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How to Decide Which Online Learning Format is Right for You

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Online learning provides many conveniences, like skipping the commute to campus to save time and money.

But when choosing an online course, you should consider more than the level of flexibility and autonomy you hope to gain. Your personal learning and studying styles should be the biggest factors when considering which type of course is right for you.

Online courses usually come in two formats: synchronous and asynchronous.

So which learning format is right for you? Let’s take a look at the key differences between synchronous vs asynchronous courses and how to succeed in each.

What is a synchronous online course?

Synchronous courses meet at the same time every week and students learn in real time. You are accountable to a set schedule with all classmates hearing the same information from the instructor at the same time.

In this format, students participate in live class discussions and lectures either in breakout groups or instructor-led open dialogue.

While classmate collaboration may be built into weekly class meetings, it can also take place outside of class time as student schedules allow.

Additional recorded lectures, discussion board prompts, videos, presentations, or podcast-style content may be provided as supplementary course material for students to review outside of class.

Instructors in a synchronous format are also available to answer student questions during class meetings and hold weekly online office hours for one-on-one support.

What is an asynchronous online course?

Asynchronous courses do not include a live meeting component, giving students total flexibility to participate in the course on their own schedule.

Students learn exclusively through pre-recorded lectures, discussion boards, videos, presentations, or audio

Course assignments are scheduled and submitted in increments. Each student is responsible for following along with the syllabus and schedule.

Classmates can connect online via chat or discussion boards and group into self-selected small cohorts.

Some instructors are available for one-on-one support during set online office hours.

Neither course type is “better,” more engaging, rigorous, or inclusive, than the other.

Instead, both synchronous and asynchronous formats provide students with benefits and drawbacks depending on your own personal preferences.

In either environment, your success will depend on the amount of effort you put in and how seriously you take your role as an online learner.

Simple steps to prepare for success in any online course.

  • A day or so before your class starts, take a test run around UVM’s online learning space, which will either be Blackboard or Brightspace. Make sure your login credentials work and that you see your course listed in the My Course section.
  • While you’re in prep mode, check your technology. Is your router going to make it through the semester? Do you need a Wi-Fi booster to strengthen the signal in your home office?
  • Make a firm commitment to the minimum number of hours you will dedicate to your course each week. If you’re thinking that online learning is easier or less demanding than in-person learning, make peace with the reality that your three-credit course will likely require 5-plus hours of your time per week.
  • Decide on your personal log on standard. This means assessing your learning style and making an honest assessment of the kind of environment you need to optimize your success. Find what your focus routine looks like and stick to it.
  • Build a productive rapport with classmates and professors by reaching out often. Friendly check-ins, collaborative invitations, and requests for help will connect you to the course by building a sense of community and accountability.
  • If you don’t live alone, tell your family or roommates about your course – and ask for their help in creating an environment that is conducive to you doing your best work.

Explore UVM’s Award-Winning Synchronous and Asynchronous Courses

UVM offers award-winning courses in both synchronous or asynchronous formats. To celebrate the incredible work that’s going on in UVM online classrooms, the university launched the Prelock Online Teaching Award in 2021 to recognize excellence in synchronous and asynchronous online teaching and encourage faculty to elevate their online teaching pedagogy.

There’s a lot to learn about online learning, so if you’re looking for a deeper dive into synchronous vs asynchronous courses and UVM’s award-winning online courses, check out these helpful walk-through videos.