Preparing for Synchronous Sessions

Starting to plan

Purpose and Participants


First, think about the overall purpose of the session that you'd like to hold. Why would you like to do it? Some common purposes might be to:

  • host a discussion or question and answer session
  • plan or make decisions about something as a group
  • hold office hours
  • build or maintain online class community
  • gather feedback from people
  • interactively teach a topic
  • host a guest speaker
  • model or demonstrate a skill

Determine if your synchronous session will be part of a longer, asynchronous course or if it will be "stand alone", i.e. a session that doesn't relate to anything else and will be the only thing your participants attend on the topic. If it's part of a longer asynchronous course you will want to think about how your synchronous session will help you with the purpose and goals of your longer course event. Here's an example from well known ed tech "guru" Tony Bates:

"In a fully online course, I also sometimes use Blackboard Collaborate to bring all the students together once or twice during a semester, to get a feeling of community at the start of a course, to establish my ‘presence’ as a real person with a face or voice at the start of a course, or to wrap up a course at the end, and I try to provide plenty of opportunity for questions and discussion by the students themselves. However, these synchronous ‘lectures’ are always optional as there will always be some students who cannot be present (although they can be made available in recorded format)".1

Thinking about your session's purpose is a necessary step to confirming whether it does make sense to hold your session synchronously online. For example, if you determine your purpose is to "hold a lecture" in which you talk at your participants for the entire hour, you may wish to ask yourself if you think that is the best use of your participants' time (or even if it is the best way for your participants to learn!) Although there may be a place for "web-casts" (uni-directional synchronous online learning events) in some situations, they perhaps aren't best used in the higher education context where we aim to promote participatory and interactive learning and/or some of the other purposes mentioned above.


In the planning of your session you will also need to think about your participants. Ask yourself questions such as:

  • who will attend this session?
  • do they have any common characteristics? how might they be different from each other?
  • what is their anticipated technical skill? do they have the computer hardware/software to be able to connect to a web-conferencing system?
  • how many participants do I anticipate having in my session?
  • when might they be able to participate in the session? (e.g. time zone, work schedules)

Keeping your participants' needs in mind is important in being able to plan for and design a session that works for all who will attend.

To think more about how your participants may be different from each other and planning your session accordingly, watch this short [4:36 min] video on Universal Design for Learning. (Note: Don't let the K-12 images put you off...these concepts are absolutely applicable to adult learners too.)

1A.W. (Tony) Bates, 2015. Teaching in Digital Age. Retrieved from: