Yinyang – Synchronous and Asynchronous learning online

yin and yang

In Asian philosophy, the concept of yin yang (simplified Chinese: 阴阳; traditional Chinese: 陰陽; pinyin: yīnyáng), which is often referred to in the West as “yin and yang”, is used to describe how polar opposites or seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other in turn. Opposites thus only exist in relation to each other. (Wikipedia)

This is how I comprehend Synchronous and Asynchronous learning online.  By definition these learning formats are opposites and engage learners in completely different manners yet they truly are interdependent.  One can exist without the other (which might be the only difference to Yin yang by the way) but if they co-exist then they can create a learning environment that is second to none.

This week in Module 5 of Edtech523 Advanced Online Teaching @BSU we dealt with these two contrary forces, Synchronous and Asynchronous learning online.

Firstly, I wasn’t astounded by the first take away reading from EduCAUSE,

A study of asynchronous and synchronous e-learning methods discovered that each supports different purposes.

Ah, well… yes that should be obvious.
BUT – why then aren’t they both given equal footing in the e-learning world? Putting technological advancements and bandwidth / speed arguments aside it comes down to the fact that asynchronous learning is more convenient. Truly it is.  e-Learning has developed out of a need for learning to traverse vast distances, to reach those who can’t make it to a traditional brick and mortar classroom, to make learning more convenient.  Now I’m not saying that trying to do your Masters whilst being a single parent at home with two kids under three is necessarily “convenient” but I think you get my point.

Shopping ailse picture

How many new students can feel with their first taste of convenient asynchronous learning.

So it is about time synchronous learning came to the fore.  Whilst it can involve and require different skill sets from instructors it is necessary to balance out a learning system.  I for one miss the personable, conversation and banter that can occur between class mates and this social form of communication can never really take of in an asynchronous setting without participants having already gotten to know each other in a few synchronous sessions.

Haythornthwaite argues that three types of communication in particular are important for building and sustaining e-learning communities: content-related communication, planning of tasks, and social support. (see Table 1)

However whilst getting to know my readings for the week I also became more confident and familiar with Google documents.  Having chosen a partner to work with on our task of developing a synchronous lesson in Adobe Connect I got set to planning how we could coordinate things from opposite sides of the world.  By creating a document that I could share solely with my partner we could “chat” and ask each other questions within that page, start making suggestions on content and it is all automatically saved and updated in “the cloud”.

I also used Google documents to summarise and develop my Synchronous learning checklist / rubric and evaluate a few demo lessons provided by our instructor.  See here for the rubric and how I’ve used it (and some more detailed reflection on these lessons) here.  I’ll also be using this rubric to assess our final synchronous lesson which will be a kind of Teacher PD session on LMSs (learning management systems), more specifically Schoology and Edmodo.

Stay tuned for more on the outcome of our lesson success / failure and on Schoology as my current school, MLC Sydney, will be trialling it in full this semester.


Caroline Haythornthwaite, “Building Social Networks via Computer Networks: Creating and Sustaining Distributed Learning Communities,” in Building Virtual Communities: Learning and Change in Cyberspace, K. Ann Renninger and Wesley Schumar, eds. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 159–190.


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