As schools worked to address the COVID-19 pandemic, online learning has become more widely available. Online learning is provided in two general formats — asynchronous or synchronous.
In a synchronous environment the teacher and student are online together at the same time, Hudson School District Chief Academic Officer Dave Grambow said. The student and teacher are interacting with each other live.
Synchronous learners spend as much time in the online environment as they would onsite.
In an asynchronous environment, the teacher and student are not online at the same time. Instead the student is doing their own learning at their own time, Grambow said. Asynchronous learning includes premade learning experiences, such as videos, discussion boards or shared Google docs.
The most beneficial option for online learners is a blended model, that provides both synchronous and asynchronous learning, Grambow said.
Advantages and disadvantages
Synchronous learning provides students with more direct connections to students and the class. However, it does require a lot of screentime.
“A synchronous all day environment is exhausting,” Grambow said.
Asynchronous learning can be beneficial for students who have good time management, or who are on the verge of having good time management, Grambow said. It can be a good option for students with unique learning styles, interests or circumstances.
Asynchronous collaboration also mimics the professional world, which sees people sometimes collaborating both directly and indirectly with those they work with.
When it comes to asynchronous learning it is important to be deliberate about providing feedback. Feedback is a critical piece in learning, Grambow said. In a synchronous environment, feedback can be given on the fly. In asynchronous instructors have to plan how feedback will be provided, Grambow said.
How Hudson has delivered online instruction
The Hudson School District was offering an online learning option pre-pandemic, through the Hudson Virtual Academy. That was asynchronous learning for students for whom onsite learning wasn’t the best match.
When the school first switched to distance learning, in the early days of the pandemic, it was using an asynchronous model.
“We were thinking it would be 2 weeks and back to normal,” Grambow said.
But the pandemic continued, and that school year ended with fully asynchronous learning. The district ran into the struggle of students feeling disconnected.
This school year, distance learning was used short term as necessary as COVID cases rose, and was also available long term to students who did not feel comfortable returning to campus. The school year has been primarily synchronous learning.
Managing both onsite and online learning has proved challenging for teachers, Grambow said. The Hudson teachers did an amazing job managing it, but it’s not sustainable, he said.
Next year, the 2021-2022 school year distance learning option will be mainly asynchronous but include some of a blend.
Teachers will no longer be teaching in both environments. New elementary teachers will be hired using ESSER funds.