One of the biggest benefits of eLearning is the flexibility it offers, learners anywhere around the world can all become a part of the same course and learning community. With all of this flexibility and the ability to cater to each learner’s preferred learning style, most eLearning course strategies are divided into what is known as synchronous and asynchronous learning categories. While the best strategy for each individual student depends on their preferred learning method, both of these strategies have their strengths and weaknesses. The most successful eLearning courses create a combination that incorporates the use of both synchronous and asynchronous learning methods.
What is Synchronous eLearning?
Synchronous learning, in online courses, refers to any learning environment where everyone participates at the same time (even if from different locations). A good example of synchronous learning in a traditional classroom is lectures, where everyone is face-to-face at the same place and time. Thanks to the numerous advancements in technology, online education now offers many options for incorporating synchronous learning into online eLearning courses. These options are mainly in the form of tools and features which allow elearning course designers to construct learning environments where everyone, teachers and students, can take part at the same time.
Synchronous learning in eLearning courses allows for the free exchange of information between learners and instructors in real-time. It also helps alleviate many of the feelings of isolation faced by learners in online courses. Although, the drawback is that since it takes place in real-time, learners in different time zones or who have busy schedules may have difficulty in readjusting their schedules in order to participate.
Which LMS Features are the Most Important for Supporting Synchronous eLearning?
Many of the most successful eLearning courses incorporate the use of both synchronous and asynchronous elearning methods, however, there are certain LMS features which are more important than others when it comes to supporting synchronous e-learning.
Here are the most important LMS features for supporting synchronous eLearning:
1. Video Conferences
Bringing video, audio and multiple people/places together at one time, video conferencing is the pinnacle of synchronous eLearning. Despite their location, people from all over the world can be brought together where they can both hear and see each other in real time. Being able to have conferences, webinars, lectures and discussions with the use of video conferencing tools built into your LMS system allows course designers to facilitate synchronous eLearning and reap the benefits thereof.
Aside from the basics of bringing multiple people together with video and audio, video conferencing and LMS systems often have additional features such as the ability to share desktop screens (or screenshots), a shared whiteboard, chat and more. These features make it possible for course instructors to provide lectures followed by class discussions, have subject-based class discussions, and set the basis for the multidirectional sharing of information. The uses for videoconferencing in eLearning are limited only to the course instructor’s imagination.
2. Chat & Instant Messaging
While chat and instant messaging programs have been around for some time, their use in synchronous eLearning environments offers many benefits. Unlike videoconferencing, chat and instant messaging doesn’t necessarily require a computer with a broadband connection, since it can easily be integrated as a smartphone app. This makes it easier than ever to ensure that the maximum amount of learners are able to participate, despite their location or time zone.
Chat and instant messaging offers many of the same capabilities as videoconferencing, such as being able to have real-time discussions, sharing a whiteboard, sharing documents and files, and more. Having chat and instant messaging integrated with your LMS system allows you to bring everyone in the e-learning course together at one time. This instantaneous communication facilitates the multidirectional, free exchange of information between learners and the course instructor, and promotes a sense of group identity. By promoting the feeling of inclusion and the learners’ identity as a group, learners do not feel as isolated and alone as they would in an asynchronous learning environment. It also allows the course instructor to actively gauge the participation of each learner in the course.
While whiteboards are commonly integrated with instant messaging, chat and conferencing, they are also equally effective in their own right. They allow students and learners to actively participate in the learning process, and demonstrate and expand their comprehension of the subject at hand. Whiteboards allow learners to demonstrate their understanding of the subject, as well as modify and expand that understanding, under the direction of the course instructor and their peers.
Whiteboarding in a traditional classroom setting has proven a very effective tool in the learning process, and the same is true for virtual eLearning whiteboards. Whiteboards allow all the participants to make changes to the graphic/image/drawing (many times using different colors for each participant), which are seen almost instantly. This type of collaborative learning is one of the best methods for creating a synchronous eLearning environment.
Ensuring that your LMS has the appropriate features to promote and support synchronous learning is one of the first steps to ensuring that your eLearning course will be successful. Since one of the biggest drawbacks of online and distance learning is the feeling of isolation faced by learners, incorporating synchronous learning into your online course can eliminate these feelings and help to create a group identity for all of the participants involved.
While synchronous learning alone may not be the best choice for an elearning course, creating a course that incorporates both synchronous and asynchronous learning features allows course designers to ensure that they are not only meeting the needs of the learners as individuals, but as a group as well. Promoting a group identity with group learning activities, helps to overcome many of the barriers faced by distance learning and eLearning courses. With a healthy combination of individual and group learning activities, you can ensure that your eLearning course is as effective and successful as possible.