The traditional picture of a training session has long gone. Employees aren’t necessarily packed in a meeting room while an instructor is going through some slides. Now, most companies rely on asynchronous learning for their teams.
Those companies that hadn’t already adopted virtual training were forced to do so after the pandemic outbreak. Regardless of industry, most companies have chosen to switch to online training to ensure their employees keep up with the information and skills they need to excel at their work.
However, not all online training is the same, and one of the key differences is whether it involves synchronous or asynchronous learning. Choosing a particular learning style for your employees largely depends on their needs and the desired outcome. In order to evaluate which option is better, we must first understand two key things: What asynchronous learning is and what the differences between synchronous and asynchronous learning are.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous learning: What are they and what’s the difference?
Synchronous learning refers to any learning environment —physical or virtual — where everyone participates at the same time (even if from different locations). Instructors conduct the session with all participants present, and learners can ask any questions they have immediately, and get a response. Some examples of synchronous learning in the online space include live webinars, web conferences, and virtual chat-based training sessions.
On the other hand, asynchronous learning is most characterized by the fact that learners and instructors do not need to participate or be online at the same time. Learners go through the course according to their own preferences and convenience, and may or may not have access to an instructor to clarify their doubts. Coursework that is delivered via email or an online portal, pre-recorded instructional videos, and forums or discussion boards are examples of asynchronous learning.
Where synchronous and asynchronous learning differ is in the ability of learners to communicate instantly and directly in real-time with their course instructors and other participants. With the pandemic necessitating a shift to remote training for most companies, asynchronous learning is becoming a more prevalent and popular choice in the training and development industry.
So what are the key benefits that learners and companies enjoy when adopting asynchronous training?
Benefits of asynchronous learning
One of the main benefits of asynchronous learning is the flexibility that learners get. Learners don’t have to attend training sessions in real-time, so they can choose when, where, and how they go through the course or material. Nowadays, where most people are dealing with working from home and juggling childcare, homeschooling, and other responsibilities, asynchronous training allows the flexibility for people to learn on their own time.
Promotes a learner-centered approach
Asynchronous training is more often learner-centered than instructor-centered. By allowing learners to work at their own pace, asynchronous learning caters more to individual needs. Learners can spend more time on topics that are challenging to them, or take a deeper look at material that piques their interest, instead of having to work at a pace dictated by an instructor or their peers.
Reduces training costs
From a budget standpoint, asynchronous training sessions tend to be more cost-effective than synchronous training sessions. Not only are travel costs eliminated, but asynchronous training courses are more easily distributed to teams across different locations and time zones, without additional expense.
Asynchronous training programs usually live on online platforms. This means that people can access them whenever they need to. Companies with large teams or at high growth don’t have to repeat training sessions when a new team member joins or when new training needs arise. Asynchronous learning ensures that everyone is on the same page and has access to the same training resources.
Allows for a wide range of training material
A huge benefit of adopting asynchronous training is the access to a larger pool of training courses and content. No longer are options limited to instructors offering sessions within certain time zones, or who are in the local vicinity. The options are endless with asynchronous training, and having access to such a variety of choices can help ensure that the selected training program is the most useful and beneficial, instead of just being the only one available.
Potential challenges of asynchronous training
As with any other eLearning strategy, asynchronous training is not without its challenges. Here are some of the most common obstacles to learner success when using asynchronous training methods.
Limited feedback and two-way communication
A key point to consider in asynchronous training is the limited feedback and communication with the instructors and other participants. While learners may contact instructors via email or other platforms, unlike in synchronous learning, they don’t have real-time communication.
This can be challenging for learners tackling particularly difficult or complicated concepts, or for people who benefit from more guidance in their learning. Makes sure to offer opportunities for regular feedback to help learners overcome any issues they face during training.
Lack of motivation
While flexibility is what makes asynchronous learning appealing, it can also be a challenge for some learners. For people who work well with structure and routine, being able to choose their own timeline to complete tasks within an asynchronous learning platform can result in lower motivation, higher levels of distraction, or procrastination. If the material is also not particularly engaging, learners may also struggle with boredom and fail to engage.
Feelings of isolation
The months of being in lockdown and physical distancing have induced feelings of isolation in many of us, and asynchronous training can add to that. When learners have to work through training courses by themselves, they may feel isolated and disconnected from the material they are learning because of the lack of interaction with the instructors and fellow participants in the course.
Overcoming the challenges and reap the benefits of asynchronous learning
There is no doubt that asynchronous learning offers a multitude of benefits, but you need to take some steps to set your learners up for success.
First off, consider adopting a blended learning approach. In other words, combine synchronous and asynchronous training delivery methods to get the best of both worlds. This way, you’ll cater to the needs of a diverse workforce with unique learning styles and preferences.
Also, ensure that your training program doesn’t miss out on any opportunities for interaction among learners and instructors. For example, have small group discussions about the material covered, implement a buddy system for tips and assistance, and host live Q&A sessions with the instructor and the participants. This way, you’ll be able to address the challenges participants may face as a part of an asynchronous training program, and combat any feelings of isolation or disengagement.
Ultimately, each employee, each team, and each company is different and what works best for one organization may not be the best option for another. By experimenting with different training methods, both synchronous and asynchronous, and even using them in tandem, you’ll be able to find out what works and what does not, to ensure they set their employees up for success.