Best tools for synchronous and asynchronous language teaching

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Synchronous and asynchronous teaching are different approaches in managing distance teaching. Each has its advantages, both for teachers and learners. In this post we explore some useful tools that language teachers can use for synchronous and asynchronous teaching.

We also explain how our Sanako Connect digital language teaching platform combines the strengths of synchronous and asynchronous learning to provide a complete language teaching hub for schools and universities.


Synchronous language teaching

Many teachers and pupils had to familiarize themselves with synchronous remote learning during the hard months of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a synchronous remote learning session, teachers and students interact simultaneously in a digital environment such as a video conferencing platform or a live chat.

The working schedule of synchronous learning much resembles the one with which we are familiar with face-to-face teaching at school. Students have to attend classes virtually every week, logging in at the same time with their classmates and the teacher.

In this context, the lesson is usually set up as a slideshow presentation in which the teacher uses visual aids to supplement the explanations. Students can intervene by asking questions and writing comments in the chat.

There are many advantages of the synchronous approach to remote learningIn fact, synchronous learning allows for teacher-student live interaction. Through live communication, the physical distance between the different members of the class is not that big of problem.

From the point of view of the student-teacher relationship, this element translates into the possibility of actively engaging learners during the activities and providing them with timely feedback. 


Tools that support synchronous remote teaching

Synchronous learning is supported by several digital communication media, many of which have become part of our business and personal everyday life. Among them, there are: 

  • Web conferencing platforms that allow both for one-to-one conversations as well as for group chat. Cisco WebEx®, Microsoft Teams®, Google Meet®, Zoom®, and Skype for Business® fall into this category. Web conferencing tools grant a relevant degree of personal interaction and enable teachers to easily reach out to their pupils. Moreover, these instruments are useful for experimenting with different educational content (audio, video, images). As a result, the frontal lesson becomes more interactive and adapts to different types of learning styles.
  • Live chat and instant messaging tools such as Teams® and Slack®. Through these tools, the flow of communication within the classroom is particularly easy, though not necessarily orderly. The main advantage is that every kind of didactic material can be quickly communicated by the teacher to the students.


Asynchronous language teaching

In asynchronous learning, the setting does not change. Educational activities are still carried out within a digital environment. However, this approach does not require the student and the teacher to be present at the same moment.

Asynchronous learning has been defined as a “just-in-time, on-demand student learning experience”.

Compared to synchronous learning, this approach is characterized by a higher level of flexibility and customization of the working schedule. The teaching material is always available to the students who can use it whenever they want, focusing on the type of exercise they prefer.

The course is usually divided into modules that must be completed within a certain time limit. However, the student can dictate the pace of the learning process within the set timeframe. 


Tools that support asynchronous language teaching

Like synchronous learning, the asynchronous approach uses internet-driven communication tools. In this case, however, communication and interaction do not occur in real-time but are mediated through each student’s schedule. 

As a consequence, in asynchronous learning, the focus is not on the connection between educators and pupils. Rather, it is on the interaction between the learner and the didactic content.

Therefore, among the main tools that support this type of method are platforms that allow deferred interaction. Among them, there are:

  • Discussion boards, such as interactive whiteboards. A popular example may be Google Jamboard®, a platform in which classmates (as well as team members) can share ideas and work on group projects.
  • Blogs that share articles, analysis, and other didactic content on a specific subject. Nowadays experts from almost every industry resort to blogs to exchange information and reflect on major trends in their field of expertise. Education is no exception. Teachers use blogs as powerful knowledge-sharing tools, by using them to collect and share resources with learners.
  • Social media such as mainstream Google® Groups, Facebook® groups, etc are dynamic instruments that allow for the creation of didactic toolkits that can be downloaded at any time.
  • Learning management systems (LMS), such as Google Classroom®, Canvas® LMS, and Moodle®. These apps and software are used to plan and assess a specific training program. Therefore, LMS is not only instant content delivery instruments that provide students with e-learning material, but also project management platforms that support the instructor in organizing and tracking didactic activities. 


How Sanako Connect mixes the best parts of synchronous and asynchronous learning?

Most of the above mentioned platforms are a powerful enabler of distance language teaching and learning but do not allow for blending the benefits of synchronous and asynchronous learning. When setting up a distance teaching program, educators are often confronted with a choice between one of these approaches. This means that teachers can exploit the potential of synchronous and asynchronous but, at the same time, they must also endure their limitations.

Hence, in a synchronous setting, a teacher will have to deal with the shortcomings arising from technological infrastructures that are not always efficient, as well as the risk of students becoming distracted while hiding behind the screen. 

On the other hand, an asynchronous scenario will strain students’ ability to feel involved in classroom dynamics. Technology is a powerful enabler of learning processes, but cannot work alone without the support of a quality school environment. In other words, asynchronous settings risk making students feel isolated and unmotivated.

Sanako Connect is a language teaching software designed to develop all possible modes of interaction between students and learners within a digital learning environment. The product has been specifically built for a hybrid language learning approach, which alternates teacher-guided lessons with autonomous training sessions. So, how does Connect allow for mixing the synchronous approach to language teaching with the asynchronous one? Teachers can choose either to lead the class in real-time (synchronous) or set up a session for self-paced learning (asynchronous).

Sanako Connect combines the key elements of the synchronous and asynchronous approaches:

  • The platform is very flexible: in Sanako Connect, the teacher always has a central role in selecting instructional materials and defining learning activities, and Connect can be used to deliver the most used and effective language teaching methodologies like Task-Based Language Teaching or CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). This means that the same solution can be used by different teachers from the same educational institution even if they have very different likings and needs – and regardless if they prefer synchronous or asynchronous teaching delivery.
  • Student-centered: through pairing and grouping students, Connect encourages students to be actively involved and responsible for their language education. They are not just passive recipients in the learning process. They can also be active participants. At the same time, however, Connect is built around the teacher’s supervision and feedback. In this way, also the asynchronous approach maintains a high level of effectiveness, reducing the risk of student disinterest. 
  • Interaction-based: Connect’s digital environment is built on communication between students and teachers, whether it is in real-time or deferred. In addition to it, Connect places a great emphasis on developing speaking skills. Students are encouraged to speak, even in groups. This helps not only to train a crucial language skill but also to create a point of contact between the digital classroom and the classroom group. 
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