E-learning? Online learning? M-learning? Unraveling the mysteries of the murky world of learning in cyberspace
I decided to write this blog because of heated exchanges with my learned and respected management team regarding defining our company’s USP (unique Selling Proposition). We struggled to get the USP down in one sentence. Do you write ‘’online training’’, ‘’e-learning’’ or ‘’live training’’ when describing your delivery method? What on earth is the difference between synchronous and asynchronous methods? Do our customers get the message when we say ‘’live’’ trainers?
I found, after trawling through the internet and looking at the websites of 100s of ‘’cyberspace’’ training organisations, that we weren’t in too much of a pickle after all. Everyone seems to have the same problem! So let’s start with the basics.
Historically, synchronous communication was only available either in person with spoken word or within line of sight using signals (smoke, flags, beacons etc.). Today, synchronous communication includes satellite, cell phone, and internet technologies and allows people to work together instantaneously regardless of their location. The key word here is instantaneously, the interaction takes place in ‘real-time’ so to speak. It is also more than one-way and can be between multiples of people at the same time.
From an educational perspective, synchronous learning historically refers to the traditional classroom environment where a teacher communicates directly to a group of students and sets the pace for how and when students learn the curriculum (which continues to characterise most models of learning to this day).
Asynchronous communication first developed when people were able to scratch out small pictographs. This type of communication was refined with the creation of written language. Until recently, communicating across great distances was only possible asynchronously, as messages were written and then carried to their recipients. Response time for this communication was dependent on the distance that needed to be travelled and the conditions faced by the couriers. Furthermore, the messages could be easily lost or intercepted. The creation of modern postal systems greatly improved the reliability of asynchronous communication. The internet, and new developments in storage media, remote access, and cloud technology, has revolutionised asynchronous communication. Groups of people are now able to utilize asynchronous communication to work collaboratively on projects with no time or place barriers.
Asynchronous learning emerged out of a perceived need by institutions to deliver curriculums to students who were unable to attend classes in a traditional physical setting due to distance or other factors. These correspondence and distance courses, which were delivered by mail, allowed students to complete readings and assignments in their own time and regardless of the teacher’s schedule and availability. While these types of courses allowed increased student flexibility, interaction with the instructor was limited and collaboration with other students characteristically non-existent. (Pullen & Snow, 2007).
Synchronous Communication Tools
The most basic synchronous tools these days are instant messages and chat-boxes. Online training organisations like Tangent Training have vastly augmented this process to include real-time live video, audio, and interactive whiteboards enabling written communication too. With real-life live trainers, visible online, communication takes place instantaneously directly with participants. Developments in open-source real-time chat technologies such as WebRTC have eliminated echo, voice-lag, voice-dropping and ‘satellite delay’. (Click here to read more about WebRTC Technology)
Only synchronous communication tools deliver real-time advantages such as:
If your organisation opts for an asynchronous approach, you’re likely to be at a significant disadvantage. Monitoring engagement can be difficult; measuring performance is like eating peas with a fork and you might be throwing significant budget down the toilet. If you want your staff to learn a new language, for example, we don’t recommend this! Some other disadvantages are:
Don’t just take my word for it! Here are some comments from scholars: Anderson (2004) argues that developing student-student interactions is critical to e-learning. Kirby & Boak (as cited in Anderson, 2004) note that collaborative learning increases cognitive learning tasks, completion rates, and acquisition of social skills in e-learning. Unlike the interactions between students and content and students and teacher, student-student interactions provide a more realistic opportunity for synchronous communication. Park and Bonk (2007) comment that, “synchronous communication has a great potential to increase individual participation and performance” (2007, p.245). Synchronous communication allows for immediate feedback and meaningful interactions (Park & Bonk). Exploring this further, a study involving preserve teachers by Levin et al. (2006) suggested that synchronous online communication was more effective in fostering critical reflection compared to similar asynchronous online activities. Reasons for this include:
My message to L&D managers and Training bosses:
Use synchronous methodologies for language training. Opt for either a broadcast method (many employees in one place viewing a live trainer via giant screen) or a delivery method to employee’s personal devices. Don’t expect to get results fast by over-loading learners with material and crossing your fingers!
Best wishes for Christmas and the New year!
CEO, Tangent Training Co. Ltd
Like what you see? Want to know more about why Tangent Training is leading the field in live online training for business? Mail me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication: Tools for Collaboration
This paper was authored by Byron Kask (2009) and revised by Sarah Wood (2010), and Brett Williams (2014) and I have taken extracts from it.
The E-Learning Guild www.elearningguild.com (Tangent Training are proud to be a member).
“At Tangent Training, we provide LIVE online classes and e-Learning resources delivered anytime, anywhere and on any device using customised materials to meet the specific training needs of our clients.” About Us