Synchronous Vs. Asynchronous Training

Lo Kidd

July 28, 2021

With the hybrid work revolution, you now have a lot more freedom around how you train your team. You can stick to the old-school synchronous classroom approach. Or invest in asynchronous online training. Better yet, mix it up with a bit of both!

So, what’s the difference between synchronous and asynchronous? And more importantly, which training method is best for your team? 

What is synchronous training?

Synchronous training (AKA instructor-led training) refers to all types of learning where the instructor and the trainee are in the same space at the same time to make it happen. For example, when you were in school and sat in a traditional classroom every day, that was synchronous learning. 

Synchronous learning

Typically, synchronous training is considered the more traditional route. Because until recently, it was really the only effective method. As a result, tons of tools are available to make it happen (like PowerPoint and lots of learning and development studies). 

And with the recent push for remote work, there are even tools (like Zoom) that make synchronous learning possible from anywhere. Even opposite ends of the globe.

Synchronous training pros

  • Real-time discussion. By having the instructor actively involved, questions get answered right away, and mistakes get corrected before anyone heads into the field. 
  • Create cross-team collaboration. Synchronous training usually happens in a larger group, providing teammates who typically don’t work together with an opportunity to collaborate. This can be a winning play for establishing cross-department relationships!
  • Time-sensitive training. Everyone gets the information all at once. Meaning, everyone’s on the same page faster. And there’s not one person who’s still doing things the “old way” because they haven’t gotten around to reading the updated process.

Synchronous training cons

  • Scheduling conflicts. There are more meetings now than ever. And as a result, people’s calendars are packed weeks in advance. So, finding a training time that works for everyone (especially one that’s sooner rather than later) can be impossible. Especially if you need to train more than one person.  
  • Super expensive. Synchronous training costs your company thousands when you add up hours alone. That’s because you either get everyone in one training session (and no one is productive). Or, you run multiple sessions (this disrupts productivity, especially for managers leading the sessions).  
  • Getting people engaged. Most companies assume that if someone sits through the training, they’re fully trained. But that’s not typically the case. Instead, you’ll move too fast for some, too slow for others, and be too boring for the rest. Regardless, this leaves most folks checking out within the first half-hour, so they don’t learn much.  
  • Instructor inconsistency. Even if you keep a trainee engaged, you still have the variable of the instructor. Such as what an instructor decides to cover, if they give the right information, or how well they explain it. As a result, the end results are total chaos because you can’t guarantee who knows what – and you can’t hold folks accountable. 

What is asynchronous training?

Asynchronous training (AKA self-led online learning) is the opposite of synchronous training. Meaning, it’s when trainees access their training without the instructor and get up to speed on their own. And as a result, they can go through the information at any time and from anywhere.

Asynchronous learning

For this training method to work, managers need to document their best practices and processes. But unlike asynchronous training, they only have to do this once, and then they’re done (minus a few updates from time to time). 

Then, using that documentation, they can train one person or 1,000 people without wasting tons of hours or explaining the same topic again and again. 

Asynchronous learning is still relatively new. But in recent years, the self-paced training method has exploded in popularity. As a result, top-rated training tools like Trainual have received massive funding to make them more widely available.

Asynchronous training pros

  • More consistent results. With documented training, everyone learns to do the same things the same way. And as a result, everyone does it consistently moving forward. This consistency can lift revenue by 15% when applied to your customer journey alone. Plus, if someone does something “their own way,” you can hold them accountable. 
  • Higher retention. That’s because it’s self-led. So, the trainee only moves onto the next topic when they fully understand the one before it. And they can move as fast or as slow as they want. They’re also more likely to take breaks before hitting information overload. This gives their brain more time to digest what they learned and ultimately helps them retain it the first time around. 
  • Save thousands annually. Similarly, when employees can get themselves through their training, there’s no need to pull on managers. So, your leadership team (AKA the ones who you spend more on hourly) can get back to work. And you’re only investing in the actual time spent training. Plus, because folks retain more when they train asynchronously, they only have to do it once, saving you even more long term. 
  • Answers on-demand. When most people have questions, the first thing they do is ask their manager. Or, they’ll spend 100+ minutes a day looking for the information needed to do their jobs. But for asynchronous training, those answers are documented and easily accessible. So, team members can refresh their memory in seconds and get back to work.
  • Supports hybrid work. We’ll just say it – your remote employees don’t want to go into the office for an in-person training session. Instead, they want their training program to uphold the freedom and flexibility they’ve grown accustomed to. And plainly put, asynchronous training does that. Synchronous does not.

Asynchronous training cons

  • Slower feedback loop. With asynchronous training, not everyone will be online while a person is doing training. Meaning, if someone has a pressing question, they’ll still need to lean on their manager. And if that manager is offline, it could be a while. But once the question is answered, the manager can quickly update the existing documentation. That way, people can answer the question for themselves next time. 
  • Requires self-motivation. No one is going to sit around telling you to do your training. There are automated reminders, but ultimately, it’s up to the trainee to find a time that works. However, leading asynchronous training tools like Trainual gamify the training process to keep team members invested. Plus, it even tracks progress, so you can follow up personally (if it comes to that). 

Which training method is better?

Synchronous training and asynchronous training both have their place. And which one is best for your team really depends on your business and how much you’re willing to put in for your return. 

That’s why, in most cases, it’s best to rely heavily on asynchronous training (the more cost effective method). Then, leave the final, more personal touches to synchronous methods (the more expensive option). That way, you get the benefits of both – without breaking the bank. 

For example, we use (to nobody’s surprise) Trainual to share important need-to-knows to our team. That way, everyone gets the same information. And we can track who has done what training and test that they understood it. 

Plus, we’re the first to admit that we have a high output team. But training asynchronously makes sure that everyone is always up to speed. Everyone can do it on their schedule – not on ours. And automated reminders make sure they get it all done. 

Then, if anyone has any unanswered questions after going through all the content, we address them in our weekly 1:1s

Weekly 1:1s are kind of like office hours. They’re standing 60-minute syncs between a manager and each direct report. And they provide opportunities for open discussion and hands-on coaching related to any training, projects, obstacles, or work-life balance. Really, whatever our team needs help with. 

But if someone has a pressing question and their 1:1 isn’t for a few days, there’s no need to wait for an answer. That person can Slack or call their direct manager about it. Or, reach out to the subject matter expert (noted as the “Subject Owner” on the training content) directly if there’s a better person to ask. 

For example, if a Junior Engineer has a question about benefits, they can reach out directly to our Head of People. No need to add red tape by going through their direct manager. 

As an asynchronous training tool, we’re the first to say that synchronous and asynchronous training plays an important part in getting your team on the same page. But one (a-hem, asynchronous) is the star of the show. And the other has just a supporting role.

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