With the surge in distance learning and remote job opportunities, the popularity of both online learning and the cybersecurity field has increased exponentially. As more and more educational and business needs transfer online, so does the need for cybersecurity analysts who can ensure that the changeover is handled safely and smoothly.
Cybersecurity is technology’s fastest-growing field with an expected 350% leap in job growth in 2021 and nearly 4 million unfilled cybersecurity positions worldwide. There is a huge global demand for people in cybersecurity, but not enough job seekers trained to fill those positions.
That’s where online learning comes in.
More and more companies are looking past the four-year degree requirement and looking at skills-based learning. As learning moves online, so does the need to understand the two main types of online learning: asynchronous versus synchronous. Let’s take a look and determine which is most effective, and how they benefit the future of cybersecurity.
Asynchronous Versus Synchronous Learning
There are two types of online learning: asynchronous and synchronous. The difference between the two comes down to real time. That is, whether students and professors get to see each other “live” at a scheduled time.
Educational institutions should consider the advantages and disadvantages of each method to determine whether asynchronous or synchronous learning is best for their institution and learner profile.
What is Asynchronous Learning?
In asynchronous learning, students and professors don’t interact in real time. Instead, students are given online assignments, readings, and projects to complete independently.
Students and instructors interact in an online classroom where students post assignments, participate in discussion forums, receive and respond to teacher feedback, or complete group projects.
Advantages of Asynchronous Learning
Especially given the context of cybersecurity training, asynchronous learning best matches the profiles of adult learners who need a flexible schedule. Because learners in asynchronous online programs are not required to meet at a given time, they can fit classwork around their schedules. Full-time or part-time jobs, child care duties, other learning programs, or personal, professional, or social responsibilities can all eat away at a student’s day.
With asynchronous learning, students are in control of when and where they complete coursework, so they are better able to schedule their time.
Unlimited Audience, Worldwide Reach
Cybersecurity is a globally in-demand field. Asynchronous learning allows learners around the globe the opportunity to access a quality educational program. Asynchronous classes can handle a larger number of participants and, without the need to meet at a fixed time, students located in any time zone are able to participate.
Asynchronous learning helps students retain information. How? Because students can learn at their own pace. They can rewatch course videos until they understand the material and then raise any doubts or concerns in detailed exchanges with instructors.
Since the skills gap in cybersecurity is so big, asynchronous learning helps ensure that trainees are learning (and retaining) the skills they need to be successful in the industry.
It’s much cheaper to create a class once and upload it to an institution’s educational platform than it is to have in-person or live sessions. An asynchronous learning budget allows more money to be diverted to instructors. In effect, giving them more resources to answer student queries and offer feedback.
Accommodating for Different Types of Learners
Asynchronous learning levels the playing field for students of all types. Oftentimes synchronous learning thrives on the loudest and most outspoken students getting the most attention. Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, allows soft-spoken learners to equally participate in discussion forums.
It also gives learners more time to process a given assignment or question before responding. This lends itself to more thoughtful responses and higher-level interactions.
It’s the type of back-and-forth communication that gets learners to process content on a deeper level.
Disadvantages of Asynchronous Learning
Lack of Community
Meeting at different times means there are fewer opportunities to bond with classmates in a live setting. This causes students in asynchronous classes to lack a sense of community or comradery.
Lack of Real-Time Feedback
When students and teachers don’t meet in real time, it also means instructor feedback isn’t immediate. Students in asynchronous courses must be prepared to wait for a slower back-and-forth exchange with instructors and other classmates.
Requires Motivated Learners
While asynchronous learning is student-centered, that can also become a hindrance. To be successful, students need to maintain a high level of self-discipline and motivation. Furthermore, when students lack a learning community and don’t receive immediate feedback, it may lead to feelings of isolation and overwhelm that can cause students to lose motivation.
What is Synchronous Learning?
In synchronous learning, teachers and students meet in real time. That means live sessions for lectures, discussions, and group work.
Technically speaking, in-person classes are (for the most part) synchronous, but online learning can vary.
Advantages of Synchronous Learning
Online Learning With a Human Touch
Real-time discussions create an interactive learning environment that increases student engagement. During live sessions, learners are able to have lively back-and-forth exchanges with their peers and receive immediate feedback from their professors.
Sense of Community
Live interactions also allow students to get to know their peers and instructors. Consider the weeks, months, or years that they will be working and learning together—understandably, those interactions evolve as students bond.
As adult learners, that sense of community can lead to networking opportunities, mentor groups, or professional friendships that can benefit their cybersecurity careers in the future.
Synchronous learning, though not as cheap as asynchronous courses, also reduces costs. Not having to pay the overhead of a physical classroom certainly makes it a more budget-friendly option.
And with over 560,000 unfilled cybersecurity jobs in North America alone, it’s important to make training as affordable as possible for potential students eager to fill those positions.
Disadvantages of Synchronous Learning
Set meeting times are harder to work around for busy adults. While there’s the benefit of not having to take time out of one’s schedule to commute to a physical location, students must still be locked to their computers for the duration of their live, online sessions.
The pace, activities, and discussions are set by the instructor. For students with learning disabilities or those who simply need to go at a slower pace, synchronous learning may not give every learner the tools they need to succeed.
Quality of Instruction Depends on the Instructor
Furthermore, it’s pivotal that online training programs choose the right instructor. The quality of instruction depends on their ability to create clear and concise lessons, create positive student-teacher interactions, and provide timely feedback. Unsatisfactory instructors can lead to decreased student engagement and poor learning outcomes.
Cybersecurity courses should consider hiring instructors that have years of experience but can still relate with students. They should be actively involved in the industry while also up-to-date on the latest cybersecurity trends and news.
Dependant on Technology
Finally, the quality of live online interactions is subject to technology. Student and teacher device and internet connectivity issues can make or break a class. Educational institutions need to keep this in mind in the hopes of planning a smooth, effective, and successful online curriculum.
What About Hybrid Learning?
For the most part, when people refer to hybrid learning they are referring to a mixture of online and in-person classes. However, the hybrid learning umbrella is a blend of any type of teaching approach—whether that’s in-person and online, or synchronous and asynchronous.
Hybrid learning can include:
- An in-person and an online synchronous approach
- An in-person and an online asynchronous approach
- An in-person and an online approach that is both synchronous and asynchronous
- An online program that is both synchronous and asynchronous
What’s Most Effective?
That depends on the needs of any given educational institution and its students. To effectively implement a synchronous or asynchronous approach consider:
- Hardware and software requirements of students, faculty, and the educational institution
- The need for a student-centered or instructor-led approach
- A flexible versus a fixed schedule
- School and student budget constraints
- Quality of the instructors
Some argue that an online hybrid approach that uses both synchronous and asynchronous learning is most effective. Why? Because it benefits from both methods. It allows for human interaction and immediate feedback, mixed with a combination of student-led and instructor-led coursework.
For example, the Cybint Cybersecurity Bootcamp uses a combination approach that allows for full-time students to receive four hours of daily synchronous learning with a Bootcamp Facilitator and individual asynchronous online work.
Online Learning Opens Doors
Regardless of whether online cybersecurity programs are synchronous or asynchronous, online learning opens doors for many people who would otherwise be unable to enter the field. It creates opportunities for people who can’t afford the hefty price tag of a four-year school, who are unable to relocate to a quality school, or that need a flexible schedule that works around work and family obligations.
Virtual education, in both its asynchronous and synchronous forms, bridges that gap.