Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning: Exploring the Differences and What’s Best for Your Organization

Both asynchronous learning and synchronous learning have been around for a long time though synchronous has the edge for longevity at least. That means people have been passing down lessons from teacher to student directly while both are present in some way. The other alternative was maybe a stone tablet with teachings left beyond for the next person.

So, as long as there has been writing of some sort there’s been both asynchronous and synchronous. Synchronous depends on spoken language, which is probably why it’s been around longer.

You’ll find both asynchronous and synchronous learning in workplaces and beyond to help facilitate the learning process. But what is the difference between these two ways of learning, and which one is best for you and your organization?

Asynchronous learning is done at employee’s own pace.

Asynchronous and synchronous learning are two ways of training employees that have different approaches and uses. Asynchronous learning is learning that is self-paced, meaning employees can take as much or as little time as they need to complete training and there doesn’t necessarily have to be a trainer at all.

You pretty much learn all by your lonesome and at your own pace with asynchronous learning.

Synchronous learning is more structured and focused, with employees participating in real-time sessions and/or discussions. It can even be done as a group or one-on-one which is more a form of coaching (but still synchronous!).

One of the key differences between asynchronous and synchronous learning is the amount of interaction possible with other employees in real time. I only specify in real-time because that’s truly the only difference. Just as much discussion can happen in asynchronous as synchronous, but it’s typically done on a discussion board, enterprise social network, or however else information is shared and answered at employees’ pleasure.

Synchronous learning is done in real-time whether virtual or in person.

You may feel a bit more of a community feel with synchronous learning, though, because you can all be in the room at the same time talking. I’d also like to add that synchronous is often quite a bit more distracting, though. Sometimes to the point where nothing gets learned (been there).

With synchronous workplace training, everybody has to take off work, log into a conference call, or head to a conference room, and then spend the next hour or so hopefully learning something. It’s all in the name of being in the same place at the same time.

For asynchronous workplace learning employees can typically log into their LMS whenever they have available time. That’s assuming employees have available time.

Those who prefer more autonomy and independence likely prefer asynchronous learning while those who like more structure probably want synchronous.

No matter what an employee’s preference is, sometimes it simply comes down to time and what’s possible. Sometimes it’s simply not possible to stop your work for an hour and sometimes self-paced learning is more efficient and takes less time.

Employee preference should be considered when deciding which type of training is predominant in your organization.

An example of how synchronous training typically takes longer for employees to complete is a course we redesigned from virtual instructor-led training to eLearning. The time it took employees went from an hour to 20 to 25 minutes to complete the course. That’s a dramatic time difference for very similar (but in our eyes better) content.

Ultimately, the right choice depends on individual needs, preferences, as well as organizational requirements, and infrastructure.

By considering the differences between asynchronous and synchronous learning, you can make an informed decision about which method is best for you, employees, and your organization.

With the right approach, employees can gain the most benefit from workplace training.

What Are They?

You may have already got some big hints of what each one is but I’m about to break it down even more. This is helpful to understand so that we’re on the same page and can then make a better comparison for which one is right.

It may not be that one is always right, though. It’s impossible to dictate which one is right across the board. It will vary by organization, project, and even employee.

So, here’s what each one is.

What Is Asynchronous Learning?

Asynchronous learning is a self-paced style of learning in which employees can take training when they need it and as much or as little time as they need. It could even be a conversation part of training where messages are posted on a discussion board, but discussion can happen whenever.

Here are some typical types of asynchronous learning in the workplace:

  • eLearning course (aka self-paced course)
  • Job aids
  • Quick reference guides
  • Enterprise social media networks
  • LinkedIn Learning
  • Udemy

On all of these, the learning happens when and where employees want it and at their pace. That means they can start a course, watch one video, and then let it sit for months because they’re too busy.

If that’s the case, maybe synchronous learning can be a bit better because it forces you to remove yourself from your workload. That may be the case for your organization but it likely won’t be true universally.

What Is Synchronous Learning?

Synchronous learning is where employees participate in real-time training sometimes in a virtual room and sometimes in a real room.

That means you take time out of your workday, log into a call, or lug yourself down to the scheduled conference room and hopefully learn. It could also be a huge conference where there are sessions. The point is that everybody is (hopefully) learning at the same time.

Here are some typical types of synchronous workplace learning:

  • Virtual instructor-led training
  • Instructor-led training
  • Conference sessions
  • Employee workshops
  • Coaching/mentoring (typically though it doesn’t have to be synchronous)

As long as the employee and trainer are doing their things with each other at the same time, whether in a big group or individually, is synchronous. Both sides happen at the same time.

