Registration for Inspire 2024 is now open!

Register now

Synchronous learning

Synchronous learning

Table of Contents

If you’re here, you’re probably curious about synchronous learning. And chances are you’ve got questions, like:

  • What is synchronous learning? 
  • What’s the main difference between synchronous and asynchronous learning? 
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages? 
  • How do I go about  implementing a synchronous learning strategy in my organization?

(Whew! That’s a lot of questions. But don’t worry, you haven’t scared us off.) 

Choosing a learning model that meets your organization’s needs is no easy task. But we want to make it easier. (That’s why we’ve created this guide.) We’re going to answer all your burning questions about synchronous learning. By the time you’re done reading this, you’ll know if it’s right  for your organization. 

In the spirit of synchronous learning, let’s tackle this topic together


What is synchronous learning?

Synchronous learning is an education model for simultaneous and interactive learning. In other words, it’s when learners and instructors actively participate in a real-time digital or face-to-face training session.

Virtual instructor-led training (VILT) sessions, live streaming lessons, webinars, and other live in-person or online learning experiences are all examples of synchronous learning.

Synchronous learning can take place in a physical classroom or a virtual setting (e.g., online courses that allow for live interaction between learners and instructors).

Synchronous learning facilitates real-time communication and collaboration, creating a dynamic and participative learning environment. It also enables learners to participate in group work, ask questions, and get immediate feedback, just like in a traditional classroom setting. 

In short, synchronous learning offers the best of both worlds; the flexibility of digital learning and the engagement of in-person instruction.

For this type of learning to work, businesses rely on learning management systems (LMSs) and/or web conferencing tools (i.e., Zoom, Microsoft Classroom, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, Skype, etc.).


Synchronous vs. asynchronous learning

The main difference between synchronous and asynchronous learning is that asynchronous learning doesn’t require course participants to attend lessons in real time. That’s because learners have 24/7 access to course materials and pre-recorded video lessons, allowing for more flexible, convenient learning schedules. This is especially handy when learners are in different time zones.

While asynchronous learning is more convenient, the lack of real-time group interaction can often lead to feelings of isolation which can hinder professional development. 

For instance, let’s say an employee is being onboarded asynchronously. You expect them to watch the pre-recorded videos and complete the on-demand courses by the end of their onboarding period.  In this case, the new hire could complete their onboarding without interacting with their peers. The result? Possible difficulties in integrating into the new team. 

So, how can you minimize the pitfalls and maximize the perks of both learning models? Many businesses combine elements from both synchronous and asynchronous learning methods to create hybrid learning environments.

For example, you could provide new hires with asynchronous, on-demand content to complete when it’s convenient for them while scheduling weekly synchronous, live video conferences to check in, answer questions, and introduce new employees to fellow new hires or their teammates.

Let’s examine the benefits of adopting a synchronous learning strategy.


Synchronous learning: Advantages

Since education has gradually moved online, synchronous learning has become increasingly popular in enhancing the digital education experience. From better performance to increased engagement, we take a closer look at the advantages of synchronous learning for both learners and instructors.

Advantage #1: Real-time interaction and communication

One of the many benefits of synchronous learning is real-time communication, which helps fill the gaps in online education and offers a more interactive experience.

With a plethora of tools on the market, instructors can use breakout rooms, collaboration tools, electronic whiteboards, and polls to foster better communication and engagement.

Moreover, in remote-first organizations, real-time communication helps new employees, customers, and partners feel included and adapt faster to the company culture.


Advantage #2: Instructors have the opportunity to make adjustments and improvements to the session based on their audience

With live online classes, instructors can get a sense of the teaching style that helps the audience stay focused and make the best of these sessions.

As well as being able to make coursework more engaging on the fly, instructors can also provide additional context and clarify concepts as questions arise from the audience. This helps instructors make distance learning more productive.

At the same time, learners can immediately clear up doubts and misunderstandings, which encourages greater participation and enhances training outcomes.


Advantage #3: Higher motivation

Asynchronous learning relies heavily on individuals’ organization skills, self-discipline, and intrinsic motivation to study—and that’s not always a good idea. 

