Asynchronous vs. synchronous learning: What’s the difference?

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Online student completing coursework on a laptop.

You might be ready to go back to school for your master’s degree in public administration to specialize your skills and gain more industry knowledge. Perhaps you want to work your way up the ranks in your career, becoming eligible for new titles and promotions. An online program could be the best way for you to secure a graduate degree while balancing your career and personal commitments.

When you take an online course, you can choose what style of learning you’d like to pursue, one that occurs in real time or one that allows you to work on your own time. You might consider a synchronous program, with a fixed schedule that is reminiscent of a conventional classroom learning style. Or maybe you’ll decide to pursue an asynchronous program.

The online Master of Public Administration at Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs combines rigorous coursework with the flexibility you need to balance a graduate program with your everyday life.

Synchronous learning

With a synchronous course, students can expect to learn in real time. Typically, the instructor will host a virtual classroom in the form of a videoconferencing or chat session, during which all students should be logged in and present. In a synchronous learning session, students can ask questions instantly and professors can call upon students during the lesson. The way you might remember the distinction between synchronous learning and its counterpart is that “synchronous” learning allows students to learn in “sync.”

Some common types of scheduled activities that synchronous students may need to attend at the same time include:

  • Live-streamed lectures
  • Timed examinations
  • Group video conferences

Because these types of online courses have generally rigid structures, synchronous programs can be less convenient for students with busy schedules. Students must set up their own schedules to ensure they are available at certain dates and times. Online learners who want a more flexible program can look toward asynchronous learning to fit into their hectic lives.

Asynchronous learning

On the other hand, asynchronous learning does not occur in real time. Instead, the instructor will distribute coursework on an online forum. Students can then complete these assignments at their own paces, adhering to any deadlines requested by their instructor. The asynchronous learning style is most prevalent with online learning programs, as they allow for greater flexibility.

The growth of broadband internet and cloud computing has increased the prevalence of online asynchronous learning. Students now have the ability to download items directly from their own devices at rapid speeds and easily access the program’s learning management system (LMS) from their computer, mobile device or tablet. In addition, instructors can record and upload their lectures and learning materials instantly, while maintaining constant communication with their students via discussion boards and email.

The benefits of asynchronous learning

In an asynchronous online program, you are not required to be logged in at the same time as everyone else to attend lectures or participate in message boards. Because programs using this learning style are flexible, they are accommodating to students who have other important commitments to attend to, such as a full-time job or parenting duties.

Distance learners in asynchronous classrooms can set their own schedules. Instead of attending an online class session at a designated time, they can sign into the portal whenever they want, completing as little or as much coursework as they’d like during a given period.

Another major benefit of this flexible form of online learning is the ability to attend classes and lectures with no commute. For that reason, students can work completely from home. If they’d like, they can log on from any area with a stable internet connection, such as a public library or cafe. Without the rigid working environment and schedule of a synchronous program, asynchronous online learners can balance these programs with their busy lives.

How to get the most from an asynchronous program

An asynchronous approach to learning has its clear advantages over the synchronous alternative. However, if students want to get the best results from this learning style, they will need to put in the right amount of time and effort. In an asynchronous setting, particularly one without clear deadlines or checkpoints, it can be easy to fall behind. Here are some ways you can gain value and succeed in an asynchronous online course:

Create your own deadlines

Whether or not your instructor provides strict deadlines for students to submit work, view online lectures or read supplementary materials, you should make sure to create a schedule for yourself. You may decide to set aside an hour every day to complete applicable work, or you might allot several hours over the weekend to complete your assignments in large chunks of time. No matter what you decide is best for your working style and schedule, make sure you develop and follow through on your personal deadlines and goals.

Collaborate with your peers

In an online setting, it is important to create connections with your instructor and classmates. Since you will not be working face to face with this network, you may need to go out of your way to develop relationships. The online MPA program at Ohio University is made up of students and instructors with years of experience working in the public sector. Accordingly, it is an ideal environment to connect with peers who can provide expert guidance during and after the program.

The value of Ohio University

If you’d like to enroll in an asynchronous graduate program, you might consider an online MPA from Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs. This degree can help you gain the knowledge you will need to address public needs effectively and efficiently. In addition, you can learn from Ohio University’s established faculty members, who are professionals actively participating in the public sector. This program has two distinct concentrations that allow you to study what you are most passionate about: Non-Profit Management or Public Leadership and Management.

Fully online and asynchronous, the MPA at OHIO’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs provides the resources you will need to succeed academically and the flexibility required to balance your studies with your career. To learn more, visit the program details page to learn more about the two concentration areas and course requirements.