Student and teacher experiences of online synchronous learning

Mallon, Sharon; Richards, Chris and Rixon, Andy (2023). Student and teacher experiences of online synchronous learning. Journal of Applied Research in Higher Education, 15(5) pp. 1688–1705.



The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about rapid changes in higher education (HE) pedagogies, with universities adding online options to their core face to face offering. The use of technology to facilitate learning has been a mainstay in traditional distance education settings. The paper aims to understand student and teacher experience of synchronous online learning in HE to develop practice and assist those newly coming to online teaching.

The authors conducted a ‘rapid review’ of articles related to this topic over the last 21 years. Thematic analysis of the 61 studies identified for inclusion were; Use of technology, planned pedagogy, comparison of synchronous and asynchronous learning, relationships online, teacher and student attitudes, COVID-19 reflections.

This study’s findings show many studies examined the transition from classroom to online learning, rather than the experience of being online. Building a community of learning, with interaction between all parties, was central to success in the development of an approach to online synchronous teaching.

Research limitations/implications
Few of the early papers included here expressly explored student and teacher experiences of synchronous learning. Instead, they broadly discussed blended learning, or compared functionality and effectiveness of online teaching, with traditional in person or offline/asynchronous alternatives. An additional drawback was that educators were frequently involved in studies which investigated the experiences of their own students.

This study is one of the few to focus on the experience of staff and students in the online synchronous environment. The results show there is scope to achieve improvement in online learning, through research focussed on how students, lecturers and institutional administrators adapt to the new normal.

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