On the other hand, synchronous online learning can help “less motivated” learners get through the course materials faster than they would on an asynchronous program. 

And let’s not forget about the element of competition. People can get competitive (in a good way) in larger groups. Tapping into this competitive spirit is a great way to boost motivation. To sum up, synchronous learning can help people find the motivation to learn.

Advantage #4: Creation of an environment of trust and support between instructors and the audience

Synchronous learning gives everyone involved the opportunity to create social relationships and establish an environment of trust and support that can ultimately enrich learning.

Whether it’s a fresh batch of new hires going through onboarding sessions, or a geographically dispersed team participating in real-time, online training, synchronous learning brings people together and fosters a more personal environment.  

This helps learners feel more connected—not just to their peers but also to their instructors and the culture—which goes a long way to building trust and a sense of belonging in a company.

Synchronous learning has many perks, but it’s not without its pitfalls. 


Synchronous learning: Disadvantages

When it comes to the downsides of synchronous learning, scheduling limitations and potential technical problems (e.g., an unstable WiFi network or no access to equipment) are two of the biggest ones. 

Disadvantage #1: Scheduling difficulty

Coordinating calendars can be a struggle at the best of times. Factor in a global remote workforce with employees, customers, and partners scattered all over the world, and suddenly finding a time for training that works for everyone becomes virtually impossible. As a result, people end up having to stay up late or log on early to participate, which is less than ideal.

This is especially tricky for employees that work in the field. Whether it’s boots-on-the-ground sales reps or customer service staff on the shop floor, the window of opportunity for training is limited. At the same time, the need for training is highest since these employees are the face of your business. 

That’s where a blended approach can make all the difference. Employees can take regular online training to hone their skills (microlearning works best for time-strapped staff) and use synchronous learning sessions to put the theory into practice and clear up doubts. 

Disadvantage #2: Technical issues

Another major disadvantage to synchronous learning sessions is the unpredictable nature of technology.

Weak internet connections, low bandwidth, and unscheduled power outages (to name but a few) can interrupt a session and negatively impact the online synchronous learning experience. As a result, learners may switch off.

While recording the sessions and making them available on your LMS is a good safety net, this can still disrupt training programs (especially if the instructor is the one with the computer problems).

The reality is neither method of learning is 100% perfect. So you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons to determine if (and when) synchronous learning will work for your organization. 

If you’ve decided that the benefits make it all worth it, head over to the next section to find out how to implement a synchronous learning strategy in your organization.


How to implement a synchronous learning strategy

The thought of running synchronous learning sessions can be daunting. After all, there are tons of things to consider—from what content to deliver to which users and when—not to mention which technologies to use.

This is where a modern Learning Management System (LMS) can be your best friend.  

A flexible and scalable LMS will allow you to efficiently share knowledge with different audiences, like customers, partners, and employees. (Bonus points if it allows you to offer personalized learning experiences tailored to individuals’ needs.)

In addition to an LMS, you’ll also need a video conferencing system (such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, GoToMeeting, GoToTraining, etc.). Ideally, the two platforms should integrate seamlessly so that all your learning activities are part of a single ecosystem. 

This will bring learning into your enterprise tech stack and help your company to achieve its learning (and business) goals.

Author’s Tip: When it comes to synchronous and asynchronous learning methods, it’s not an either/or situation. You can pick and choose elements from each and combine them for a blended learning approach.  That way, learners get the best of both worlds. 


Wrapping up

And there you have it! Everything you need to know about synchronous learning. 

There’s a lot to consider when choosing the right learning mode for your organization. Most importantly, your learning strategy should align with your business goals, structure, budget, and training needs. And in many cases, this means blended synchronous and asynchronous learning.

An LMS with rich features will allow you to build a tailored blended approach that delivers the desired results. From scheduling synchronous sessions to delivering asynchronous online modules, you can automate, manage, and track all training activities in your company from one platform.

Ready to take your learning strategy to the next level? Explore our glossary for more insights.