What is Asynchronous Learning?

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A student reviews coursework on laptop computerWhen you’re in a classroom with other students and an instructor, you’re participating in synchronous learning. In other words, you’re going over course materials and completing assignments at the same time as everyone else. The easiest way to remember what “synchronous” means is to think of it as the learning style in which everything happens in sync.


In contrast, asynchronous learning involves students working mostly at their own pace. The asynchronous style is most prevalent with online and distance learning programs, although some these programs utilize synchronous components such as video conferences and lecture broadcasts, too. By combining the two modalities, online programs like Healthcare Master of Business Administration (HCMBA) at the George Washington University (GW) can meet a wide range of student needs and preferences en route to providing a comprehensive education.

The Benefits of Asynchronous Learning in Online Classes

The asynchronous model is all about flexibility. Don’t let the unusual terminology throw you off – you likely already perform many asynchronous activities every day, from sending an email or actual mail to waiting for someone to respond to your text.

In the context of online learning, asynchronicity means not needing to be logged on at the same time as everyone else. You can complete all the review exercises to reach a unit checkpoint, post to a message board, or watch a video, regardless of the time of day or if anyone else is doing the same.

Online students benefit from being able to set their own schedules for asynchronous activities. Instead of showing up to a specific classroom at a designated time, they can sign into a web portal or mobile application whenever they want and begin working. That also means no commuting within 100 percent online programs like the GW HCMBA.

Many online students work completely from home, or from public spaces like libraries or cafes with reasonably fast Wi-Fi connections. Any device with an internet connection is usable within an asynchronously-formatted program, since what matters is the student’s ability to complete the work by the specified deadlines (if applicable), not to show up at a particular place or join a call at a certain time.

Asynchronous Vs. Synchronous Learning, With Examples

Discussion boards, contained with a content management system (CMS; alternatively, LMS, for learning management system) have long been staples of online learning, and remain one of its quintessential activities. They enable students to exchange thoughts on assigned readings or other course materials, while posting at times of their choosing. Group messaging provides a similar setup, albeit one that’s more immediate since it can be real-time if both participants are active simultaneously, similar to a text message conversation.

In the past, many asynchronous programs leveraged course resources stored on DVDs and CDs. While these media formats are still used, the growth of cloud computing and broadband internet has meant that students now often have the option to download materials directly or access them via shared folders and drives. Everything necessary for completing the course is usually available within the CMS/LMS, but it’s up to the student to set a sustainable pace and ensure each project gets the attention it deserves.

Synchronous learning differs from asynchronous learning most in structure, rather than content. A course with a synchronous format might use the same CMS/LMS as an asynchronous one and cover a similar set of topics and assignments, while requiring students to join regularly scheduled activities as a group. Examples include:

  • Group video conferences.
  • Live-streamed lectures.
  • Collaborative whiteboards.
  • Timed examinations.

Synchronous learning has some distinctive strengths, including high student engagement and productive real-time collaboration on projects that might have suffered from more drawn-out back-and-forths via email or a discussion thread. Moreover, synchronous activities can feel to many students like a closer equivalent of in-person communications than asynchronous learning, since they’re occurring in real-time and feedback is immediate. The synchronous format is also useful for one-time activities such as special lectures and exams.

How to Get the Most from Online Learning

Both the asynchronous and synchronous approaches can contribute to a worthwhile online learning experience if contained in a well-designed program like the GW HCMBA. Here’s what you should look for when evaluating your online learning options:

A variety of assignments and course materials

An online degree should give you the same breadth of knowledge and class activities you would encounter in a traditional on-campus track. That means a combination of self-directed exercises, like readings, webinars, and videos, and group collaborations via message boards and chat, along with rigorous tests and opportunities for real-time interaction – in other words, asynchronous and synchronous modalities. Moreover, the program should provide a rich set of courses with a good selection of electives addressing a wide range of interests. The GW HCMBA offers both general and healthcare-specific electives, for a comprehensive yet customizable experience.

An extensive network of like-minded professionals

A sense of community is important in online courses, since there’s usually no in-person contact with the instructor or other students. The online GW HCMBA has long been a destination for nurses, hospital administrators, doctors, and other professionals with years of experience in the field and analogous professional backgrounds. As such, it’s an ideal environment in which to connect and network with peers who can provide expert guidance both during and after the program.

A clear structure and support system

It’s advisable to select an online program with an established reputation. On that note, the GW HCMBA has been shaping careers for more than 15 years. Everything from its faculty to its technical infrastructure is top-notch, giving students what they need to succeed academically and professionally. Knowing that you can reach out to people with years of experience for help can make the difference in ultimately completing the degree.

The GW HCMBA is a strong option for the healthcare leaders of tomorrow. Fully online and highly flexible, it can be another important stop on your education journey toward a rewarding career. To learn more, visit the program details page for a rundown of the required courses. More general information is also available on the overview page, where you can answer a few simple questions to receive our free brochure.

Recommended Readings:

Why graduate school? A look at the reasons why for veterans.
What is an online class like?
Asynchronous Vs. Synchronous E-Learning
Comparing Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning