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Synchronous and Asynchronous

What the heck is that?

For many it is a corporate buzzword! Yes, these are indeed words used in the corporate world for ways employees learn. Trust me, it is not my intention to give a business lecture on this. I just want to point out how this can be useful for folks in their personal lives. It has for me.

Synchronous means ‘doing something at the same time. ’Synchronous Learning means when employees attend an event in which they learn at the same time such as in a traditional classroom or online classroom where there is ‘real time interaction’ with the instructor and other participants. The emphasis is on ‘same time.’ There are many advantages to this way of learning – a sense of community and camaraderie, face-face interaction, learning from peers, ability to ask questions, get instant feedback, increased participation etc. Some of the disadvantages are it can be expensive, time consuming, difficult to schedule, require a lot of planning and coordination etc. and for online synchronous learning using various technologies can be very frustrating and discouraging to many.

Asynchronous Learning is exactly the opposite. Employees learn not at the same time but through offline training modules, prerecorded presentations, audio or video, quizzes etc. There is no real time interaction with the instructor or other participants. They can ask questions or get feedback via email or online discussion boards. The emphasis here is on ‘anytime.” There are many advantages also to this way of learning – is cost effective and scalable, offer flexibility to learn anytime and anyplace, learn at their own pace etc. Some of the disadvantages are it can be lonely and isolating, lack of a sense of community as there are no face-face interactions etc.

Companies had historically relied on only synchronous learning methods. Now they started experimenting and promoting asynchronous learning methods for the benefits it offered. Employees loved the benefits of asynchronous learning offered by their companies. Companies went from offering only synchronous learning methods to heavily using asynchronous learning methods. Then they found out although employees loved this mode of learning, they missed the interactivity of synchronous learning. Companies realized that both methods had pros and cons and started offering both – a blended form of learning. They realized that blended learning was the most effective way to learn for their employees.

Then the corporate world took this further as ways for employees not to just learn but to also increase their productivity and efficiency. They started providing standard and new synchronous and a synchronous capability for employees to connect, collaborate and communicate with each other. Synchronous methods included things like immersive meetings – in person or online, VOIP calling such as Webex or Skype, live interactive webinars and video conferences, portals etc. Asynchronous methods included enhanced emails (access to emails from any computer), online discussion forums, blogs etc. These innovative capabilities made employees more effective in their work.

Similarly, in our personal lives, due to the internet and rapidly growing technologies we now have various asynchronous ways to communicate, collaborate, and connect with the people around us. Besides using email, folks started using messaging platforms like Whats App, Telegram, Facebook Messenger etc. to asynchronously connect with friends and family no matter where they are in the world. The need for only in person interactions was now replaced with these types of interactions.

And like the lessons learned in the corporate world, people realized that they have gone too far with using asynchronous ways to connect. They started to miss having synchronous interactions such as in person meetings or getting together for lunch or coffee or calling them regularly. Also, many feel that using these asynchronous methods, people tend to waste a lot of time. There are indeed a lot of irrelevant messages and forwards while using the various asynchronous platforms. Although it is mostly true BUT if these platforms used the right way, they can be a powerful tool in your arsenal to connect and be productive and get a lot done. I believe the benefits outweigh the concerns – the key is to use them the right way and tune out the noise.

But like with everything else, going to extremes with either of the approaches will only increase your frustration. You need to have that balance – a blended way to increase your interaction and feeling of connection and belonginess with friends, family members, and the outside world in general. Due to my physical challenges, these asynchronous methods helped me stay connected with friends and family around the world and get a lot of my work done. It allowed me to fit in and integrate with the rest of society; otherwise, it can be very isolating. And for similar reasons I have also seen some senior citizens use asynchronous ways of connecting very effectively – far more effective than some people younger than them.

Although the days of ONLY synchronous ways of communication and collaboration are gone, relying too much on asynchronous methods can be also detrimental. You need to leverage both for maximum impact. I am not saying either one of the methods is the best system. Use both methods to effectively enhance the connection with the people in your lives. They complement one another well.

Give asynchronous methods a try but keep in mind the balance you will need to have. Embrace this new way of connecting. Do not get hung up in the old way of only using synchronous methods to connect. It is for your own benefit. This is especially true now as we face a new normal with the pandemic.


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