Online Course Formats
Our world has become digital. It seems everything we need is readily available online. Flipping through volumes of a world encyclopedia is no longer necessary because of search engines, trekking to a store is obsolete with online shopping, and now you don’t have to step foot in a classroom to get a degree. Access to an online education has never been easier. Not only are there online classes, there are different formats of online classes. Picking the best one for your lifestyle can help you succeed with your education.
Three common types of distance learning formats include:
They all cater to the individual needs of students and knowing the difference between each format will help you choose what’s best for you.
Synchronous classes require students and instructors to be online together at certain, scheduled times. The class runs like an in-class session, except you are in the comfort of your own space. Scheduled time is when lectures, class discussions and presentations occur. Students who enjoy engaging in discussions and prefer live classroom experiences may enjoy this format. Elements of this format may include video conferencing, discussion boards, telephone, web conferencing and virtual worlds.
Asynchronous classes are the opposite of synchronous classes. An asynchronous format involves the instructor offering course content that can be accessed at any time. It is much more flexible and individually based. Assignments, quizzes and tests are readily available so students can complete the class on their own time. Class does not meet at a specific time; however, assignments may be due by a certain timeframe but students are free to do the work when it is most convenient for them. Asynchronous classes are great for individuals who are not able to participate at a scheduled time and enjoy being self-taught. This format includes email, social networking, discussion boards, wikis, DVD/CD and e-portfolios. Often times, students in asynchronous classes engage with classmates and instructors through blogs.
Another way to look at it, synchronous is similar to an engine – all the parts need to work at the same time in order for it to run. Asynchronous is like traffic – all the cars are going at different speeds and are free to pass one another, as long as you go the speed limit!
A hybrid/blended class has aspects of both asynchronous and synchronous formats. This format tends to vary between each instructor, course and university. In this example, we will use the term “hybrid.” Hybrid classes may include more or less asynchronous or synchronous components, depending on the frequency of live classes and the flexibility offered. Some hybrid courses may be more independent, but require a certain number of live sessions throughout the semester. These sessions are designed to provide students and instructors live, real-time, discussions.
Asynchronous classes are more common than synchronous and hybrid, but many colleges offer all three formats. Each online course should mention which of these formats it follows. Asynchronous classes are typically available for both semester-based or enroll anytime courses. Synchronous classes are commonly associated with semester-based courses, since they follow a more stringent timeline.
All of these formats have pros and cons. Some students may enjoy the structure of real-time class sessions, while others may prefer to work on their own time. When selecting a format, we advise taking your schedule and learning style into consideration.