What is synchronous and asynchronous virtual learning?

The specific conditions for conducting virtual learning are connected with two main factors – participants’ location and the time when learning takes place. As a kind of distance learning, virtual learning presupposes a different location for the learners and tutors. As far as time of learning is concerned, however, virtual learning comes into two main forms: synchronous and asynchronous.

In asynchronous virtual learning the learner enriches their knowledge at their own tempo at a time convenient for themselves. Learning is not restricted by place and time. The learning process is not dependent on fixed time intervals which serve to regulate the sequence of activities. All available materials are accessible in the online platform throughout the learning period – the learner can study at any time during the day, choosing from video lessons, reading resources, online forums and participation in discussions, where direct contact with tutors and the other participants is optional. The interaction between participants in the learning process is based on written asynchronous forms (forums, personal messages, mails), which slows down feedback and creates conditions for an insufficiently efficient communication.

Synchronous virtual learning happens in real time, in a virtual learning environment, online seminars or other forms of online communication, mobile connection including. The synchronous environment allows participants and the tutor to take part in one-on-one or group learning forms conducted by means of lecture sessions, discussions, and demonstrations. Learning is conducted by a tutor who in real time teaches in group or one-on-one mode depending on the particular case using the tools of the respective virtual learning environment among which is the video or audio conference connection. Due to the opportunities offered by the virtual learning environment participants contact each other and communicate at one and the same time.

Learning Type Advantages Disadvantages
Synchronous Learning
  • A high degree of interactivity – immediate answers to questions that have come up and intensive interaction with the other participants (cognitive and social constructivism);
  • Easy adaptation in the learning environment;
  • Socialization –
  • Allows working in small and large groups (joined) as well as direct collaborative activity and experience sharing (social constructivism);
  • Limited time for considering responses;
  • The skills for working in a virtual learning environment can affect the performance of some learners;
  • Effective realization is dependent on the technical characteristics of the computer system (power, camera, microphone, etc.) and the quality of the Internet connection;
Asynchronous learning
  • Allows for sufficient time for work with study materials and formulation of meaningful questions and answers;
  • Learning can take place at a convenient time and individual tempo.
  • A lower degree of interactivity;
  • Feedback may take time; Interaction between participants is limited;
  • Participants are isolated from each other without any live contact.

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Dr. Veronica Racheva is managing VEDAMO’s training programme. Veronica is a PhD in Theory of Education. She graduated from the Doctoral School at the Institute of Education, University of London and has a specialisation for a Virtual Teacher from the University of California, Irvine. Currently, she is a CEO of a Bulgarian K12 online academy, based on VEDAMO e-learning infrastructure. She is also a lecturer in E-learning at the Sofia University, researcher and author of scientific reports.
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