Asynchronous vs. synchronous online learning

Online learning comes in two different “flavors,” which have to do with how and when students are expected to interact with the course materials.

Asynchronous online learning

In an asynchronous online course, course materials (lectures, readings, discussion forums, assessments, etc.) are prepared in advance and are made available for students to access and engage with on their own schedules. Asynchronous courses do not include set meeting times. You may have heard this sort of online class referred to as “traditional online.”

Synchronous online learning

The alternative to asynchronous online courses are synchronous online courses, in which the instructor and students are online at the same time. Course material is delivered and discussions occur in real time, using web conferencing (e.g., Zoom) or similar technology. Students can ask questions, take tests, or participate in discussions online while the instructor is available to assist them. You may have heard this sort of online class referred to as “web live.”

What about classes that are a mix of the two?

Say you have a class that is mostly asynchronous, but you have six required class sessions that students must be online for at a specific time. This would be classified as a synchronous class. A class that has any required time that a student must be online at a set time is considered synchronous, no matter how few times meetings are required. A caveat to this would be asynchronous courses that have optional live meeting times (e.g., study sessions); since the meetings are optional and students may opt out if they want, the course is not considered synchronous.

Or, what if you want to teach a synchronous class, but would prefer to make lectures available as videos prior to the required Zoom meeting times, freeing up in-class time for active learning and discussion? This would still be considered a synchronous class, since students are still required to be in class at a specific time.

If you are unsure which designation your class should be, reach out to the Office of Digital Learning (