April 15, 2023

Best Practices for Synchronous Online Learning

Rhonda Partney-Wakelyn, MA, M.Ed

In an online learning environment, student engagement is imperative. However, many instructors struggle to make their online courses interactive and engaging-enter synchronous learning. In a world of self-paced online learning, many instructors and students feel they miss the engagement they enjoy in a live, in-person classroom. So, how, in an online course, can we implement synchronous learning and engage our learners? In this post, we explore this question and offer suggestions so you can begin to incorporate synchronous activities into your online course.

What is Synchronous Learning?

Synchronous means same time/same place. This doesn’t mean they must share the same physical location to meet and gather. Thanks to platforms such as Zoom and Collaborate Ultra, learners and their instructors can now meet virtually but together. Virtual synchronous tools, such as those previously mentioned, help make learning more convenient and accessible for students to learn and engage with their peers.

What is Asynchronous Learning?

Different time/different place. In other words, in this situation, the student may be left to their own devices to navigate their way through their course materials with little to no interaction from or with their instructor. We also refer to this as self-paced or self-guided learning.

Best Practices for Creating the Synchronous Environment

There are various ways you can add synchronous activities to your course without overwhelming your students. Consider the following activities:

  • Hold a weekly virtual meeting and choose a topic for your discussion.
  • While in your virtual classroom, assign students an activity and put them into breakout groups. Give them fifteen or twenty minutes to formulate their ideas, and then bring them back into the main session, where the groups can discuss their ideas with the other students.
  • Enable group activities within your course. This may be achieved by creating groups within your course and assigning activities to each group.
  • Incorporate weekly discussions using the discussion board.

Things to Consider

First, ensure you align your synchronous activities to your course’s objectives. Don’t facilitate an activity merely for the sake of assigning an activity. Your activities must have a purpose. When developing synchronous activities, don’t forget to ask yourself, why is this important; why do I want to include this activity for my students? What am I trying to achieve through this activity? Does it align with my course’s objectives? Also, what tool am I thinking about using? Is it appropriate for this activity? Finally, don’t forget to consider student/user comfort and accessibility.

If you would like more information about adding synchronous activities to your course, don’t hesitate to contact us at BlackboardHelp@uams.edu.

Resources Consulted:

Clyde A. Warden et al.
Synchronous learning best practices: An action research study

Colleen Carraher Wolverton
Utilizing synchronous discussions to create an engaged classroom in online executive education

L.V. Morris et al.
Tracking student behavior, persistence, and achievement in online courses
The Internet and Higher Education