This could occur in daily learning cycles which keep cohorts of in-person classes smaller for more personalized learning opportunities.

        I would be curious to get your thoughts on this.

        ~ Jackie

        • Hi Jackie,

          I just published a blog about the concurrent classroom where teachers have some kids in class and some attending virtually. My biggest concern about the concurrent classroom is that teachers will revert back to lecture followed by independent practice. In that blog, I describe how teachers can leverage blended learning models to more effectively engage students and maximize their time in a concurrent classroom.

          I agree that this moment (as tough as it is) presents an opportunity to rethink school structures and schedules. I love the idea of keeping in-person classes small so that personalizing learning feels more manageable for teachers.

          Thank you for taking a moment to share the approach your school is using to navigate this situation. It’s fascinating to hear what schools are doing right now.

          Take care.
          Catlin

          • This sounds like some of my classes. I have FTF and a teams meeting going on at the same time. Lecture in the classroom is for the most part impossible to do. I do a lot of Q&A and students need to do a lot of independent work as I talk with each student one-on-one.

  3. Thank you very much for this information! I find it very useful and can’t wait to share with my peers at school.

  4. Do you know of someone who does the same kind of work you do only about the youngest learners? I need help with kids who cannot read yet or work independently!

  5. Obviously kindergarten is hard to have them do live online at the beginning of the year. Last spring I found the delay on Web ex was hard to keep their attention. What to record or do live?

    • Hi Maura,

      I usually recommend that any instruction, modeling, etc. that everyone needs to see and hear is best in a video. That way students (and parents/caregivers) can self-pace through the explanation or model pausing, rewinding, or rewatching as needed. Then any instruction and modeling that would benefit from interaction, discussion, sharing, etc. is best in a video conference.

      Catlin

      • Maybe human connection deserves an asterisk for the online component. “ The biggest advantage of synchronous learning is human connection*”

        • I can appreciate your comment Goldy! I’m wondering if this validates why when I give my students asynchronous work, they don’t complete it during their own time. However, I can reassign the same activity during class (after synchronous time), and they’ll complete that same assignment (without any assistance). No matter how I push for my students to take advantage of the asynchronous time, they don’t.

        • I do agree that going virtual alone decreases a student’s ability to interact with the outside world and human connection is vital for our children to grow and thrive.

  6. The challenge is when half the students are virtual/synchronous and the other half are physically in the classroom. Engaging and pacing both audiences at the same time can be difficult.

    • Difficulty / Challenge When half of the students are virtually synchronized and the other half in the class, it is difficult to involve all students at the same time.

    • Difficulty / Challenge When half of the students are virtually synchronized and the other half in the class, it is difficult to involve all students at the same time.

  7. How does this address equity for students with limited access to the online environment, poor internet speeds or family dynamics that prohibit live sessions; OR the school district does not require synchronous learning. This seems to leave a chunk of the learning experience out for students who only access asynchronously. How to bridge those gaps?

  8. Thank you Catlin for your insight in blended learning. After 23 years of teaching Reading in the middle school classroom, I am faced with a new challenge of 6th grade English in a virtual classroom this year. Needless to say, it has been very challenging. Clarity within the frameworks of two types of learning experiences, Asynchronous vs. Synchronous, will help a lot in the area of planning meaningful experiences. I find I waste a lot of time in the initial Zooming experience in the Synchronous days, taking roll, saying hello, etc. We are only allowed to have them enter one at a time and sometimes that is a staggering experiences. Management will be a helpful area to research as well.

    • Hi Jenny,

      I can imagine that it is a huge shift teaching entirely online. I’m glad this post was helpful.

      I’ll do some digging into management online to see if I can find anything useful.

      Take care.
      Catlin

  9. I really appreciate that synchronous learning values ‘human connection’. So many of our students need to feel that teacher is right there (on the screen) and will listen, communicate, and help them. Sometimes, technology takes away the compassion and caring. If I can connect with each student and earn respect by listening to their needs and challenges, learning will happen. Being flexible is important as well.

  10. I recommend plan, lesson plan, independent work, project for period of 1 week, not daily work

  11. Blended learning isn’t easy.I don’t feel that Asynchronous Learning works for all students probably for the more dedicated students.Synchronous Learning probably works well for the not to dedicated students.Most teachers probably like Synchronous Learning that way they probably have a better grip with reaching their students.

    • I agree. Some of the more accelerated students are doing very well asynchronous, however, those that need more motivation still need to have someone there to educate, yet entertain, to keep their attention.

  12. This is so clear, and the visuals help me to get it quickly. Thank you. I think that the key to synch/async is when you said “If students engage in meaningful pre-work prior to class…” The “If” is our barrier!

