What Is Asynchronous Learning?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Asynchronous learning takes place at all different times for students enrolled in a course. Learn more about this learning strategy and its benefits.

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Asynchronous learning is learning that takes place at different times for students enrolled in a course.

Asynchronous learning is any type of learning where you make your own schedule and that does not require consistent real-time interactions with an instructor. It differs from synchronous learning, which can be done online or in person, and requires you and your classmates to attend scheduled classes with your instructor.

There are many benefits to asynchronous learning. Let's take a closer look at this learning structure so you can better understand whether it’s the right choice for your education.

What makes learning asynchronous?

When used in an educational context, asynchronous learning refers to students accessing course materials—lectures, readings, and assignments—in their own time. Learning, in other words, takes place at all different times for students enrolled in a course because there’s no set class time.

Asynchronous learning can include:

  • Watching pre-recorded lectures

  • Undertaking independent research and writing projects

  • Participating in an online discussion forum

  • Watching online videos and taking a quiz to test your understanding

  • Completing a guided project

  • Emailing classmates when completing a team project

An in-person instructor may use elements of asynchronous learning to supplement a synchronous class. For example, they may choose to move one lesson online and have students complete it on their own time. But in essence, asynchronous learning refers to online courses designed so students can learn on their own time.

Online learning: Asynchronous vs. synchronous

When you take a course online, it will either be structured synchronously or asynchronously. Each university or college will determine how their courses are taught, though your online degree or diploma program should clarify which structure to expect prior to enrolment.

Asynchronous online courses

There are different asynchronous models. If your courses are offered through a college or university, you may have an assigned instructor available to grade your assignments and answer your questions. Your courses will also likely follow the school’s semester or quarter system, where assignments have various due dates or follow an overall timeline. In that case, you can learn at your own pace but within a set amount of time. 

However, some online courses have an instructor who has prepared all materials but does not oversee the course each time it’s offered. Instead, you’ll likely be expected to watch video lectures that require you to pass quizzes or tests to advance—without direct feedback. You may have more time to complete your work, in some instances, or have the option to extend your deadlines if you need more time.

Synchronous online courses

A synchronous online course means you’ll likely meet for a class using video conferencing software. You and your peers will learn from your instructor in real time but that learning primarily takes place virtually. 

Are self-taught courses asynchronous?

Asynchronous learning typically involves a course or program with an instructor, even if you don’t meet with that person in real time. Self-taught programs, like tutorials or learning software, without instructor involvement are generally not considered asynchronous because you often determine what you will complete without formal guidance.

Benefits of learning asynchronously

Asynchronous learning has gained a lot of popularity since the pandemic moved a good deal of education online. There are many benefits associated with learning asynchronously—let’s go over a few of them:

  • Flexibility: Because there are no set classes to attend, you can work on your studies in between your other obligations.

  • Self-paced: Oftentimes, you can learn at your own pace, taking your time to fully grasp new concepts and become more familiar with key lessons.

  • Review: You can return to past lessons or lectures to review something you might still need to look at.

  • Skills development: Learning on your own schedule and at your own pace frequently requires a substantial amount of drive and dedication. Learning with this structure usually means you get the opportunity to refine valuable workplace skills, such as time management, attention to detail, and problem-solving.

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Asynchronous vs. synchronous: Which is the best learning style for you?

With the growing number of degrees available online, there are more opportunities than ever before to learn asynchronously. But determining whether you should enrol in an online program that features asynchronous or synchronous learning is an important question. A 2021 study found that students still largely preferred synchronous learning for socialization, but that asynchronous learning could foster community through discussion posts and peer interaction [1].

Think about your overall goals and which type of learning might help you best accomplish them. For example, if you’re working full time, and you’d like to keep developing your professional experience while pursuing further education, asynchronous learning may be best for you. But if you know you do better when you have set class meetings and can engage in a real-time lecture, then synchronous learning may be the better option for you.

It helps to understand how you best learn in order to determine which online structure will suit your needs and help you achieve your greater goals.

Explore further

One way to figure out how you respond to asynchronous learning is to give it a try through a sample course. You can explore a number of online courses on Coursera, studying business, data science, health, languages, and more. Enrol in one today to see how you enjoy the flexible schedule and self-paced learning.

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Article sources

  1. International Journal of Educational Research Open. “Moving Forward: International Students’ Perspectives of Online Learning Experience During the Pandemic, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedro.2023.100276.” Accessed March 21, 2024.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.