Asynchronous and synchronous online learning activities

In the education literature, a distinction is made between two types of online education: asynchronous and synchronous. Asynchronous online learning is independent of time and place, and flexible, so the learner can absorb the subject matter at their own pace. Synchronous online learning is immediate, simultaneous, live, and focused on direct social interaction. There are, of course, several key differences between synchronous online lectures and face-to-face sessions.

Some specific features of synchronous online education 

Synchronous online classes can take up more of your time and are also more intensive, both for students and for the lecturer. Online learning requires more structure and more support, in terms of practical organisation as well as the subject content.

Practical tips

How can you prepare students and yourself when organising an online class? 

Before the first lecture, it's best to inform students in detail about the way you'll be conducting the online lectures. This may include technical requirements that need to be checked before the session. You can also provide information in advance about what to do during the session.

A positive classroom climate: the sequel 

Even in synchronous online education it's possible to work on a positive classroom climate, for instance by using the camera to create a group feeling and to stimulate direct contact. If you can only teach synchronous online classes, you may not have the opportunity to connect with your students in an informal setting, like before or after class, or during breaks. Consider starting your sessions a few minutes early, so you can welcome your students informally. 

Things to keep in mind when striving for interactivity in an online environment

There are several ways to stimulate interaction during a live online lecture. The online context means that you'll have to pay extra attention to some things that we take for granted during face-to-face education on campus. For example, it will be necessary to communicate more explicitly about the approach and timing of certain activities. Also bear in mind that there are little to no non-verbal cues in an online context, which means you'll have to find other ways to give and receive feedback. The whole online interaction set-up can seem daunting to students, so be sure to reassure your students and to familiarise them with the forms of interaction you'll be using.