As you begin considering your online college options, you may come across unfamiliar words like synchronous and asynchronous. You may wonder what these terms mean and what to expect from a synchronous or asynchronous course. You might question which type of online class is the right choice for you.

The Importance of Time in Online Courses

Both synchronous and its antonym asynchronous refer to time. When you consider the advantages of online college, among the ones that quickly come to mind are the flexibility and convenience. Part of what makes online courses so convenient is that you don’t have to commute to a physical campus but can instead complete your coursework from anywhere. For some students, another major part of the convenience of online college is the ability to work on your own schedule. Whether or not the online college program you’re considering facilitates this scheduling convenience depends on whether the course is synchronous or asynchronous.

How Synchronous Online Courses Work

Synchronous courses resemble traditional on-campus college classes in that students must be (virtually) present at the same time. Though they are conducted over the Internet, synchronous courses unfold in real-time, which is why U.S. News & World Report also calls these classes “live.” Students must commit to scheduled class times and sign onto their virtual learning platform on schedule. During these courses, students will watch video lessons and slideshow presentations and even have virtual class discussions.

The Flexibility of Asynchronous Online Courses

Asynchronous online courses, on the other hand, don’t require you to log in to your virtual classroom at a specified time. Students can complete their coursework first thing in the morning, before heading into the office; in the evening, while dinner is cooking; or even late at night, after the kids are already in bed. They don’t have to stick to a strict schedule to engage in live classes or discussions, and the only requirement regarding when they turn in their work is the assignment deadline, not an arbitrary timeline. Asynchronous courses are also referred to as “self-paced,” according to U.S. News & World Report, because students must work more independently.

The Pros and Cons of Synchronous and Asynchronous Courses

As a student concerned with flexibility, you may wonder why all online classes aren’t asynchronous. There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of online course, according to U.S. News & World Report. For example, though synchronous courses might not allow for as flexible a schedule as asynchronous courses, they are more similar to traditional college courses. Students may feel that they have more interaction with their instructors and fellow students, so they feel more engaged. Unlike asynchronous courses, which require students to work independently for the duration of the class, synchronous courses mean that students aren’t on their own.

Whether a synchronous or asynchronous program is right for you depends on how much you value a flexible schedule and whether or not you’re an independent learner.