Delivery mode

What to consider

One of your first significant decisions when designing an online course is whether your course best suits a synchronous (real-time) or asynchronous model.

Here are some questions to ask yourself in making this decision:

  1. How much time do you have to develop your course?
    Synchronous courses more closely mimic your face-to-face courses and so can get “up and running” more quickly.
  2. Where are your students located?
    If you have students spread out over many time zones, holding synchronous class times can be challenging.
  3. What types of learning media exist?
    A fully asynchronous, text-based course is less likely to stimulate interest and learning. However, if high-quality videos or podcasts exist or can be created and embedded in the course, an asynchronous learning environment becomes richer and more engaging.
  4. What is your preferred teaching style? What forms of pedagogy best match your discipline? What are the particular learning outcomes for your course?
    These questions factor into the learning activities that you will choose, which then factor into whether the course fits better with a synchronous or asynchronous model. See the Active Learning section of this website for more information about designing activities that enable and require students to be an active participant in their learning.

It’s important to note that:

  • Students have indicated that they prefer a combination of synchronous and asynchronous course components.
    The asynchronous components allow students flexibility so that they can engage with course materials on their own schedule. The synchronous components allow for personal interaction with peers and the instructor, which helps with motivation and comprehension and helps to overcome a sense of social isolation.
  • Asynchronous does not imply that courses are devoid of interaction.
    There are many creative ways to build interaction into the Canvas platform through discussion boards and assignment design.
  • Even fully asynchronous courses can provide opportunities for synchronous interaction through peer study and support groups.

What are the options?

For synchronous delivery

Blackboard Collaborate Ultra: “A real-time video conferencing tool that lets you add files, share applications, and use a virtual whiteboard”

Zoom: “An easy, reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars”

For asynchronous delivery

Canvas learning management system: SFU’s institutionally supported learning management system; note that Canvas shells are also used for synchronous courses

Additional resources