Synchronous vs. asynchronous learning

Mary Farmer, a professor at the University of British Columbia with over twenty years of experience in remote learning, defines asynchronous learning as the following:

“Asynchronous [online] learning means not in real-time. That means that students are not, at least by planning, on the platform at the same time. The online platform that you will use for asynchronous learning is called a learning management system, and there are so many examples of these now.” (16:53)

The difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning

The flexibility described by Mary of asynchronous systems allows participants from any region around the world to undertake studies of their choice, creating a more multicultural online community and promoting inclusive learning in leading institutions such as UBC. 

“Synchronous is what we call brick and mortar learning,” Mary explains. “Synchronous learning can be via Zoom, but that would assume the course has been designed specifically for that medium, and it hasn’t.” (18:44) 

One of the issues Mary outlines with synchronous learning is the design of the course structure not being tailored for online learning infrastructures like Zoom. This is contrasted to asynchronous systems, where the courses are carefully designed specifically for remote learning.

A more equal playing field among introverts and extroverts

One of the difficulties in facilitating an efficient learning environment is the clash between extroverted and introverted learners. Often this clash revolves around the over-participation of extroverts and the non-participation of introverts. This can affect introverts’ capacity to learn efficiently. 

Mary describes asynchronous learning as an avenue of emancipating introverts from extrovert domination, as well as a way to teach extroverts important listening skills. Introverts are no longer burdened by loud extroverts taking up large chunks of the class and often interrupting others. Less obvious, however, are the benefits asynchronous learning may provide for extroverted learners. 

“Extroverts tend to listen to respond,” Mary says. “When you’re listening to respond, you’re not listening to hear or understand. If you’re reading, however, it’s a very different process for digesting that information.” (22:18)

Mary concludes, “Both benefit equally. An inclusive environment includes all.” (17:54)

Asynchronous learning and gender equality

Thankfully, governments, institutions, and companies are starting to address issues of sexism in society. While more obvious acts of sexism such as physical and verbal abuse can be addressed through policy and regulation, more subtle micro-aggressions often go unnoticed. 

Mary explains how asynchronous learning “offers a great deal of flexibility,” allowing busy working women to combine the various aspects of their lives (work, family, household duties, etc.). (09:18)

When it comes to the classroom, “male extroverts often dominate the conversation [in on-campus settings],” Mary claims. “While their views are also important, people often tune them out. The inclusion aspect works both ways. The extrovert gets heard, and the introvert can actually participate.” (09:32)

How asynchronous learning can help tackle socio-economic obstacles

As wealth inequalities between developed and developing nations are becoming a more topical and pressing debate, efforts must be made to bridge this divide. 

Asynchronous learning provides an avenue for participants in developing countries to study at leading institutions such as UBC, without the financial burden of travel and accommodation. No more expensive books, travel costs, babysitting, or other expenses that often result from traditional offline courses. 

Online learning levels the playing field between students with varying socio-economic backgrounds, allowing them to access the same resources, materials, and expertise no matter where they are located.

The perfect system for working professionals

“You can fit your studies around your other activities. You don’t have to stop everything to study,” Mary says, describing the benefits of asynchronous learning for working professionals seeking to improve their expertise without the burden of fixed time commitments. (24:01)

“In particular in the last year, it has been like a soul bath to be online, where no one can interrupt you, where you can just focus on that one thing. Just for a few hours,” she says. (24:22)

While you still have to meet important milestones each week, Mary describes the system as “almost endlessly flexible” – an obvious advantage for working professionals with time constraints.