Preparing for Synchronous Sessions

Why facilitate synchronously online?

There are many reasons why people choose to facilitate synchronously online in educational settings. Some of these are:

  • accessibility for participants (allowing them to learn from home, connect from rural settings, etc.)
  • real time interaction opportunity between facilitator and participants
  • promote participants' active learning
  • enable a diverse virtual classroom, potentially with participants from around the world

In addition, particularly when synchronous sessions are combined with longer, asynchronous online courses, they can:

  • be used to drive discussions deeper around course topics
  • build course community among participants and participants/facilitator(s)
  • decrease participants' feelings of isolation
  • address participants' concerns or questions at the beginning of the course or points throughout

Stefan Hrastinski, in his article "Asynchronous & Synchronous E-Learning", notes:

"Synchronous learning, commonly supported by media such as videoconferencing and chat, has the potential to support e-learners in the development of learning communities. Learners and teachers experience synchronous e-learning as more social and avoid frustration by asking and answering questions in real time." (p.52)

Though the quote above mentions just videoconferencing and chat, today it could be argued that we rely even more heavily on web-conferencing platforms to support synchronous learning online, and these platforms also offer the benefits described above. And Martin & Parker, in their article "Use of Synchronous Virtual Classrooms: Why, Who and How?", have noted that "synchronous virtual classrooms via web conferencing systems are increasingly being used in higher education" (p. 192). (That could be the reason why you are here!)

Potential limitations

There are both benefits and limitations to holding learning events synchronously online. Limitations could include:

  • the difficulty of choosing a time for the session(s) that all participants can attend (i.e. time zones, work and family schedules etc.)
  • the contradiction between what participants have potentially signed up for (e.g. students who choose to learn online for its asynchronous benefits and flexibility) and the planning of accompanying synchronous events which must be attended at a certain time and day
  • maintaining an accessible environment for all participants

The next page asks you to think more about these and further considerations when choosing your session's mode of learning.