Teaching Modes: Synchronous & Asynchronous

When teaching remotely, instructors can employ two primary modes of instruction: synchronous and asynchronous. Instructors should plan to use a combination of both to best support student learning.

Synchronous Instruction

It is recommended that instructors and teaching teams consider what needs to be done synchronously to achieve learning goals and build a sense of community, and to decide what elements of student participation and learning can be achieved using tools and materials that can be accessed asynchronously.

Benefits include:

  • More opportunity for responsiveness and improvisation
  • More student contact
  • More real-time opportunities to dispel confusion or misunderstanding
  • More scheduled structure to support student learning

Drawbacks include:

  • Student technical/scheduling challenges
  • Student attention challenges
  • Unstable internet connections
  • Challenges of managing a real-time virtual classroom
  • Zoom fatigue
  • Live auto-captioning not currently supported unless there is a DRC-approved academic accommodation
  • Asking students to turn on camera presents challenges for privacy and equity
  • Virtual backgrounds not supported on many computers

When opting for real-time, synchronous learning, instructors should create alternatives for when students are unable to attend (such as recording the synchronous instruction).

Asynchronous Instruction

Instructors prepare instructional materials for students in advance of students’ access. Students may access the materials at a time of their choosing and interact with the materials and each other and complete activities over a longer period of time (e.g. with a deadline at the end of each week in the quarter). 

Benefits include:

  • More temporal flexibility for instructor and students (ex: students in different time zones)
  • Potential for more cognitive engagement since students often have more time with materials (especially pre-recorded lectures)
  • Enables holistic course planning (from beginning to end)
  • Increases personalization in learning environments as students can self-pace through material
  • Potential for greater integration and sharing of applied learning, such as fieldwork (photos, interviews, research) based assignments
  • More accessible for students with limited internet bandwidth

Drawbacks include:

  • Decreased real-time engagement
  • Increased potential for misunderstanding if there isn’t immediate feedback 
  • Increased need to communicate often with students by providing reminders, updates and announcements
  • More front-end work to plan and set up instructional tools
  • May require more flexibility with office hours and communication practices given that there will be fewer real-time interactions