Subscribe

What is Synchronous Learning?

multiple arrows pointing to the same diploma

There’s synchronized swimming. There’s marching bands. There’s even human lcd boards. But what about synchronized learning?

Coordinating various moving pieces (or people) to reach a universal goal or accomplish a task is no easy feat. It often takes planning, practice, and dedication to successfully pull it off. And these choreographed pursuits are definitely a sight to see! But is synchronous learning as complicated or difficult as these other synchronized activities seem to be? Let’s break it down. 

What is synchronous learning?

The definition of “synchronous” is to exist or occur at the same time. It might remind you of phrases like “let’s synchronize our watches” or “let’s sync up.” But what exactly does synchronous learning mean? You’re probably more familiar with it than you realize. Synchronous learning is simply when people are learning the same thing at the same time. Synchronous learning is typically associated with the traditional classroom model: students in a classroom with a teacher. In this setting, knowledge transfer happens in real time. And for a long time, this was how learners were taught! But as technology has expanded, options for synchronized learning have broadened. Virtual synchronous learning, sometimes called “distance learning,” runs like a traditional classroom where an educator presents or teaches and learners listen and participate online. 

Examples of synchronous learning

The primary example of synchronous learning is the standard classroom where an instructor transfers knowledge to learners. But this isn’t the only example of synchronous learning. With the recent increase in virtual options, there are many digital versions of synchronous learning too. Some examples include interactive webinars, virtual conferences, and live-streamed lectures or presentations. Basically, the key indicator that an example is synchronous learning is that the learning is happening at the same time. This is the opposite of asynchronous learning, another popular virtual learning format, in which learners do not need to participate at the same time. 

Related Blog Post

What is Asynchronous Learning? Plus the Pros and Cons

Advantages and challenges of synchronous learning

Pros of synchronous learning

Live interaction

Not only does live interaction help keep learners engaged, but it also allows the instructor to adjust to learners’ needs in real time. The educator can actively drive discussion and engagement based on the ebb and flow of the conversation, and they also have the ability to further explain material that learners are having trouble with or otherwise adapt the lesson to better suit learners’ needs. However, not all synchronous learning formats allow for flexibility in the same way or to the same degree. For example, live-streamed lectures have a lot less adaptability than a virtual classroom discussion. Additionally, the ratio of instructors to students also impacts the quality of the live interaction. 

Short feedback timeline

Another advantage with synchronous learning is a short (often instantaneous) feedback loop. Because students can interact in real time with their instructor, questions can be answered and feedback can be given immediately. 

Familiarity

Synchronous learning, whether learners recognize the term or not, is familiar. The traditional classroom environment is what most learners are used to and have experience with (at least for now), so they may be more comfortable with this format. Additionally, the synchronized schedule provides structure, which can be helpful for learners who aren’t individually motivated or well organized. 

Synchronous learning definitely has its advantages, but what about the challenges of using this format?

Cons of synchronous learning

Inflexible

In the synchronous format, educators and learners have to be on the same schedule, and that can be challenging. This inflexibility can also create a barrier if a learner really wants to participate in a learning opportunity but is unable to because of scheduling conflicts. This is true of both in-person and virtual synchronous learning. Though virtual synchronous learning allows flexibility in where the learner is participating, it remains inflexible in when the learner is participating. 

Uniform learning pace

Additionally, the learning pace is set by someone other than the learner and that pace is the same for all learners. In an asynchronous learning format, individual learners have a lot more control over their learning experience. They can choose when they engage with the material and how much time they spend on different segments (within parameters). With synchronous learning, however, learners are expected to engage during specific, set times and to move from topic to topic at a set speed. 

Passive

Despite the real time interaction, synchronous learning lessons can fall into the trap of instructor lectures, learners listen, class over. Basically, it can become a passive experience for learners if educators don’t incorporate interactive components. That being said, synchronous learning has the potential to be a more exciting, engaging option for learners than some other options, but the potential for passivity is something educators should be mindful of. 

Like anything else, synchronous learning isn’t perfect, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth using! 

Incorporating synchronous learning in your lessons

Because synchronous learning is often the standard classroom model, you may already be using it. And there’s a lot to like about it! For the reasons above (and more), synchronous learning can be a great option for in-person or virtual learning, especially if you are interested in real time, live interaction. However, it’s worth keeping in mind the potential weaknesses of synchronous learning. If you’re looking for an option that allows learners to choose their schedule and pace, asynchronous learning might be a better fit. But no matter what option you choose, remember to consider the needs of your learners to create the best possible experience. And when in doubt, contact Maestro! We’re here to help. 

Interested in incorporating synchronous learning but need help getting learners engaged?

Check our blog that lays out 3 Ways to Increase Interactivity!

Read more