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Asynchronous Versus Synchronous Learning in Pharmacy Education

Distance education is designed to deliver education to students who may not physically be at a specific site. Instead, students and instructors communicate with one another through the use of technology. In recent years, many health profession programs have created distance campus models and currently 20% of all pharmacy schools have adopted this form of education (Harrison, Congdon, & DiPiro, 2010).

Distance campuses are often created to increase access to major medical institutions, provide greater access of pharmacy education to placebound students, and increase class size. As the trend to develop more distance education campuses continues, it is important to understand the methods by which pharmacists are now being trained, the effectiveness of this model, and the satisfaction of those students completing their degree in this fashion.

The University of Florida College of Pharmacy (UFCOP) was one of the first Colleges of Pharmacy to begin a distance campus program. The University developed three distance education sites for their entry level Doctor of Pharmacy program in the Fall of 2002. One of the initial considerations was whether to utilize synchronous or asynchronous learning. Synchronous learning is defined as simultaneous interaction between 2 or more participants (Ashley, 2003; Cook, Levinson, Garside, Dupras, Erwin, & Montori, 2008).

Examples of synchronous learning include online chat, instant messaging, white boarding, file sharing, audioconferencing, webconferencing, and videoconferencing (Ashley, 2003; Cook et al., 2008). Despite the advantage of “real time” learning, general disadvantages including cost, technology requirements, and scheduling may limit the usefulness of synchronous learning (Ashley, 2003). Cost and consistent information technology (IT) support at each location were considered major disadvantages to using synchronous learning entirely in the UFCOP program.

Asynchronous learning allows communication to occur over a period of time, rather than simultaneously. General advantages to asynchronous learning include access to information and resources regardless of time, collaboration amongst groups of individuals regardless of time zone, and sharing of collective knowledge. However, asynchronous learning requires one to be self-disciplined and tends to be less personal than synchronous learning (Ashley, 2003). Examples of asynchronous learning include discussion boards, web blogs, email, streaming audio, streaming video, narrated slide shows, web-based training, databases, web books, surveys, shared calendars, and website links (Ashley, 2003).

A review of the literature indicates distance education utilizing synchronous and asynchronous learning is occurring within various institutions. The purpose of this article is to review the literature highlighting advantages and disadvantages of both forms of learning in order for educators to understand the method in which pharmacy students are being trained today.

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(Author: Carol A Motycka, Erin L St. Onge, Jennifer S Williams

Published by Sciedu Press)