What is an Asynchronous Online Degree?
The Difference Between Synchronous and Asynchronous Learning
There are two types of online degrees: synchronous and asynchronous.
With synchronous learning, you log in at a dedicated time every day and watch lectures in real time as your professors lead their classes. This is called live streaming or teleconferencing. During a live lecture, you can ask questions, participate in discussions and have a learning experience not unlike the kind that you’d receive in a campus classroom. It just takes place virtually rather than in person.
The other kind of online degree is asynchronous. With an asynchronous degree, your professors post pre-recorded lectures or discussion slides on an online learning platform. You can access them at your leisure. Things like essays, quizzes, tests and homework assignments will be posted with due dates that you’re expected to meet on your own.
Depending on the professor, there might also be an interactive element to your asynchronous online classes. For example, you might be expected to participate in debates or discussions with classmates through chatrooms or online forums. “Asynchronous” doesn’t necessarily mean “isolated.”
Asynchronous learning can also be self-paced, meaning that assignments and exams don’t have deadlines beyond the end of the semester. This is a format that might be challenging for students who need structure to stay on-task, but it can be a boon to those with busy lifestyles who need to fit lessons into irregular schedules. It can also be convenient for students who want to either take their time with the material or quickly progress through it without having to wait for others to catch up.
Asynchronous learning and degree programs offer a number of benefits over synchronous programs. However, synchronous programs tend to be more common since they’re the format that many early online programs followed. If you’re interested in an online degree, you’ll need to think carefully about which type of learning will best suit your unique needs.
Parts of an Asynchronous Program
While every degree program is different, there are a few common elements to asynchronous courses and how they work.
When you sign up for one of these classes, for example, you typically start out with a short and simple introductory phase. This gives you the chance to tell your teacher more about you, learn what the teacher expects from you over the course of the program and interact with some of your classmates.
As for the work, the teacher will usually post the syllabus online to show you when assignments are due, what readings you need to do each week and any work you will do too. Some courses might require that you answer an essay question based on the week’s readings and that you post responses and comments on the answers posted by other students.
In a self-paced asynchronous class, you’ll be given access to all of the course materials at once, so you can read ahead or start working on assignments and tests right away. In a structured asynchronous class, you’ll move at the pace determined by your professor, which might involve the completion of different “sections” or “modules” before you advance to the next one. Depending on the teacher, you might be given the option of logging in and doing coursework prior to the deadline, or you might be given short windows for taking tests or submitting homework.
The Role of Teachers in Asynchronous Classes
One of the most common questions about asynchronous classes is the role that teachers play in them. Without the back-and-forth of a traditional classroom, how can teachers be sure that their students are really learning, and how can students be sure that they’re fully engaging with the material and absorbing what they need to know for their degree?
The short answer is that teachers leading asynchronous online classes can take on a few different roles every semester. They often have a “jack of all trades” approach to their classes and wear many hats for their students.
For starters, they’re curriculum designers and developers because they are responsible for deciding what materials to teach, sourcing external information for students, and creating tests, quizzes and other assignments. They’re also coordinators for communication since online professors must form connections with their students and ensure that those students can reach them online and offline.
The role of an online teacher is also one of a facilitator because they must ensure that students understand the materials presented to them and that they develop the skills needed to pass that course.
Last but not least, asynchronous professors are still professors. They’re educators. The virtual nature of their classroom doesn’t change the fact that they’re teaching a subject, engaging with students, evaluating academic progress and completing the daily minutiae of being an instructor.
Online Platforms for Asynchronous Classes
There are a number of online learning platforms for online degrees. Some are modeled after real classrooms while others take advantage of flexibility and technology to create new, cutting-edge educational portals. Both types of platforms are called a learning management system (LMS).
Here are a few of the most common names in LMS software:
- Canvas: Popular with universities, Canvas allows students to juggle multiple courses through independent, self-contained units that are controlled by the instructor. They can switch between courses at will, but they can also compare grades and access cumulative information about their overall progress in the semester.
- Moodle: Moodle is an open-source learning platform that allows instructors a large amount of control over their teaching spaces. This opens the door for customized classes that can integrate different learning styles and utilize different types of media.
- Blackboard: With a huge number of features, Blackboard is used for both business and academic purposes, so it’s a big name in online learning and training. It also offers the infrastructure for things like large-scale videoconferencing for bigger classes and conferences.
