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Synchronous and Asynchronous Communication Tools

By: Julia Ashley , iCohere julialynn@icohere.com
Source: Executive Update Online
Published: December 2003

As an online complement to their December 2003 Executive Update article, "Beyond the Breakout Room: How Technology Can Help Sustain Community," Soren Kaplan and Julia Lynn Ashley present a detailed view of some of the synchronous and asynchronous communication tools that associations can use to create a full, rich learning experience and sense of community for their members.

 

Synchronous Tools

Synchronous tools enable real-time communication and collaboration in a "same time-different place" mode. These tools allow people to connect at a single point in time, at the same time. Synchronous tools possess the advantage of being able to engage people instantly and at the same point in time. The primary drawback of synchronous tools is that, by definition, they require same-time participation -different time zones and conflicting schedules can create communication challenges. In addition, they tend to be costly and may require significant bandwidth to be efficient.

Tool Useful for Drawbacks
Audio conferencing Discussions and dialogue Cost, especially when international participation is involved
Web conferencing Sharing presentations and information Cost, bandwidth; may also require audio conferencing to be useful
Video conferencing In-depth discussions with higher-touch interactions Cost, limited availability of video conferencing systems
Chat Information sharing of low-complexity issues Usually requires typing, "lower touch" experience
Instant messaging Ad hoc quick communications All users must use compatible system, usually best for 1:1 interactions
White boarding Co-development of ideas Cost, bandwidth; may also require audio conferencing to be useful
Application sharing Co-development of documents Cost, bandwidth; may also require audio conferencing to be useful

Asynchronous Tools

Asynchronous tools enable communication and collaboration over a period of time through a "different time-different place" mode. These tools allow people to connect together at each person's own convenience and own schedule. Asynchronous tools are useful for sustaining dialogue and collaboration over a period of time and providing people with resources and information that are instantly accessible, day or night. Asynchronous tools possess the advantage of being able to involve people from multiple time zones. In addition, asynchronous tools are helpful in capturing the history of the interactions of a group, allowing for collective knowledge to be more easily shared and distributed. The primary drawback of asynchronous technologies is that they require some discipline to use when used for ongoing communities of practice (e.g., people typically must take the initiative to "login" to participate) and they may feel "impersonal" to those who prefer higher-touch synchronous technologies.

Tool Useful for Drawbacks
Discussion boards Dialogue that takes place over a period of time May take longer to arrive at decisions or conclusions
Web logs (Blogs) Sharing ideas and comments May take longer to arrive at decisions or conclusions
Messaging (e-mail) One-to-one or one-to-many communications May be misused as a "collaboration tool" and become overwhelming
Streaming audio Communicating or teaching Static and typically does not provide option to answer questions or expand on ideas
Streaming video Communicating or teaching Static and typically does not provide option to answer questions or expand on ideas
Narrated slideshows Communicating or teaching Static and typically does not provide option to answer questions or expand on ideas
"Learning objects"
(Web-based training)
Teaching and training Typically does not provide option to answer questions or expand on ideas in detail
Document libraries Managing resources Version control can be an issue unless check-in / check-out functionality is enabled
Databases Managing information and knowledge Requires clear definition and skillful administration
Web books Teaching and training Not dynamic and may lose interest of users
Surveys and polls Capturing information and trends Requires clear definition and ongoing coordination
Shared Calendars Coordinating activities System compatibility
Web site links Providing resources and references May become outdated and "broken"

A significant step beyond this smorgasbord of individual tools are web-based platforms that aim to provide some or most of the functionality of these standalone tools, but do so within a single integrated collaborative environment. The integration and synthesis of these tools creates a container that turns out to be far greater than the sum of its parts and can become the single portal for all community activities. Going beyond the hodgepodge of individual technologies can elevate members' experiences by encouraging collaborative learning and knowledge sharing.

Author Link: Soren Kaplan, PhD is co-founder of iCohere, a software and consulting firm that builds collaborative online communities. Julia Lynn Ashley is director of business development for iCohere. Kaplan and Ashley can be reached at soren@icohere.com and julialynn@icohere.com. For a free pass to view a recent online conference, contact Julia Lynn Ashley.

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