Asynchronous vs. synchronous learning: How they differ

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Before pursuing an online degree or engaging in an online learning curriculum, prospective students need to consider a few key factors. One critical aspect they need to determine is what their learning preferences are.

Online courses fall into two categories: synchronous and asynchronous learning programs. In short, the former is time-bound, while students can complete the latter whenever they choose. But the difference between synchronous and asynchronous learning is much more complex than that. Both styles have unique advantages and disadvantages.

Students enrolling in the online Master of Accounting program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have access to an asynchronous schedule. This flexibility provides value to students who have other priorities in their lives, like family or work obligations. Let’s explore what the difference between the two online learning styles means for the typical student.

A woman uses her laptop on her bed with her dog.

What is synchronous learning?

In synchronous learning, students are expected to log on and engage in class activities in real time. It’s much like a typical on-campus course schedule, where attendance is mandatory and participation is encouraged.

Instructors in a synchronous learning environment might have a shared whiteboard on which they write notes, draw diagrams, or collaborate with students about course concepts. Students may have opportunities to ask questions or have discussions with the instructor and their classmates. This ability allows for cooperation and group projects to take place, Learning Solutions magazine explained.

Testing in a synchronous virtual classroom is also similar to that of on-campus classes. Exams are scheduled and often time-bound. Students must be available to take the exam at the predetermined time and date.

Though allowing for class participation and group projects may be advantageous in some settings, synchronous learning has a number of drawbacks. Students who are balancing higher education with busy family lives or a full work schedule may encounter scheduling obstacles.

What is asynchronous learning?

Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, doesn’t adhere to a specific daily schedule. Students can access course materials, including lectures and message boards, at any time. In some cases, asynchronous courses might have DVDs or CDs with recorded lectures or discussions, Mindflash explained.

Because students access course material anytime they wish, they have limited opportunities to engage in live discussions with instructors or classmates. However, there are a number of ways around this obstacle.

Many asynchronous courses have discussion groups in which students can present questions and answers in real time. Message boards are also good for posing questions that others can respond to at a time that works best for them. Additionally, students could be able to arrange for phone calls, video chats, or another form of live conversation with instructors.

Students may have questions about non-course-related features of online learning, such as if they have trouble accessing their course materials or with a program on their computers. For these types of inquiries, the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business has a technical help desk available at all times.

Like lectures and coursework, students can complete exams for asynchronous classes at a time that works best for them. This freedom can be an attractive feature for busy students who are juggling various responsibilities in addition to their pursuit of higher education.

Another perk of the asynchronous learning model is the students’ abilities to set their own pace. Everyone learns differently, and having access to recorded lectures means students can rewatch, pause, or rewind the material to gain a greater understanding. Because there are few time-based requirements, students can work through coursework and class materials at the right speed for them.

As advantageous as the self-paced model might be, it also makes self-motivation essential. Students need to monitor their progress and ensure they’re keeping up with the coursework. Setting personal schedules and checkpoints may help students stay on pace. Additionally, if a student begins to feel like he or she is falling behind, it may be a good idea to reach out to the instructor for guidance.

While there may not be hard deadlines or a requirement for students to log into lectures at a specified time, as is the case with synchronous learning, there may still be time restraints in an asynchronous class. Students might be expected to contribute to a discussion board, complete homework assignments, or take tests before a certain date or time, or some activities like tests or projects might have time limits depending on the curriculum or course. Students can usually work these time limitations into their schedules, such as a person who works during the day or needs to attend to family matters at night.

Flexible opportunities to pursue master’s degrees at UAB

Professionals who want to work toward their master’s degree in accounting in a setting that accommodates their schedules may find value in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s online degree program. Through this asynchronous program, students can access course materials and complete assignments at their pace.

Most importantly, they earn a good education from a highly regarded institution. The online curriculum offered through the Collat School of Business is accredited by Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business International and is held to the same rigorous standards as the on-campus program. The degree students earn does not distinguish between the online and on-campus curriculum, and online students are even invited to participate in the same graduation ceremony if they choose.

To learn more about earning your master’s in accounting online, connect with an enrollment advisor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Recommended Readings:

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Learning Solutions


University of Alabama at Birmingham Collat School of Business Master’s Degree in Accounting