Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Online Colleges: What’s the Difference?

synchronous vs asynchronous classes online

Are you considering online colleges and doing your research? If so, one of your main questions may revolve around the differences between synchronous and asynchronous online colleges.

According to the 2021 study of NCES, 61% of undergraduate students are studying distance learning courses. About 28% are exclusively online learners. A significant increase in online learning enrollment was evident in 2019.

One of the main reasons for the increase in online learning enrollment is the flexibility it offers to students. Online colleges allow students to schedule virtual sessions around their existing commitments and responsibilities.

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There are two ways online colleges deliver their courses: synchronous and asynchronous. In this post, we’ll explore the differences between these two delivery formats. We’re here to help you decide the academic format that’s ideal for you.

Synchronous Online Colleges

Synchronous learning requires a lot of involvement. According to research, this delivery format increases social connections and psychological involvement. However, it also has its drawbacks.

Synchronous Online Learning Definition

An online synchronous class imitates the traditional classroom experience in a virtual setting. Synchronous delivery formats require students to attend classes in real-time, participate in projects with other students, and engage in live discussions with instructors.

Some of the common examples of synchronous learning in online colleges are as follows:

  • Live Lectures
  • Virtual Classroom Sessions
  • Interactive Webinars
  • Group Projects and Discussions
  • Live Demonstrations and Simulations
  • Online Office Hours

Pros of Online Synchronous Classes

Structured Learning

Synchronous learning provides students with structured coursework that imitates traditional classes. Working synchronously helps educators regulate the pace of learning. It gives explicit instructions on completing assignments quickly. Online colleges with cohort structure and those without year-round enrollment use this format.

Increased Interaction

Online colleges are known to make students feel isolated. Because you’ll be working with advisors and students in real time, you won’t feel isolated as much. You will also have opportunities to connect with your peers. You’ll be able to receive better emotional support, collaboration opportunities, and networking connections.

Direct Instructions

Another advantage of pursuing online synchronous colleges is that they offer directed instruction. You can relay your questions about the course material and get an immediate response with the option for follow-up questions. Educators can correct your mistakes and be able to explain concepts you’re struggling to understand.

Cons of Online Synchronous Classes

Lack of Flexibility

The top con of online synchronous colleges versus asynchronous online colleges is their lack of flexibility. Because you’re required to log in at set times, it can be hard to balance studies with other sudden commitments.

Live classes during regular hours are challenging if you have a full-time 9-5 job or other significant commitment. It can also be difficult if you’re in a different time zone.

Reliance on Technology

Working synchronously means lots of video conferencing. If your work entails traveling and you have an unreliable Internet connection, you will miss out on important information in a single discussion.

Chances of Being Held Back

You won’t have control over your schedule because your teacher sets the pace for your learning. You won’t be able to request a special schedule, regardless of your circumstances or needs. It can be frustrating and may limit your time management strategies.

This delivery format can set you back if you are unable to keep up with the pace of the program and your peers.

Asynchronous Online Colleges

Asynchronous online colleges offer the most flexibility. This learning format is almost always self-paced, giving you maximum control over your learning pace. However, despite its flexibility, this learning format may not be for everyone. 

Asynchronous Online Learning Definition

Compared to an online synchronous class, asynchronous online colleges are more accessible to just about anyone. Classes and coursework do not take place at the same time, allowing you to learn at your own pace without altering your current obligations.

Some of the common examples of asynchronous learning in online colleges are as follows:

  • Recorded Lectures
  • Discussion Boards
  • Online Quizzes and Assignments
  • Multimedia Resources
  • Self-paced Modules
  • Virtual Labs and Simulations

Pros of Online Asynchronous Classes


As a student enrolled in asynchronous online colleges, you are unlikely to have any classes or projects that require working synchronously with other students. These colleges will give you access to their asynchronous learning platforms 24/7, giving you maximum control over your learning pace. You can read course materials and complete tasks any day as long as they are on par with the due date.


You can keep your full-time job because you have 24/7 access to your coursework and learning materials. This makes online asynchronous colleges more practical than its counterpart.

Enhanced Affordability

Asynchronous learning coursework is typically cheap since it doesn’t require constant attention or daily training. Moreover, this learning format rarely requires on-campus activities, saving you from basic travel expenses.

Cons of Asynchronous Online Classes


You’ll be working alone almost throughout the program. Thus, you’ll likely have less or no socialization with your peers and advisors. This isolation can be challenging if you are used to regular social interactions. You won’t develop relationships with other students and faculty, reducing professional networking possibilities.

Extreme Self-discipline

When we said that asynchronous learning is not for everyone despite its accessibility, this is what we’re talking about. Completely online asynchronous classes are not structured. As a result, students tend to procrastinate and fall behind easily.

Lack of Instant Feedback

Asynchronous virtual learning platforms have built-in communication tools. However, these tools often cannot replicate the immediacy of synchronous formats. Therefore, they affect your ability to progress in your academics. It can be challenging to measure your understanding of the material. You may find it hard to identify areas for improvement in an online asynchronous class.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does online synchronous mean in college?

Online synchronous learning in college means that you complete classes and coursework remotely using the Internet. However, you may be required to attend classes in real-time. You will be asked to work with other students. You may have to complete assignments within specified time frames.

Can synchronous be online?

Yes, synchronous classes can be taken online. However, they require real-time interaction between the instructor and students. To navigate synchronous online classes successfully, get strong Internet access and meet the software or computer program requirements.

Which is better: synchronous or asynchronous learning?

The answer greatly depends on your needs and aptitude. Before choosing which type of learning to look for in an online college, you need to weigh the pros and cons carefully.

Do you keep a full-time job and have excellent self-discipline? You might become more comfortable with asynchronous learning. If you want the real-time interaction and structured learning of traditional learning, choose synchronous classes.

What is the difference between asynchronous and synchronous learning?

The main difference between these two learning formats is their delivery. Asynchronous classes allow students to study materials and complete tasks independently. On the other hand, synchronous learning requires students to attend live classes. You will also participate in group projects and associate with peers and advisors.

Are online colleges asynchronous?

Not all online colleges are asynchronous. Some colleges and degree programs require students to enroll full-time. Others are more flexible and offer a maximum time frame of up to twice as long as the average graduation time.