November 17, 2021

Fostering Connection and Camaraderie with Synchronous Online Learning

The pandemic accelerated online learning for many institutions. Educators and students alike quickly shifted from in-person learning to online classrooms that often blended synchronous and asynchronous learning within a single course. 

But as we start to emerge from the pandemic, institutions are looking for ways to grow their online learning programs. Why? Because that’s what students want. Earlier this year, Inside Higher Ed released data that shows “the majority of students, 73 percent, “somewhat” or “strongly” (46 percent) agreed that they would like to take some fully online courses in the future.”

But as online learning continues to grow, educators debate which is better: synchronous or asynchronous learning. This debate isn’t new and there are certainly benefits to both ways of learning. But while the virtues of asynchronous learning received a lot of attention during the pandemic while students balanced school, work, and personal demands, there are benefits to synchronous learning that we should not overlook.

First, synchronous learning fosters collaboration and camaraderie among students. And students want to feel this human connection. In a survey of over 4,700 undergraduate students across 95 countries, 84% preferred synchronous learning over asynchronous learning because of its “immersive and social qualities.” Despite being online, students still want to feel a sense of connection and belonging when they are all in the virtual room together. Through synchronous learning, they feel more connected to their classmates and can better engage and interact on the topic at hand.

Second, synchronous learning equals active learning. When students engage in active learning, they no longer passively receive information from an expert. Instead, they are engaged in dialogue and activities with their instructor and other students. In active learning, students may lead discussions that unfold organically with large or small groups. Or deliver live presentations to their class where they share or defend a point of view. Active learning also brings the instructor to the center of the virtual room, allowing for more visual and conversational engagement.   Regardless of the form it takes, active, synchronous learning engages students in a way that’s different from asynchronous learning because everyone is together at the same time. It’s more personal, as you are interacting with peers and instructors in real-time vs. posting to a discussion or commenting on a post at a time that’s convenient for you. And it helps to foster an environment of engagement that feels safe. An environment where all students, even those who are more reserved, can actively participate in a way that feels right for them.

Finally, synchronous learning provides students with immediate feedback from their instructor. If they don’t understand a point, they can ask. And unlike asynchronous learning, they receive an immediate answer or an example that resonates with them. This feedback and input helps to enhance their understanding of the topic and apply their learnings. You can also encourage instructors to hold live office hours a few different times during the week. That way, students have an opportunity to engage one-on-one with their instructor, which not only gives them the ability to receive immediate feedback but also helps to foster personal connection as well. 

Synchronous learning also helps students build stronger bonds with their institution, helping them to feel happier and more confident. And, it helps them to experience more value from their educational experience.  

When employing synchronous learning in your online classrooms, it’s important that you provide instructors and students with tools that can help enrich the active learning experience. For example, having a video platform that honors the human presence of teachers and learners in virtual environments is critical. 

InSpace is a video conferencing platform built by educators, for educators. It helps teachers transform virtual learning environments by growing student engagement with a research-informed design that enables free movement around the screen, authentic small group conversations, visually-connected breakout rooms, and effective virtual collaboration tools.

As online learning continues to grow and flourish, it’s important that your institution assess a blend of synchronous and asynchronous learning that’s right for your students and your classroom. Consider their need for community and camaraderie. Assess their levels of engagement. And determine if they are receiving the timely feedback they need to stay on track. And of course, make sure your technology provides the support you need to cultivate highly-engaging learning experiences.