Asynchronous Learning: Pros, Cons, and Everything in Between

1/29/22

We only get so many hours in the day. Time is precious, especially for highly-goal-driven people. Most students in traditional brick-and-mortar settings are dedicating the majority of their daylight hours to school—or more specifically, being in a classroom with other students.

To some, this type of traditional schooling—also called synchronous in-person learning—makes sense. Set-in-stone schedules, routines, and daily in-person interaction with teachers and peers is a perfectly suitable approach for those who don’t need to maximize every hour in the day both in and out of school.

But what about those students who do?

What is asynchronous learning?

In synchronous learning environments, students are, simply put, in sync with each other and teachers. They attend classes at the same time, in the same place, on the same days, and move through the material at a collective pace. 

Recently, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, synchronous learning has seen increased popularity in the online space. Many public and private brick-and-mortar schools switched to this method out of necessity due to social distancing requirements. While this type of approach allows students to tune in from anywhere with an internet connection, there are still often expectations associated with the learning environment. It's expected students will attend scheduled classes, watch videos, and do assignments or other activities and assessments with the rest of the class at the same time.

Asynchronous learning is quite the opposite. In this type of approach to school, each student’s schedule is unique, because they build it around their own obligations and needs. 

HOW DOES ASYNCHRONOUS LEARNING WORK?

Here is one example of how asynchronous learning works. There are two students in the same asynchronous class. One student is in the midst of ballet rehearsals for an upcoming performance, and those rehearsals are in the morning hours. After rehearsal, she comes home and rests from the morning, has lunch, then logs in to her class in the afternoon. She has access to the same resources available to everyone else in the course. Not logging on in the morning did not leave her without instruction or resources.

Another student in the same class has found over time that his attention for lessons and assignments is far better in the mornings than in the afternoons. He is an early riser and chooses to log in first thing in the morning. He then spends his afternoons involved in other activities.

This is the beauty—and the importance—of asynchronous learning options. Students can drum up lesson materials at any time of day, from anywhere in the world they are able to connect. A highly-qualified teacher in the far northern reaches can instruct a student on the sandy beaches of Puerto Rico. The learning happens on the student’s time, with a teacher who is miles, states, or even countries apart.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous: Key similarities and differences

Let’s dive a bit more into what it means to learn asynchronously as opposed to synchronously. Here are some things students should expect from both types of learning:

  • Formal and informal assessments and homework, as well as deadlines for those assignments
  • Peers who are also taking that class
  • Teachers who are available to meet with students to review or elaborate on coursework

So what does asynchronous learning offer to students? Here are a few unique experiences an educational institution using this model, like Laurel Springs School, may offer:

  • The ability to attend school anytime during the calendar year to cater to seasonal athletic or performance schedules
  • Recorded lectures or lesson videos that can be watched and rewatched on the student’s time, providing a self-paced experience to suit different types of learning styles
  • Opportunities to seek and connect to specific peers for social or academic purposes rather than being in a classroom with a couple of dozen people at a time
  • Less day-to-day structure, giving students the independence to pursue their talents and goals outside of academia, as well as a unique attendance structure so students are not pressured into tuning into their classes at a set daily time
  • A combination of forums, self-guided lessons, shared media—like documents and videos—and workshops to guide and supplement independent learning
  • Heightened accessibility: an internet connection and a device to connect to it is all it takes to attend class

Who benefits from an asynchronous learning approach?

There are many circumstances leading a student to choose asynchronous learning. For many extraordinary students, the pace of a synchronous class is simply too slow; these students have high academic or career aspirations or goals they want to surge forward at the pace meant for them.

Others have their sights on athletic achievements and their sport of choice is not commonly offered in schools, such as ballet or surfing. Others yet may be children of military families who relocate frequently, and disruption does not align with their learning style.

Perhaps your student is already in the workforce in a career achievable in youth, or they have unique accessibility needs best met by learning outside of a classroom. Anything from insomnia/sleep disorders to neurodivergent behaviors to serious food or chemical allergies can be reasons to choose asynchronous education and be in control of the learning environment.

Potential asynchronous challenges

Most students can agree the liberty to choose when and where they work on lessons, assignments, and assessments is a winning situation. Who wouldn’t want to sleep in some mornings when a late-night before was necessary? Or to have freedom on the weekends and choose exciting plans over homework?

As with any learning approach, there are some aspects of asynchronous learning students should be aware of:

  • A learning environment that, without the physical presence of a classroom and in-person peers, may feel less immersive or disconnected
  • Missed social opportunities commonly experienced in public schools
  • Potential distractions to the self-created learning environment
  • Potentially lost progress or inability to access coursework if internet connection is lost
  • Strong time management skills required (procrastinators beware!)

Are you still exploring asynchronous learning? Our admissions coordinators would love to talk with you about the ways asynchronous learning can meet your student’s or family’s needs. Learn how our asynchronous approach to education can unlock your student’s potential, help them pursue their passions, and springboard them into their chosen future.