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Importance of synchronous elements in fully online courses

Most institutions today are moving towards developing online courses that are 100% asynchronous (pre-recorded, self-paced) given its scalability. While the debate of asynchronous vs synchronous courses has been going for a while, we believe that the best asynchronous courses today have synchronous elements. If chosen strategically, synchronous elements can help enhance students engagement reducing dropouts thus improving the top line. Though asynchronous learning has many advantages, live interactions between the students and the instructor ensure more meaningful experiences such as:

  • Exploring different perspectives and experiences
  • Receiving instant feedback to ensure students are not stuck waiting for questions to be answered
  • Discussing content outside the curriculum such as the latest inventions, news or philosophies
  • Understanding subject elements such as decision making and communication skills

A recent study by Cyprus Institute of Technology showed that students had a positive attitude towards synchronous tutorials showed improvement in clarity of concepts and engagement with the course. Recent research done by enrolmentsolutions estimated the total student attrition cost for undergraduate students in Australia to be significantly over 1 Billion AUD. With rising student acquisition and retention costs, it is no surprise that top universities such as Columbia Business School and MIT Sloan have included several synchronous elements to their online executive courses in the form of weekly tutorials and webinars with industry experts.  At Connect2Teach, we conducted interviews with top online education leaders such as Associate Dean at Ashridge and Head of New Business Ventures at Open University on the future of online education and we saw a common acknowledgement that synchronous model of education enables students to build relationships, improves engagement and retention.

While institutions aspire to include synchronous/ blended components to their courses, there are several challenges that prevent universities from doing it at scale:

  • Cost of instruction: Synchronous elements drive up the cost of instruction per student
  • Availability of faculty: Faculty members today are overburdened with teaching. They have to take regular classes, conduct research, consult and finish administrative responsibilities.
  • Managing multiple time zones: Leading online providers such as the University of Manchester-Global and MIT have students across the world making it impossible to get all students together in one time slot.

At Connect2Teach, we have always believed that instructional cost, which currently is one of the biggest variable costs involved in delivery can actually be converted from cost burden to revenue upside if thought about differently. Below are some ways to tackle these challenges and help you differentiate your course:

  • Let your core faculty deliver asynchronously, get industry leaders to serve as course leaders: Your core faculty is expensive and busy but they are the face of your brand. When you register for a programme delivered by Cambridge Judge Business School, you want @Prof. Jaideep Prabhu (Author of Jugaad Innovation) to teach me marketing. Let all the core content be recorded with your key faculty while industry experts act as course leaders helping design and execute the courses. We connected Professor @Chris Coleridge to the founder of Babylon, @Ali Parsa to lead the healthcare pathway for an entrepreneurship course at Cambridge Judge Business School. Similarly, the Emeritus Institute of Management works with top industry experts such as @Alvin Ng to manage several synchronous elements of their programmes.
  • Introduce industry-led experiential experiences: Capstone projects and case studies have proven to be an effective means of ensuring students are augmented with practical skill sets. An average masters degree on Coursera hosts about a minimum of 3 capstone projects and several case studies incorporated as part of the course. Also, having a mentor to guide you through the projects, goes a long way in maintaining student motivation and engagement.
  • Localize content to specific geographies: Through time-zone appropriate activities and case studies. Given the rising cost of student acquisition, it is very important to communicate what differentiates a course from another and what students tend to gain. Working with local industry experts and corporates helps you demonstrate the applicability of courses for students and ensure employment outcomes are met. For example, a Fintech degree is completely useless for an Indian professional unless the Reserve Bank of India’s guidelines is covered in the programme.
  • Introduce career and employability services: Live webinars, guest lectures and panel discussions with industry experts help with both, career guidance, as well as subject matter knowledge and, are a great way to help students forge professional relationships. These services are readily available for on-campus programmes but not many institutions have translated these online yet. Companies such as OpenClassrooms have a 1-on-1 mentoring system for each project with at least 4-5 touch points during the course of the project to give students career guidance also.

With the rising cost of student acquisition, synchronous elements provide a huge opportunity for universities to differentiate their offerings by improving student completion rates. When students live on-campus, they formulate a commitment to their university due to all the interactions and relationships they forge. At Connect2Teach, we believe synchronous elements are the way to help create this relationship and the most successful asynchronous courses today will all have these synchronous elements.

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