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Synchronous or Asynchronous: Factors that Influence Training Strategy

Training programs can be broadly classified into two types: synchronous and asynchronous. As a learning and development professional, I often find myself involved in discussions to understand which type of training delivery works well for a particular learner group or subject area. Do we follow a synchronous method of training delivery or do we take the asynchronous route? A colleague of mine says “There’s nothing like the good old classroom training program” and I can’t disagree. I say “Make the classroom training, technology-enabled, and it’s even better”. Another colleague says “Online training is cool, I love the flexibility that comes with anytime, anywhere learning”. Again I find myself nodding in agreement. How do you decide when to go for synchronous and when to opt for an asynchronous type of training? Read on to know more about the factors that influence your decision to choose a type of training.

Real-Time Interaction

When you need the learners to participate in real-time training with an instructor or facilitator, synchronous training is the choice to opt for. It is not necessary for all the learners to be present in the same location. Virtual instructor-led training is a great way to train a geographically-dispersed group. The learners can view visuals and listen to audio at the same time, and also get the instructor to answer their questions immediately. Synchronous e-learning programs require learners to be online at a specific time.

Synchronous learning programs are used in training programs that require a high amount of trainer/learner interaction. For example, product demos and tasks that involve hands-on practice like operating a machine or teaching surgical skills to trainee surgeons.

Asynchronous training programs are used when training needs to be self-paced. Interactions between the trainer and participants is not real-time. This does not mean that learner and trainer interaction is absent. It is facilitated by other tools like discussion forums and email. Asynchronous training programs can be used to teach simple procedures or facts, and encourage reflective learning.

Training Budget

Synchronous training programs are expensive when compared to asynchronous training programs. The travel expenses of participants attending a classroom training or the cost of setting up a technology-enabled virtual classroom may not fall under stringent training budgets.

When you are on a shoestring budget, and the instructional material to be delivered is not very complex, asynchronous training can be the perfect strategy to deliver engaging training programs. With asynchronous training, you invest once and reap its benefits multiple times.

Number of Learners

If you are organizing training programs for a large number of learners in a corporate or a university, asynchronous training programs provide the ideal solution. You do not have to worry about conflicts in schedules or arranging a training venue. You only have to let learners know the deadline to complete the online training program and let them learn at a pace that’s convenient to them.

Synchronous training programs may not be suitable for a large number of learners. Even if you had to organize training in batches, imagine the expenses involved in training each batch of learners. Asynchronous learning on the other hand, is a one-time investment, irrespective of the number of learners. It is highly scalable as there is no pre-defined upper limit on the number of learners.

Nature of Content

The content that needs to be covered in your training program is a major influence on the choice of training delivery. Synchronous training is best suited for content that requires detailed explanation. It is easier to simplify complex concepts with the help of an instructor or facilitator. When your training program is all about communication skills, problem solving, or teamwork, synchronous training is best suited.

If you have content that is to be used as a performance support tool or to provide just-in-time training, an asynchronous training program is perfect. If you need to provide learners a chance to skip training on what they already know, asynchronous training makes it possible. For example, in a synchronized training program you have a structured training program that requires you to complete one level of training before moving on to the next one. In an asynchronous training program, learners can be given an option to skip the basic level of a training if they are able to score well in an assessment. Learners also have an option to follow a personalized learning path, which is difficult to implement in synchronized training programs.

Choice of training type depends on the objectives of training program. Conducting an audience analysis can help you decide between a synchronous and asynchronous mode of training delivery. Most organizations have benefited from combining the best of both synchronous and asynchronous training approaches as it maximizes the learning experience. If you would like to add to these factors that influence choice of training type, please do so through the comments section.

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