Synchronous online learning vs. Asynchronous online learning

Illustration image referring to online education

One of the priorities at the moment for language education professionals is to learn how to navigate the varied and complex world of distance and online education. At the same time, teachers are investigating the potential of integrating language teaching software applications in teaching.

As a language teacher you are likely to be overwhelmed by different remote teaching tools, articles, research, and analysis on online teaching. This is exactly the reason why we wanted to write this post and help you to make some order, starting from two basic teaching methods through which to organize your online language lessons better: synchronous online learning and asynchronous online learning.


What is synchronous online learning?

Synchronous online learning is a model of remote education that takes place in real time. This means that, in this context, the teacher and the students are simultaneously present during the online lesson and the students complete their language learning activities by following teacher’s real time instructions.

The interactions between students and teachers take place in the chosen virtual space, such as a teleconferencing platform, online language teaching platform, or a live chat for example. Using a dedicated virtual classroom software, the teacher can communicate in real time using audio, video, and chat.

*Check out also our dedicated post about virtual classroom software from this link: “What is a virtual classroom and how it supports language teachers?


Pros of synchronous online learning in language education

The main advantages of synchronous online learning undoubtedly concern the dimension of personal interactions. Through this method, it is possible to recreate even in a virtual space, the similar interaction between teachers and students that would take place in the traditional physical classroom or language lab.

Therefore, the synchronous language teaching method allows for better classroom management and creates real time feedback loop between the teacher and students.


synchronous online teaching image


From the point of view of the student–teacher relationship, this element translates into the possibility of actively engaging students during the learning activities. Live videoconferencing allows the exchange of opinions and feedback in real time.

This type of real time interaction, as has been observed by some studies, is particularly useful when it comes to language learning, since live interaction with peers and teachers contributes significantly to making the learner feel part of a language community.

Another dynamic that finds place in this method is community building. This element derives directly from the first one. Synchronous online learning allows you to work on different lesson formats. They can be traditional face-to-face lectures, workshops or speaking club formats.

The common feature of these formats is that it is always possible to provide a face-to-face dialogue between students and between them and the teacher. As teachers, always keep this possibility in mind to strengthen the bond with the class and between students.


Disadvantages of synchronous online learning in language education

Live streaming lessons involve several problems, both technical and didactic in nature. As far as technical problems are concerned, it is necessary that teachers and students have adequate technological support and a stable and secure internet connection. If one of these elements is not present, connectivity problems may arise that make the lesson difficult to follow.

From a didactic point of view, synchronous online learning requires to plan very well the didactic activities to avoid the so-called video call fatigue phenomenon.

It is therefore necessary to prepare “agile” lessons, not too long and with breaks to interact or to rest. While this lesson model allows you to maintain a high level of interaction with the class, on the other hand it may take time away from the necessary explanation of theoretical topics, such as grammar.


So, what is asynchronous online learning then?

Asynchronous online language learning is a method in which students and teachers do not interact simultaneously. Nevertheless, even in this case, communication between students and teachers remains central, although it takes place on a deferred basis (e.g. via email or other text-based methods).


What are the advantages of asynchronous online learning?

This method stimulates student to take responsibility of their learning methods and outcomes, training them to practically apply the notions learned during the lesson. In this case, students have the opportunity to work autonomously. Consequently, it is also possible for them to establish a path of self-paced learning, while relying on the remote support of the teacher.

Essentially, the great advantage of asynchronous online language learning is that it enables better development of an individualized and flexible learning path.


illustration about pros and cons of asynchronous online learning


Disadvantages of asynchronous online learning?

Working independently allows the student to proceed according to their own learning style, but also involves the risk of excessive isolation. The lack of real time human interaction is an element that can have negative effects on the learning process.

Therefore, it is necessary to plan well an asynchronous learning path, to avoid that the student’s experience is defined only within the boundaries of a self-guided environment. Setting up and designing the individualized learning paths and populating the learning environment with suitable learning materials is time consuming for the teacher.

It is also necessary to be able to assess whether this method adapts to the needs of all students. Recently, for example, there has been a growing awareness that an asynchronous learning plan should be designed in a way that makes it as inclusive as possible, especially not to disadvantage students with special educational needs.


Check out also our list of software tools that we recommend for language teachers for synchronous and asynchronous teaching.


Resources used in this article:

D. Anthony, M. Thomas, Asynchronous Learning or Live Lessons? Which One Works Better for Me?, in Edsurge

N. S. Chen, Online Synchronous Language Learning: SLMS over the Internet, in Innovate. Journal of Online Education, 20144

H. A. Gallagher, B. Cottingham, Teachers, Live Screen Time Is Precious. Use It Well, in Education Week

National Center on Accessible Education Materials, Designing for Accessibility with POUR

C. Pappas, Asynchronous Learning Advantages And Disadvantages In Corporate Training, in eLearning Industry

Z. Gu, Technology in Language Teaching Today, in Sanako Language Ambassadors

Ispring, Synchronous Learning Simply Put: Definition, Benefits & Tools

S. Noonoo, Is Learning on Zoom the Same as in Person? Not to your Brain, in Edsurge

The Best School, Synchronous Learning vs. Asynchronous Learning in Online Education