The Basics

Online learning can take on many forms, just like classroom teaching. Any experienced classroom teacher will tell you that it took time and experience to work through what methods, activities, resources, and other variables works best and in what situations. Online teaching is much similar, it will take some trail and error to find what works best for you and your content.

Getting Started

If you are just getting started into teaching online, there are some basic modes that might be easiest to start with, especially if you have prior experience teaching your content face-to-face. This means you are practiced in conducting class and know the content to be delivered. So it makes sense that your first use of teaching online get as close as possible to your classroom approach.

Synchronous vs. asynchronous

One of the concepts you will have to think deeply about when porting your classroom learning is the timing of learning. Classroom learning happens on a schedule (mostly), and information is delivered at the same time to all of your students. In online and mobile learning environments, information is consumed at the students convenience, and thus conversations and work is happening at different times for different students.

This concept may drive some disruption to your teaching as you move to an online format, things like discussions or activities may need to be rethought as it might not be possible or feasible to facilitate scheduled class, and as you will find out, you may still need to create an asynchronous version of our class on top of your scheduled synchronous lesson anyway.

What is Synchronous Learning?

Synchronous learning is the mode learning that happens in real time. This means that a teacher, the students, and others interact in a specific virtual place at a set time, through a specific online medium, at a specific time. In other words, it’s not exactly anywhere, anyhow, anytime. Methods of synchronous online learning include video conferencing, teleconferencing, live chatting, live-streaming lectures, and social virtual reality environments. It's scheduled learning.

Synchronous learning is a lecture, class, or activity everyone schedules and participates in at the same time, asynchronous is when all of the students watch the lecture, complete the tasks, or contributes to an activity on their own time and pace. Online learning often lends itself to asynchronous learning as the internet can provide just-in-time information and travels with us in our smartphones.

What is Asynchronous Learning?

Asynchronous learning happens on your schedule. While your course of study, instructor or degree program will provide materials for reading, lectures for viewing, assignments for completing, and exams for evaluation, you have the ability to access and satisfy these requirements within a flexible time frame. Methods of asynchronous online learning include self-guided lesson modules, streaming video content, virtual libraries, posted lecture notes, and exchanges across discussion boards or social media platforms.





Dynamic Environments







Rigid Schedule

Technical Difficulties

Time Zones



Need for Self-motivation

Which is right for you and your students?

Obviously, which mode you use will depend on a host of factors, such as timelines, technology use, subject matter, and more. And most likely your situation will not strictly use one mode or the other but rather some blend of the two. It will take time and experience to know what works best for you and your situation.

If you are new to online learning and have classroom experience, I would suggest trying something that matches your face-to-face approach in the classroom and adjusting from there. If you are a lecturer, perhaps that means just making some videos and assignments in a more asynchronous , but if you thrive on feedback and discussion in your classrooms, you may want to try a synchronous approach to start with some video conferencing and live chatting. You will find many of the techniques you use in the classroom work fine, but it may be harder to know how engaged your students than you are used to in a face-to-face setting.