Synchronous Online Course

Table of Contents


Synchronous learning happens in real time and can be conducted either face-to-face (f2f) or online. Instructors and learners log in at the same time on a set class schedule. Instructors in a synchronous environment may take attendance (whether online or f2f), and there is real-time interaction between students and instructors. Learning can happen in the same physical environment, like a lecture hall, or an online environment. If conducted online, instructors may use web conferencing, teleconferencing, live-chatting, and live-streamed lectures that must be viewed in real time.

Differences between Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning


Examples of Synchronous Learning

  • Lecture hall, face-to-face teaching on college campuses
  • Web conference sessions (live sessions on Zoom, MS Teams etc.)
  • Live streaming lectures
  • Live virtual sessions for consultation and feedback
  • Live discussions through breakout rooms/chat rooms
  • Live webinars
  • Proctored exams (in class or online)

Engaging Students in a Synchronous Course

Due to its synchronous nature, engaging students in the course material is easier than in an Asynchronous class. When students and instructors are present in a common learning space (physical or virtual), participation depends only on how well the session is planned; you can make these sessions as engaging as you want. Here are some ideas to create engagement in a synchronous class:

  • Small discussion groups based on case studies, chapters, white papers, or scholarly articles
  • Collaborative projects
  • Teach your peers sessions (Groups of students are assigned topics they will teach the class after preparing)
  • Pecha kucha sessions (individual students create Pecha kucha presentations)
  • Problem-solving sessions
  • Writing a book/e-book
  • Creating a diorama or chart
  • Question hour dividing class into teams or groups (for factual objective sessions)
  • Making a movie/video/presentation together or individually

Synchronous Teaching: Advantages for Instructors

  • Real-time interaction: Because all participants are present at the same time, instructors can teach all students at the same time because of a fixed schedule. They can create activities and interactive sessions that involve all students at the same time. Instructors can observe the class for participation and get a good sense of whether the class has understood concepts. Active discussions, immediate feedback and personal interactions between peers and instructors are easier and help create a thriving classroom community (online and in the classroom).

  • Real-time engagement with content: Synchronous sessions provide instructors the opportunity to observe the exchange of knowledge between participants and explore topics, ask questions, and discuss ideas and concepts more dynamically. Instructors can also engage students in high-fidelity activities, which builds confidence and creates the motivation required for learning. When students engage with real-life problems in a class (based on a case study or real-life scenario), they understand the content better. This helps them connect the information from the class to real life use.

  • Real-time feedback: Because students are present in real time, providing generic feedback and conducting remidial sessions for the class, based on observations from quizzes and assignments that the class has completed, becomes much easier.

  • Instructional depth: In a synchronous environment, students and instructors both have the opportunity to interact regularly and frequently, providing regular opportunities for face-to-face discussions, individual guidance, and mentorship. This regular interaction helps students who want to a take deep dive in the subject understand concepts and ideas better.

  • Creating a thriving student community: The physical proximity or even the regular face-to-face online interactions during synchronous sessions help students form deeper connections and relationship with other students in the class. Literature suggests that a strong and active social life on campus can be “used to explain both high persistence and learning satisfaction” (Rovai, et al., 2005, p.4) and this could be said about online learning too, especially in the time of the present pandemic.

Synchronous Learning: Advantages for Students

There are many advantages for students to opt for synchronous learning, whether online or on campus. The synchronous online model is especially beneficial because teaching can take place at a larger scale at lesser cost without compromising the productive student-teacher interaction. Here are some advantages for students who opt for online synchronous learning:

  • Reduced tuition and transport costs: By using an online synchronous delivery model, institutions and corporations can save money and make learning cost effective for students and for themselves. Synchronous instruction is real time and includes much of the benefits of face-to-face learning but mitigates the cost involved because it can be scaled up and down with minimal infrastructure cost. Also, students and instructors save money and time spent on traveling to physical locations and more people can be taught more frequently with no additional cost.

  • Collaboration, Engagement, and Interactivity: The best way to translate the face-to-face experience to an online format is to choose the synchronous delivery format. Most Learning Management Systems and online web conferencing apps have tools that give all participants, learners and instructors, the opportunity to engage, collaborate, and interact with one another.

  • The Online Advantage: Online Synchronous learning can be accessed online from any location with an internet or Wi-Fi connection.

Disadvantages of Synchronous Learning

  • Synchronous learning is not as flexible as Asynchronous learning because learners have to adhere to a specific course schedule. Content may or may not be available at all times, and students need to log in at scheduled times to attend class. This may not work if learners have jobs or other time bound responsibilities.

  • Face-to-face synchronous sessions give learners the opportunity to interact, make eye contact, and speak directly with the instructor, but online synchronous sessions may not provide this same opportunity. During online web conference sessions, the instructor may not see all learners at once and may therefore be unable to read gestures and body language. Instructors may not be able to detect whether students are paying attention, understanding the concepts, or interested in the class.

  • During online synchronous sessions, the instructor has full responsibility to keep students engaged and maintain the quality of the instruction at all times. If synchronous sessions are not planned well or lack engagement and interaction, student learning may be affected. Instructors must plan the live sessions well in advance.

Further Training

Sustainable Course Design Workshop