- D2L Brightspace: D2L Brightspace is another LMS that’s popular with universities. It offers a central portal for both students and teachers to access their materials as well as individual modules for particular classes.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of learning management systems; there are many more, and your school might use something different. You might also have professors that reject these platforms and instead make use of things like Zoom, Skype, Google Drive and even YouTube.
Benefits of Asynchronous Learning
There are many advantages to asynchronous learning, and they can be quite the draw to students who are unable or unwilling to take classes on a traditional college campus.
The biggest benefit is convenience. Asynchronous classes can be completed from the comfort of your own home, and since all of the lessons and lectures are pre-recorded, you don’t even have to dress up for a live stream. You’ll also reap all of the benefits of online classes in general, including the time and money saved from not having to commute to your classes every day.
Another possible benefit of an asynchronous online degree, according to U.S. News and World Report author Devon Haynie, is that students can take these courses when they have time. Instead of feeling forced to follow a set schedule, they can work before or after work and around all the other commitments they have. This freedom can be especially useful for working adults and other non-traditional students who are already juggling multiple responsibilities outside of school. Asynchronous classes might be the only way that they’re able to fit a college education into their lives.
Asynchronous online classes also emphasize the importance of interacting with peers. To compensate for the fact that they’re online, they often have interactive elements that ensure engagement and communication with classmates. This is especially common in programs with a large number of international students or other long-distance learners. Even though you might live on opposite sides of the world, you’ll have the chance to read what your classmates think and find out how their own experiences influenced their methods of thinking.
Finally, asynchronous degree programs emphasize something called learner control. This is when students are allowed to manage their own schedules, set their own priorities and basically take charge of their own coursework and overall education. Asynchronous learning can build many useful skills in the realms of organization, communication and time management. It’s also helpful for the ability to find, access and mine resources for relevant data. These skills can help students not only pass their college courses but also succeed in the real world when they enter the workforce.
Potential Problems With Asynchronous Learning
While there are many advantages to asynchronous learning, there are also drawbacks, and these cons should be considered just as carefully as the pros.
One of the most common issues with online learning is the isolation of the student from professors and classmates. This might be a real concern or just a perceived one. A good professor will foster engagement with their students regardless of whether they’re teaching online or in person, and they’ll encourage communication and cooperation between classmates through things like chats, comments, workbook annotations and discussion forums.
Another potential problem associated with asynchronous online learning is that it sometimes gives students too much freedom. Especially if you’re a busy person with responsibilities outside of school, you might find yourself putting off work and other assignments because you know that you have more time to complete that work. There’s nothing wrong with being a student that requires a structured environment to stay focused, but that’s something that you need to know and recognize about yourself before you enroll in an asynchronous class where you’ll be expected to take responsibility for things that are usually a teacher’s job.
Asynchronous programs also require that students have access to the Internet and a computer or similar device. If your Internet goes down because of a storm or a power outage, you might lose points on assignments and even drop a letter grade because you could not complete your work.
Asynchronous online classes can offer many benefits to students, but they aren’t a “one size fits all” solution to the challenges of modern education. Like any other type of class, there are some learners who will thrive within their environment, and there are some learners who would be better off in a different kind of class.
In-Person Requirements for Online Classes
A little-known fact about online classes is that some of them have in-person requirements. This is especially common in fields like teaching and nursing, but it can be part of any online program, including asynchronous ones.
Some classes will require you to complete practicums outside of traditional school hours. For example, you might have to do clinical rounds for a medical or psychology degree, or you might have to fulfill student teaching hours for an education degree. In these cases, you can usually satisfy your obligations locally and submit proof of completion to your professors. You might have to get pre-approval for certain locations or agree to work under the supervision of someone affiliated with the school.
Another thing to consider is testing. While some online programs will allow you to take online exams, others will want you to visit an in-person testing site for a proctored exam. Again, you can usually do this locally, but it will require coordination with your school and approval of various places and people.
Before you enroll in an online degree program, including an asynchronous one, make sure that you understand all of its requirements.
Asynchronous online learning is a good option for those who can stick to deadlines and complete work without a teacher standing over their shoulders. An asynchronous online degree lets you earn a college degree while working from home and logging into the dedicated system to complete work and interact with others a few times a week. It’s also a chance for working professionals, long-distance learners and other non-traditional students to fit a college education into their lives despite busy schedules or remote locations. There are many benefits to asynchronous online degrees for the right type of student.