Advantage of Each

There is no ideal way to do workplace training. Both are great options depending on the various needs of different projects and organizations. I’ve heard people say that synchronous training is known to be better than asynchronous. That’s never the case and will never be. It’s a broad statement that tries to generalize too much.

Here are some of the advantages of each.

Advantages of Asynchronous Learning

There are numerous benefits of asynchronous learning for employees and organizations. I’m going to break it down into each.

For Employees

Asynchronous learning provides them with a more independent learning experience as well as a more autonomous working environment as a whole. They’ll have the option to flexibly structure their workplace and professional development however fits their schedule.

It’s nice to work at your own pace and on your schedule rather than be forced to go to a conference room or sit on a call. There’s nothing more empowering than not being beholden to a specific time or room. That means when you have to go to the restroom then it’s up to you.

Depending on the workplace infrastructure, employees may even be able to take training where they want such as on a mobile phone. That’s pretty cool!

Then there’s the pace, some people are a bit slower than others (raises hand). That means those who need extra time to learn what they need can have that time. You also can’t overlook the control employees gain over their professional development.

Employees choose their schedule, take lunch when they want, manage their workload, and all that good stuff. But if you don’t allow them to take training at their own pace then that autonomous workplace suddenly doesn’t feel so autonomous.

Asynchronous learning is full of advantages for employees as well as the employer.

Another great point for asynchronous learning is the power of social learning and other methods of discussion and learning with other employees as needed. Slack is a great example of this and when conversation happens in real time it even becomes synchronous. You may think it’s just chatting amongst employees but a whole lot of learning happens asynchronously through those channels.

Asynchronous communication and training give people the opportunity to mull over things and provide more thoughtful information rather than having to be on your toes at a specific time ready to throw something out on someone else’s schedule.

For Employers

Asynchronous learning is great because with well-designed content it takes less time to complete training. Think about how much money that can save an organization.

You know the adage, time equals money. That also is true for the time training takes. There’s rarely any benefit to taking longer which means asynchronous saves a ton of money also.

The ability for employees to structure their training around their day allows employees to be more efficient. That translates into a direct benefit to organizations that now have empowered and free employees to do what they need when they need it.

Asynchronous learning can be scaled large and fast.

Scalability is another huge benefit for employers. New technology launches can be ramped up faster because training can be done in days rather than weeks. so, employees get better training, and it can be ramped up extremely quickly.

Don’t forget that asynchronous learning is easy to customize for each group of employees to create a learning experience that’s relevant to everyone rather than trying to shove everything for everyone into one session.

These are just a drop in the bucket for the benefits of asynchronous learning too. It’s an extremely flexible way for employees to learn and organizations to train.

Advantages of Synchronous Learning

Just like for asynchronous learning, there are benefits of synchronous learning for employees and employers.

For Employees

Synchronous learning can be more effective for certain groups. It may be more helpful to take yourself away from your work and force concentration. This only works for sessions away from your computer because this benefit fails immediately when you’re in a virtual instructor-led session in front of your computer with all your work just a click away.

Another benefit for employees is that it’s easier to have a conversation with others and riff off their ideas. Ideas can be exchanged, and great things can happen in minutes rather than days or weeks. Not only that but employees can ask the trainer questions immediately rather than waiting for a specific time.

When someone is instructing in real time that means the content can be adjusted in real-time including sped up, slowed down, and more detailed explanations for content people are getting stuck on. That means it can be customized in different ways than asynchronous training can.

Synchronous learning has a component of community that’s difficult to replicate in other types of learning.

There’s a sense of community you also get when at in-person training together. It can be pretty nice to have that camaraderie and feel like you belong. Breakout sessions are great for this because they give you a chance to talk in small groups too. That’s pretty cool!

For Employers

Synchronous learning is great because it can encourage more collaboration and a better workplace culture. The sessions and breakouts can also encourage people to step out of their silos and get to know others in different departments.

All of those options for working and learning with others are a great opportunity for new and creative things to happen. In some cases, it may also be more beneficial for employees to come together in one place. I’ve been to some pretty awesome training and entertainment events for top salespeople (I was an observer) and the energy was palpable.

But we can’t always live in a world of happiness and everything being great. We have to come down to reality and look at the disadvantages too.

