Are All Online Classes Asynchronous? Asynchronous vs Synchronous Classes

Last Updated on August 9, 2022 by David Shaw

Are All Online Classes Asynchronous Asynchronous vs Synchronous Classes

The term asynchronous, synchronous, and online classes were all thrown around in the last few years thanks to the 2020 pandemic. Although the word asynchronous and online classes are often correlated and seemed to use together. Many people might still ask, are all online classes asynchronous, or do they mean the same thing?

The truth is that not all online classes are asynchronous, and they don’t mean the same thing. Online classes that generally follow a specific time schedule are considered synchronous. Asynchronous classes are when lectures are prerecorded, and assignments are submitted individually at different times.

Understandably, the terms asynchronous and synchronous are very technical and probably rarely used in our everyday lives. Nonetheless, this article is here to explain to you what is the difference between online classes and asynchronous classes, as well as the benefits of synchronous vs asynchronous classes.

Most Classes in Universities Today Are Partially Asynchronous

We say that classes in universities today are partially asynchronous because almost all instructors rely on the use of Learning Management System (LMS) software like Canvas, Moodle, and Blackboard Learn.

Instead of assigning homework in class that is printed on paper, the integration of an LMS in classes allows college instructors to assign homework, quizzes, or even exams electronically, to which students also submit their work through the same platform before due dates that can be set by their instructors.

If this is still confusing to you, then allow me to explain it further in detail with clearer examples. Let’s look at things with examples of the 3 modalities of classes you will commonly see in universities.

1. Physical classes

Physical classes require you to attend lectures in-person on campus. That includes sitting in for quizzes, exams, and presentations with your classmates in a university classroom consistently at specific times throughout the duration of the term.

So for physical classes with fixed timetables, your instructor can use an LMS like Canvas to assign quizzes or homework, to which students will have to submit them through Canvas before a time on the due date. In such a scenario, you can say the homework and quizzes for the class are handled asynchronously.

Possibility of fully conducting classes asynchronously: No

2. Online Classes

The meaning of online classes is pretty self-explanatory. It means throughout the academic term, you won’t be meeting in person for lectures, or when doing assignments, group work, and exams including during your instructor’s office hours.

Possibility of fully conducting classes asynchronously: Yes

3. Hybrid Classes

Hybrid classes are one of the less common modes of class structure out of the 3. A hybrid class is where the structure of a class has a mix of online and physical meetings which are decided by the instructors.

For one, I can’t see hybrid classes being a practical way to conduct classes, but I’m pretty sure there are rarer circumstances where a hybrid class will be a more effective way of delivering classes to maximize students’ productivity of a learning experience.

Possibility of fully conducting classes asynchronously: No

That said, with the convenience and easy accessibility to computers and the internet today, you should expect all 3 modalities of classes in universities to be partially asynchronous due to the use of LMS. Nevertheless, note that partially asynchronous and fully asynchronous classes can still be very different in many ways.

The Definition of the Word Asynchronous and Synchronous

In simpler terms, asynchronous means a process is not happening at the same time, and synchronous just means the opposite.

Traditionally, lectures in universities were only conducted synchronously (in-person) before things like the internet, smartphones, and laptop computers became easily accessible. It was when all forms of graded work like homework, quizzes, and exams were printed on paper and to be submitted at the end or before classes start.

On the other hand, fully asynchronous classes will usually have prerecorded lectures, where the assigning and submission of all assignments and exams are fully managed electronically through an LMS to let students access it whenever necessary.

Misconceptions about Asynchronous Classes and Online Classes

People often confuse online classes with asynchronous classes because they might think they both mean the same thing since both modalities of classes don’t require you to physically attend lectures in person. Although, only part of that is true when compared together, and hopefully you can now differentiate clearly between the two after the explanations above.

Pros of Asynchronous Classes Over Synchronous Classes

As asynchronous classes are becoming more common, anyone today will likely enroll themselves in one in the near future. So let’s understand why asynchronous is gaining popularity and working out for most people by looking at their advantages over synchronous classes.

Google trend search term for 'asynchronous class'

– Flexibility of Time Schedule

When it comes to the flexibility of a person’s schedule, asynchronous classes definitely provide the best flexibility for people who can’t stick to a fixed schedule to attend lectures or work on assignments.

Though it really can’t be enforced, unlike synchronous classes, attendance is something you don’t have to worry about if you take asynchronous classes. Your performance in class and completion of the class is based on your own self-discipline to access prerecorded lecture materials and do the assignments before dues, all on your personal preferred time schedule.

The Convenience of Communicating, Commuting, and Note-Taking.

All you need is a computer, which takes care of all fundamental things like communication, participation, and note-taking for a class. Other than saving money on time for note-taking, you also save time and money on commuting costs since you can work on asynchronous classes virtually anywhere you like.

Also since lectures are prerecorded, you can always rewind on more difficult lecture materials, and enjoy the benefits of quickly taking your lecturer’s note with just a simple screenshot on your computer.

– Cheaper Costs of Tuition and Required Materials

When it comes to the costs of asynchronous classes, asynchronous university classes are often not cheaper than their synchronous classes. However, asynchronous classes and courses offered on other websites like Coursera, EdX, and Stanford’s Online Course are either free or up to 10 times cheaper than synchronous courses offered directly in universities.

I suppose synchronous classes that are offered in universities serve different communities of people and purposes as opposed to those found on other platforms.

Asynchronous classes offered in universities are more expensive than compared to taken from a website because it serves individuals who also wish to obtain an academic degree. Conversely, asynchronous classes offered on open source organizations found on the internet are for everyone who wishes to learn just a specific subject or topic without pursuing a professional academic accreditation.

Final Thoughts

Now that you’re well informed about the difference between asynchronous and synchronous classes, you can clearly understand the confusion behind the question of whether are all online classes asynchronous.

As to how the adaptation of asynchronous classes will take place in universities, I believe it will not supersede both synchronous and physical classes anytime soon in the future because there is still very much value to these modalities of how classes are conducted. Still, there is a lot of value and many things to be appreciated for asynchronous classes you can very well take advantage of.

More Resources

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David Shaw

I enjoy blogging about the college experience, teaching people how to navigate and hack their way through college. I also enjoy promoting financial literacy among young individuals.

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