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The spectrum between synchronous and asynchronous training

The current pandemic is essentially fast boarding the planet 10 years into the future with regard to the adoption of internet technology, whether we’re talking about online education, or all the types of businesses moving their activities remotely. The virus is definitely affecting all facets of the education industry in a profound way.

And after this crisis is over — because it eventually will be over — a lot of people will start to realize that we could really improve the way that we teach and learn.

Until then, everyone has to adapt to the realities of remote work, including those of training a remote workforce. L&D professionals are scrambling to transfer training online, as fast as possible, and as best as possible.

Read more: 3 Basic steps to take when transferring training online

While this can be a daunting task, the most important thing to always keep in mind when adapting any training activity for the online medium is quite simple: online learning doesn’t have to happen at the same time as online teaching.

The very first step to take when designing asynchronous training experiences for remote learners is to decide where exactly on the synchronous-asynchronous spectrum the new online training course needs to be.

The spectrum between synchronous and asynchronous training

Many people like to see the world through black and white, but most things happen in the grey area between black and white. The same is true with synchronous and asynchronous learning: it's not A or B; there's actually a spectrum in between.

Instructors can design many different training activities that belong to both sides, and create a training experience that is part synchronous and part asynchronous, to various degrees.

There are at least four different types of training on the synchronous to asynchronous spectrum:

  1. In-person synchronous

    This is probably the most basic one -- face-to-face training -- on one side of the spectrum. It's when the instructor gives a lecture or presentation to a number of learners, all being in the same room.

    There are quite a few benefits to engaging in this kind of training. The instructor gets to know the people, strike up strong relationships, and can even learn enough about the learners to use anecdotes that are tailored just for that particular audience.

    Read more: 4 Awesome tips for successful classroom training

    At the same time, this type of training also has a few side effects that aren't that great. For example, a lot of business training involves flying, but these days people can't fly into in-person training.

  2. Synchronous remote

    In-person synchronous training is the option people -- both trainers and learners -- are most comfortable with. But when a special situation, like the one caused by COVID-19, comes into the spotlight, forcing everyone to work remotely, the most natural and comfortable thing to do is to design synchronous training and perform it remotely.

    Read more: Working from home – good for both companies and employees

    Synchronous remote training is based on some sort of web conferencing technology. All the learners and the instructors use said technology to go through training materials, from their various remote locations, but at the same time.

    Unfortunately, there are many cases where that's not practical. People can't all follow an online educational program on high-performance internet all at the same time. There are still countless places around the world that don't have the best internet access, causing connectivity issues, which lead to poor learning performance.

  3. Pure asynchronous

    Pure asynchronous training is on the other side of the spectrum. It happens when an instructor puts together a set of learning modules that are going to be in an online training course. Learners can then enroll whenever they want, proceed at their own pace through all materials, and by the time they'll finish the course they’ll get some certificate of completion.

    Read more: Why L&D professionals should encourage Self-Directed Learning

    That is pure asynchronous because there is literally no synchronous interaction between the learners and the instructors. A lot of the massive online courses are like that. If you have 100,000 people taking a course, it's really hard for an instructor to have a one-on-one with any particular individual.

  4. The hybrid asynchronous model

    This approach is my personal favorite. It is asynchronous training primarily, but with a synchronous twist, just like a hybrid.

    For instance, an instructor designs a week’s worth of training modules, and learners can go through all of them at your own pace. However, some learners might run through the first three modules but stumble upon some really tough things that they don't completely understand. And if they don't get targeted help and support at this step, it's going to be that much harder for them when they get to the following, more advanced modules.

    The hybrid asynchronous model introduces a synchronous virtual meeting to solve this issue. Periodically, at a specific time set beforehand, instructors will hold a synchronous web conference call where learners can ask questions, share things between them, and make sure they each are on the right track.

So which one is best?

Of course, there is no perfect answer to this question. Each type of training on the synchronous to asynchronous spectrum can work best in one circumstance or another. But there is one thing that can really tip the balance, and that is the course audience.

For example, there are some learners who, maybe because of their culture or their age, really prefer the synchronous type, or favor the synchronous remote type in these particular days. Maybe they like doing some assignments offline but they mostly prefer the training experience that is most close to synchronous learning.

But there are also more sophisticated learners in your audience, who are very comfortable with using technology. Those kinds of people typically do quite well with asynchronous training. They actually like the idea that they don't have to do any training activity right away and they have a higher degree of agency over when they are going to focus on that. They really like the fact that they can learn when it's more convenient for them.

On the whole, I do think that the asynchronous hybrid model is probably going to be the most popular, as it's the most flexible type of remote training — and it's also more scalable. But you have to recognize there might be variants in your audience.

Read more: 4 Skills to teach employees to empower them to work remotely

Keep an eye on the Business Blog!

Deciding on where any new online course needs to be on the synchronous to asynchronous training spectrum is only the first step to take when designing an asynchronous training experience. Next time we’ll explore what options you have as a training instructor in terms of the types of asynchronous training you can create for your remote learners, and in a future blog, we’ll get a hands-on approach and learn more about specific techniques of asynchronous training. So stay tuned!