Disadvantages Of Each

Each type of learning has advantages, and each has disadvantages too. Just like it’s important to look at how they can each benefit employees and an organization, you must look at how they can harm them.

Let’s first take a look at the disadvantages of asynchronous learning.

Disadvantages of Asynchronous Learning

While asynchronous learning can be beneficial for those with busy schedules or commitments outside of learning, it can also be difficult for those who need a more structured environment to stay motivated. There’s also a lack of real-time interaction with peers and it can be more time-consuming to get answers to questions.

Asynchronous learning requires a level of self-discipline that some simply don’t have. If there’s no external structure or deadlines to keep people accountable, then they simply will delay and put off.

You also miss out on a lot of camaraderie with asynchronous learning. There’s no instructor, no other employees, and no breakout rooms where you get to meet others and learn about them.

If any asynchronous instruction isn’t put together well and is confusing to employees that makes it hard to learn from. Not only that but you can’t ask questions or for clarification on certain topics. Employees’ options are typically to ask their manager, call the help desk (therefore increasing help desk calls), or just miss out on understanding. None of those are good options for workplace performance.

Now let’s take a look at some of the disadvantages of synchronous learning.

Disadvantages of Synchronous Learning

Inflexibility is the #1 disadvantage of synchronous learning. Making everyone be somewhere and learn at the same pace is less helpful to the learning process in most cases. It will also wreak havoc on their calendar.

Then there’s the fact that if it’s a virtual session then it’s easy to tune out and do work instead. There’s not always something engaging to keep you in the session.

There are also many limitations to how a session can be put together when it’s live. Interaction and engagement have to be done on a personal level rather than on a content level. Then there’s the difficulty of learning certain topics live such as how to use an application. When employees can only see what they’re supposed to do rather than do it it’s not going to be very helpful.

Whatever the advantages and disadvantages of each, there’s still no clear winner for all ways of learning or all projects. Let’s take a quick look at how you might be able to choose which one is best for you and your situation.

How To Decide Which Is Best for Your Organization

When it comes to deciding which option is best for employees and your organization, it’s important to consider your goals, preferences, and organization’s culture. It may be that your employees predominantly prefer in-person training as opposed to self-paced. Or vice versa.

A great way to get a pulse on how your organization should primarily approach training is to ask. Yes, survey your employees to find out what their overall preference is. You’ll likely find that there’s no dramatic majority, but it will sway in one direction or the other if even slightly.

And don’t let those surveys dictate all forms of training either. Sometimes a project will lend itself better to synchronous whereas other times asynchronous will be better suited.

For example, what if your organization prefers in-person training but one specific project requires employees to learn how to use new software? Simple, that project might be best to do self-paced so you can create a simulated software environment so employees can do the process and learn along the way rather than watching something they’ll likely forget or have to watch again.

Your organization, employees, and project will usually give you a hint of what the right form of learning is.

If you’re in a predominantly remote environment, self-paced will likely be the preferred type because it flows with the independence of working remotely. If everyone works from a central office or can get to the same conference room, in-person training could be the preferred option.

If you’re looking for an active learning environment that involves real-time discussions and collaboration, synchronous learning may be a better fit. Ultimately, the right choice depends on the organization as well as the specific project needs. When deciding which style is best for your organization or project, it’s also important to consider the topic, company culture, and technical capabilities of your organization.

The only way to make the best decision on which one is right for your organization is to look at it at a more micro level. You can consider the macro level and decide organization-wide as long as it’s not dictated for every project.

Be open-minded and do a thorough analysis because that’s going to help you make the best decision.

Wrap Up

Asynchronous and synchronous learning each have their advantages and disadvantages. There’s no way to say which one is best or even which one will always work best for each topic. The topic, organization, as well as employees, will help you make the best decision.

Asynchronous learning is self-paced, while synchronous learning means the instructor and employees are learning in real-time. When it comes to deciding which style of learning is best for your organization, consider your goals, preferences, and topic.

There’s no way to say which one will be the best without doing a good analysis and learning about the organization. That’s one reason we do a thorough analysis first. We want to make sure we’re the right fit for a project and that we’re going to be able to add value.

For our specialty (corporate technical training), instructor-led isn’t something we can say is a good option which is why we don’t do it at all. We can add tremendous value to technical training, though, which is why we specialize in digital training solutions.

Whether you think your requirements fit what we do or not, we can help you decide. Schedule a free consultation and we can discuss your project and if/how we can help make it a huge success. If not, we’ll do our best to point you in the right direction with our extensive connections in the learning & development world.

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