Centre for Teaching and Learning

Centre for Teaching and Learning
Centre for Teaching and Learning

Deciding between Synchronous and Asynchronous Approaches

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What is asynchronous learning?

Asynchronous learning means that the instructor and the students in the course all engage with the course content at different times (and from different locations). The instructor provides students with a variety of course materials which the students move through on a more flexible timeline still guided by the instructor. Each unit might make use of assigned readings or uploaded media, online quizzes, discussion boards, and more. The instructor sets guidelines, provides them with feedback, and assesses them as needed.

What is synchronous learning?

Synchronous learning means that the instructor and the students come together at the same time - either face-to-face or digitally. If participants are remote, synchronous events are typically mediated by digital tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams - tools that allow for livestreaming of audio, video, and presentations, such as live classes or meetings, live conversations, simultaneous document editing, and more.

Which approach should I use?

The Vice-Provost (Teaching and Learning) recommends asynchronous approaches wherever possible. Please see the Guiding Principles for Effective Synchronous Teaching, designed to help the instructor determine if synchronous instruction is merited and to provide exemplary practices in its implementation.

  Before you proceed with your plans for synchronous teaching, ask yourself:

  • Is the synchronous event essential?
  • Have I built in appropriate contingencies to address the identified barriers caused by this approach?
  • How long is my event? Can it be shortened in any way?
  • Have I planned for active learning and participation?
  • Do I have a secure, reliable, and user-friendly tool to use in supporting the synchronous event?
  • What strategies will I need to plan for in effectively facilitating the event and our use of the technology?



The argument for..

The argument against...


The greatest advantage to asynchronous approaches is the flexibility for all – students and instructors. We will all be in a better position to respond to competing demands, changing situations, and schedules if course work is asynchronous. Additionally, asynchronous approaches allow more time for everyone to digest and reflect. Content can be organized into reasonable chunks – as the evidence shows this is better for both learning and teaching overall.

Extra attention is required to maintaining instructor presence so students feel connected to their prof as well as to one another. Asynchronous learning requires self-directed learning skills that cannot be assumed. Students need guidance and support in learning how to engage in this new environment.


Conversation happens in real time, allowing students to ask questions and the instructor to gauge students’ understanding in the moment.

As everyone adjusts to remote contexts, many will face challenges participating at the required time due to technical, technological, and Instructors can facilitate workshop-style classes and run breakout group activities. scheduling obstacles. Synchronous events are also less accessible and disadvantage many groups of students, including International students and students with disabilities. Synchronous sessions are prone to technical hiccups and can be challenging to facilitate. Sessions longer than 30 minutes in length wear on everyone having a deleterious effect on teaching and learning.

The above definitions and advantages/disadvantages sections been adapted from Keep Learning Website, University of Waterloo

Asynchronous Strategies

Given the recommended preference for asynchronous approaches, the next section outlines strategies based on the classroom context:

Asynchronous Strategies for...

Lecture-based classes: Chunk & record

Break original lectures into chunks. Organize chunks around concepts or key ideas. You might record a video to cover each chunk but you might also find other ways of mixing up student learning activities. Check out the Student Engagement Start Here Guide for ideas. If you record a video, aim for around 10 minutes in length. One lectures-worth of student engagement then becomes a series of videos interjected with activities for reflection, rehearsal, or application.

Connect to Tech: Record a video using ZoomScreencast-o-matic, or Quicktime (available on Mac only) and upload the video to Content in onQ. Or create a narrated or annotated PowerPoint presentation.

Seminar courses: Facilitate discussions with transformative technologies

Facilitate discussions through asynchronous technologies that enhance the conversation. For example, these 10 ways to facilitate conversation through annotation using Hypothes.is

Connect to Tech: While not an institutionally supported tool at Queen's, Hypothes.is is an open source (free), collaborative annotation tool that adds a conversation layer over the entire web working everywhere with any digital document. 


Group work: Leverage collaborative documents

Teams can work quite effectively asynchronously. Groups might connect for synchronous meetings on occasion (e.g. when first getting started or for checking in), however collaborative documents quickly become a more effective way of progressing. Groups can be required or encouraged to assign roles. For more on team roles, check out this article Designing Teams and Assigning Roles and Table 1: Various Team Roles and When to Use Them

Connect to Tech: The Office 365 Suite - available to all students, faculty, and staff offer many online for collaborative team work including Word, PowerPoint, and Excel


Alternative Environments: Reimagine ‘hands-on’ possibilities

Record demonstrations - set up and recording of complex demonstrations will be easier to do than running live. Video demonstrations can be supplemented with other materials such as step-by-step illustrations. Use open educational resources - A plethora of freely available animations, video clips, simulations and other multimedia can provide alternate ways of engaging in hands-on activities.

Connect to Tech: Record a video using ZoomScreencast-o-matic, or Quicktime (available on Mac only) and upload the video to Content in onQ. Or create a narrated or annotated PowerPoint presentation.

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