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What works best for distance education: synchronous or asynchronous communication?

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Neil Smith
3 April 2011

Communication tools in distance learning can be synchronous, such as a teleconference, or asynchronous, such as an online forum.  What are the pros and cons of each approach?  What technologies are available, and what works best? What are the impacts on workload, understanding and interpersonal relationships? 

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  • Both have pros and cons
  • Both need to be used
  • For DL possibly asynchronous as a dominant mode,  with synchronous in addition
  • Each mode encourages a different ‘flow’ of ideas


  • more conversational 
  • encourages quick thinking
  •  less cautious
  • minimizes the “frustration of waiting”
  • fleeting - points may disappear if not  immediately picked up on
  • more of an 'event'  - book and prepare for
  • motivating to hear / see  colleagues "in real time"
  • useful as "markers to keep everyone on the same time track"


  • Allows “thinking time”   for careful formulation of ideas
  • Thinking time may lead  to better quality / greater depth
  • (also to greater cautiousness ?)
  • More flexible, less constrained by the busy schedules or different  timezones
  • Those communicating in non-native language may find it easier to participate
  • Creates a record,  enabling  to come back to ‘less obvious’ points later
  • Allows ongoing feedback from the tutor
  • Allows sharing of resources relevant to discussion. 
  • Lower bandwidth = potentially wider access
  • Not affected by dropped connections / different speed
  • Gives everyone the chance to participate, regardless of assertiveness / confidence
  • Knowing that others are waiting for your contribution can be motivating

 Still debating (i.e. different opinions expressed in different posts)

  • Does one mode involve more commitment / motivation than the other?
  • Is one mode more influenced by group dynamics than the other?
  • Is asynchronous less “authentic” due to a greater possibility of assuming or projecting a different identity ?


Oksana Fedotova
08:33 on 6 April 2011 (Edited 20:16 on 8 April 2011)

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