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Make the Most of Asynchronous, Synchronous, and Blended Online Learning

The recent shift to remote work triggered a great online training migration as organizations moved to digitize in-person training. With the early results in, learning designers are going further to create native digital learning experiences that engage learners and drive business.

Newer approaches to learning design are taking advantage of recent advances in technology and learning theory and are forcing a rethink of the content, processes, and tools that make up online corporate training. Here we will consider how to make the best use of synchronous, asynchronous, and blended learning modalities to deliver training that shifts the paradigm of online learning from individual consumption to social participation to meet learners’ needs and deliver learning objectives.

Here are some definitions and how they can be best used:

Synchronous learning happens in real-time, at fixed times, in the same location, whether in-person or online.
Asynchronous learning can be done at any time, at the learner’s convenience, from any location.
Blended (also known as polysynchronous) learning uses a combination of asynchronous and synchronous online learning.

Synchronous Brings People Together
Synchronous learning, which is usually facilitated by video-conferencing online, lets learners come together in groups and interact in real-time with an instructor and with each other. When designed and delivered well, this type of learning can create social presence and enable conversational flow.

Good design considers learners’ needs and circumstances, so you’ll need to understand that you can’t just move in-person experiences from a classroom to a virtual room. Zoom fatigue, which results in cognitive overload and reduced engagement, can kick in. Furthermore, even the most compelling instructor may struggle to compete with the distractions that surround a learner working from their kitchen table.

Asynchronous Lets Learners Proceed at Their Own Pace but Also Collaborate
Asynchronous learning allows engagement with activities at a time and place that is most comfortable for the learner. Self-paced learning used to be associated with isolated experiences that target individuals. However, technology and best practices have evolved significantly so that designers can add structure, pacing, and collaboration to asynchronous learning.

Modern learning experience design can engage and support learners in ways that promote asynchronous inclusion and collaboration. Spacing learning over time can enable time reflection, practice, application, and feedback at the individual and group levels. Accountability can be promoted by using deadlines or having learners work in groups and cohorts. Collaboration is achieved through thoughtful discussions, team projects, and supportive facilitation.

By shifting some learning activities from synchronous to asynchronous, designers can activate more learning styles and preferences as learners have more time to process information and think about how they will apply learning to their jobs.

Blended Models Leverage the Best of Both
Since synchronous and asynchronous learning bring their own benefits, can they be used together? Absolutely! This is called a blended, or polysynchronous, approach, which gives learners thoughtfully designed, blended experiences. When skillfully combined in a cohesive way, the two modalities can complement and even amplify each other, especially for experiences that happen over time.

For example, starting a course with a synchronous call can set the stage for success by making learning expectations and goals clear for everyone. This can be followed by asynchronous learning, punctuated by periodic, synchronous check-ins, live Q&A sessions, or final presentations. Collaboration and engagement occur across the experience.

The key to success is a purposeful design process that considers learners’ needs as well as defined learning objectives. In addition to considering what you want learners to know and do and how you want to measure the learning, the right combination of synchronous and asynchronous can set your learners up for success and deliver the impact you want.

Design for Engagement and Impact
The sudden shift to online learning was disruptive but has created opportunities to make learning more engaging and impactful. Thoughtful design that effectively employs synchronous, asynchronous, and blended modalities can be just as rewarding and enriching for learners as in-person experiences, if not more so.

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