Online learning, like all communication technologies, is generally delivered in two different environments – asynchronous or synchronous. Asynchronous learning environments are one-way systems which do not allow for real-time collaboration or live participation, while synchronous models involve live, real-time interaction.
There are several obvious benefits to online learning in both approaches. An asynchronous approach delivers the obvious advantage of leveraging the maximum amount of flexibility and convenience since the student can download and view the sessions at any time, without having to coordinate with anybody else. Let’s take a look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of online learning in synchronous environments:
Online learning, when approached with synchronous technology, is very similar to an actual classroom, in that it permits immediate feedback and detailed collaboration both with instructors and fellow students. With the synchronous model, various real-time activities can be carried out, providing continuous motivation for students. In addition, as compared to the asynchronous model, synchronous online learning promotes a sense of community between the students and teachers.
Another advantage involves cost, and this is true for both synchronous and asynchronous models. When an individual student is studying at home or at the workplace, the cost reduction is significant when compared to conventional in-session, live learning or training.
In addition, teaching quality is another advantage. Because the physical barriers of distance are eliminated, it becomes possible to deliver educational sessions from the most reputable and knowledgeable instructors, anywhere in the world.
The advantage of flexibility must not be overlooked. While the synchronous model does require some coordination, since all students must be in attendance at the same time, online learning affords a much greater level of flexibility than a live, on-premise session. Students and teachers may attend from any location, anywhere in the world. If unable to attend, the online learning environment will typically provide a session recording function to allow students to go back later and review the session at their convenience.
Finally, online learning allows students to gain confidence and pride in their work since online learning can level socioeconomic factors and other obstacles to education. Email, chat, online discussion forums, and other collaborative tools offer rapid feedback and encourage participation from even the most reticent student.
The advantages are many, but there are nonetheless still a few challenges in delivering a synchronous online learning environment. Above all, it requires a confidence level with technology, which some students may lack. In addition, the access to technology itself may present a problem, especially if attempting to roll out an online learning environment in a disadvantaged area.
Another consideration is the distance involved between students and instructors. While the technology does facilitate interaction even at great distances, the reality of different time zones is a factor that should be considered. It may be very convenient for students in one time zone to participate, but students several time zones away may encounter scheduling issues.
Lastly, bandwidth may be a consideration. Online learning, especially when collaborative technologies are being used along with live video feeds, demands reliable broadband connections. While this may not be an issue in many areas, it may not be readily available or affordable to some students, and a dial-up line may prove inadequate very quickly.