    We need to do the work to get kids to understand that they will learn more in synchronous class – and probably have more fun, too – if they do the necessary work before class. This is part of the training that we have to provide for students.

  13. Both forms of instruction are well outlined. the one that I am using the least are podcasts and collaborative work. It looks like I am understanding the needs of asynchronous work as the days are progressing. This article helped me look at my instruction a little more closely. Always, helpful to relflect!

  14. Both forms of instruction are valuable. In order to differentiate instruction I use both methods to meet the needs of my students. It was nice to get the side by side breakdown in the article.

  15. I find with my special education students in the general education setting , they are particularly challenged by the asynchronous work. My aide and I push into the general education classroom and pull our students ‘aside’ to support them. We do this in addition to our synchronous groups where we spend more focused time on their specific needs. We’ve found this helps to support the differentiation in the gen ed classes.

  16. Is there a way for students to begin an asynchronous lesson, save their work and exit, then return the next day and resume without losing any of the work they’ve already completed in the Nearpod?

    • ainjazawha balfel
      Is there a way for the pupils to start an asynchronous lesson, save their work, complete their duties, leave and then return the next day and resume work without losing any of the work they have already accomplished?

  17. I believe that both forms of learning are important. As teachers, we want to spend time making sure our students understand and know what to do, but it is also important for them to learn how to accomplish some things on their own.

  18. Asynchronous learning works great with online learning platforms such as Everfi. Students are allowed to work at their own pace, and the program keeps teachers up to date on what each student is doing.

  19. I do believe that both platforms will be advantage for the students because it allows them set their own pace to work.

  20. I am very interested designing each type of learning Asynchronous and Synchronous to increase student learning as it pertains to my individual classroom structure and dynamic make up.

  21. I have used FlipGrid a lot for asynchronous activities to coneect with my students. My school has spent a lot of time this year (with remote learning) focusing on Social and Emotional learning. FlipGrid is a great tool for this!

  22. Hello, it has been challenging for my exceptional students to transition from their gen ed to our resource sessions. Especially those only online. Creates an anxious and uncertainty for them as well as me. I do not like seeing my students struggle with transition through the screen but I still need to use calming techniques and brain breaks. It definitely has been a challenging year. I feel face to face would work better for those struggling students and exceptional students or at least allow them to come 4 days a week and the remaining students online only.

    • zor bir süreç. dijital yöntemler yüz yüze eğitim kadar canlı olmasa da etkili hale getirilebilir ve çeşitli web araçlarıyla öğrenci yönlendirilebilir.

      English Translation:

      a difficult process. Although digital methods are not as lively as face-to-face training, they can be made effective and students can be guided through various web tools.

    • Great point Stephanie for the anxiousness that not only your students feel, but you feel as well. I like how you are able to incorporate calming techniques and brain breaks.

  23. Asynchronous learning is a challenge for most middle school students. Some just won’t do it because there is no one there physically with them to help motivate the process. Some put it off, thinking they will do it later and can’t manage their time. There are a few who prefer this so they can get it done and not be held up by others. Virtual learning is not for everyone. Even if you do a blend of both types there are students who don’t get anything out of it or done. We just completed 8 days of virtual with middle schoolers before Thanksgiving. The attendance looks great on paper, but the mental engagement wasn’t there and the work completion was less than 50%.

  24. This point is important and useful, Tangir. There are not many skills building processes that would contribute to helping students develop and thrive during asynchronous learning. You are right. Some students will be drawn to one type of learning over the other. Unfortunately, teachers who return to the Internet will not enjoy. In full or according to a luxuriously mixed schedule of simultaneous time with the students, therefore there must be a mixture of simultaneous and asynchronous work.

  25. I have only used synchronous learning virtual instruction for my students with reading challenges due to the need for support and guidance enabling students understanding learning activity directions. If I were to utilize Asynchronous learning for my students to complete, an option that I am confident would be successful is frontloading directions and checking thoroughly for understanding directions of expected assignment.

  26. When we first started virtual learning I was a little scared and nervous about how it would go. I accepted the challenge of virtual learning, and now I absolutely love it. I try to make learning fun and engaging as well and informative with the content being taught. I love how I can assign assignments to students based on their individual needs. I am confident my students are learning and maintaining content being virtual. They have definitely exceed my expectations.

    • Reading this put a smile on my face, Shana! I am thrilled to hear that you have been able to assign work based on student needs and successfully engage your students online.

      Thank you for taking a moment to share your experience!

      Catlin

  27. Using asynchronous learning as pre and post work for synchronous sessions is a great idea that allows students to blend asynchronous and synchronous learning and provide students a way to enhance their learning in both situations.

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