Seven Strategies for a Successful Synchronous Session
Concurrent Session 7
The benefits of synchronous learning include learners who are more engaged, feel strongly connected to their peers, and are motivated to continue interactions. However, hosting a successful synchronous session can be daunting. Learn research-based strategies and best practices for creating and leading an effective synchronous learning experience on any platform.
Advantages of Synchronous Learning
Synchronous learning, which refers to a learning event in which students are engaged in learning at the same time, offers multiple ways for students and educators to interact meaningfully. Examples of synchronous learning include video conferencing, webcasts, webinars, interactive learning models, and even telephone calls (Er, Ozden, & Arifoglu, 2009). Online students identify positively with synchronous interactions because of the instantaneous feedback it affords, the preference to see their classmates, and a feeling of being more engaged in the online experience (Falloon, 2011; Hrastinski, 2008; Stein, Wanstreet, & Calvin, 2009; Strang, 2013). Additionally, students report that synchronous interactions feel more casual (which is preferred), improve social interactions with their classmates, and allow them to monitor classmates’ reactions during discussions, resulting in a motivation to continue to engage and learn with them (Hrastinski, 2008).
To make synchronous learning as engaging and useful as possible, it is important to design such sessions intentionally and deliberately. The following strategies, based in research and best practices, can be used by online K-12 or higher ed instructors to ensure successful and effective synchronous learning sessions.
Strategies for Successful Synchronous Learning
Clearly communicate the technology requirements necessary to run the synchronous platform at the start of the course. Identify the hardware (e.g. laptop, desktop, headsets) and any software students will need from the very beginning (Pan & Sullivan, 2005; Giesber et al., 2014). Many platforms have a free app in addition to their web-based platform and the app can easily be downloaded and used in case students are unable to access the platform on their laptop or desktop computer. Being prepared to join the synchronous session on more than one device helps to overcome unforeseen issues that often surface at the last minute, as does making sure you have communicated the technology requirements prior to the start.
Offer a casual practice synchronous session to your students prior to the formal synchronous session. McBrien, Jones, and Cheng (2009) recommend that initial training with the synchronous platform be implemented before classes even begin, though it may be more realistic to offer a drop in session where learners can log into the platform for a few minutes to test their audio and video connections and ask any questions a few days before the official synchronous session. Learners who are new to synchronous communication will appreciate the comfort this casual practice session provides. Additionally, providing links or “how to” manuals or guides for technical support information like how to connect your audio or troubleshooting your video connection may be appreciated by new as well as experienced learners.
Prepare your synchronous space prior to the start of the session. Yamagata-Lynch (2014) cautions that the instructor/designer of a synchronous learning space needs to carefully reflect and be deliberate about the structures made available to participants. Many synchronous platforms allow hosts to customize the room by adding images, arranging the display, and sharing files. As the leader, you should prepare your “room” prior to the start of the session, just as you would prepare your face-to-face classroom. Taking the time to prepare and customize the visual display shows the students that you are interested and invested. Once your synchronous session is “live,” consider viewing it on an additional device so that you can see the room the same way that your students are seeing it, and not just from the host perspective.
Consider your primary objective for having a synchronous session. Taking time to clearly define goals, determine what content and learning methods to include, and how you can engage the learners to achieve the best results is all part of the preparation. Hosting a synchronous session just to lecture to your students can be viewed as a waste of time. Why does the learning need to occur synchronously? What is being offered to students that makes this a valuable experience? Asking students to prepare something to share during the session that is connected to your primary objective is one way to ensure their participation and engagement in the synchronous session.
Integrate group collaboration activities during the synchronous session. Synchronous communication enables learners to benefit from the knowledge and experience of their peers, even if they are geographically separated. Preparing a scenario that students can discuss or solve or providing a short list of discussion questions will allow for meaningful group collaboration. With a large group of students, you can use the “break-out rooms” or similar feature found in most synchronous platforms to include some small group discussion time.
Be attentive to the different channels of communication that are available in the synchronous platform and monitor each one during the session. Most platforms allow for chat, video, and audio. Encourage students to use the chat feature if others are talking and they would like to contribute. Attending to the different channels of communication and monitoring and supporting the contributions of all participants leads to a successful session (McDaniels, Pfund, & Bamicle, 2016). If it’s too difficult for one person to monitor multiple channels, consider asking a student to be in charge of the chat or purposefully stop the discussion or presentation to check in on the various channels.
- Record your synchronous session. Most platforms allow you as the host to do this. Not only is this useful to students who were unable to attend the session, but it is ideal for those who were in attendance who want to review the content being learned and discussed.
Session Description and Outcomes
Visually appealing slides with photos of synchronous meeting spaces and a very brief overview of the advantages of synchronous learning along with the seven strategies mentioned above will be used in this discovery session. Additionally, handouts with an infographic of the seven strategies and web-links to free hosting platforms will be made available to participants. All of these materials will be posted on the conference website. Participants will be encouraged to share their own strategies and tips for hosting synchronous sessions and these will be added to a collaborative document that all can view (of which the URL will also be on the handout). Participants of this session will be able to
- Identify the benefits of synchronous communication.
- Design an effective synchronous learning session.
- Integrate strategies for hosting a successful synchronous session into their online teaching practices.
Er, E., Özden, M., & Arifoglu, A. (2009). A blended e-learning environment: A model proposition for integration of asynchronous and synchronous e-learning. International Journal Of Learning, 16(2), pp. 449-460.
Falloon, G. (2011). Making the connection: Moore’s theory of transactional distance and its relevance to the use of a virtual classroom in postgraduate online teacher education. Journal of Research and Technology in Education, 43(3), 187–209.
Giesbers, B., Rienties, B., Tempelaar, D., & Gijselaers, W. (2014). A dynamic analysis of the interplay between asynchronous and synchronous communication in online learning: The impact of motivation. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 30, 30–50.
Hrastinski, S. (2008). A study of asynchronous and synchronous e-learning methods discovered that each supports different purposes. Educause Quarterly, 4, 51–55. Retrieved from http://
McBrien, J. L., Jones, P., & Cheng, R. (2009). Virtual spaces: Employing a synchronous online classroom to facilitate student engagement in online learning. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(3).
McDaniels, M., Pfund, C., & Bamicle, K. (2016). Creating dynamic learning communities in synchronous online courses: One approach from the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching and Learning. Online Learning Journal 20(1), 110-130.
Pan, C., & Sullivan, M. (2005). Promoting synchronous interaction in an eLearning environment. Technical Horizons in Education Journal, 33(2), 27–30.
Stein, D. S., Wanstreet, C. E., & Calvin, J. (2009). How a novice adult online learner experiences transactional distance. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 10(3), 305–311.
Strang, K. (2013). Cooperative learning in graduate student projects: Comparing synchronous versus asynchronous collaboration. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 24(4), 447–464.
Yamagata-Lynch, L. (2014). Blending Online Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 15(2), 189-212.