Synchronous vs Asynchronous Online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) Programs

If you’re considering earning your online Master of Legal Studies (MLS) degree, you’ve probably come across the terms synchronous and asynchronous learning. Your choice of one MLS program over the other—or a blend of both—may be one of the pivotal decisions that will shape your experience in class and your chances of success in pursuing your degree.

Here’s what to know about the potential pros and cons of each type of learning before you choose a school.

What is Synchronous Learning?

Synchronous learning describes a learning experience that takes place in real time. Such experiences may include live lectures and discussions, using video conferencing software on your computer or by accessing a learning management system. Classes run at set times and days, much like in traditional on-campus programs, giving you the opportunity to interact with your instructors and classmates.

What is Asynchronous Learning?

Asynchronous learning happens on your own schedule. You can view your professors’ recorded lectures simply by logging on and participate in online discussions whenever it’s best for you. You work on your assignments on your own timetable and turn them in by set deadlines.

What are the differences between Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning?

Synchronous and asynchronous learning are two main forms of online education. The key difference is that the synchronous model lets you learn live from any location, even far away from the physical classroom. Asynchronous learning, on the other hand, gives you greater flexibility to learn from any place and at any time.

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Both synchronous and asynchronous learning comes with relative advantages and some drawbacks. Whether a synchronous or asynchronous MLS program is best for you depends on several factors. They can range from your personal style of learning to how you like to get feedback to your level of independence.

Advantages of Synchronous MLS Programs

A synchronous MLS program allows you to earn your degree online in a way that closely mirrors on-campus learning. Here are some of the benefits of choosing a synchronous MLS program:  

Interactive classrooms: Many synchronous lectures use two-way video streaming that allows legal students to participate in live discussions. You may be able to get answers and in-depth clarification in real time.

Learn from your peers.During synchronous classes, students can split up into smaller groups using features/tools offered by video conferencing software such as Zoom. Virtual learning interfaces such as Blackboard, also make it possible to easily interact with your peers with an activity stream. You might find that these sessions add an extra dimension of engagement to your learning in legal studies.

Personal connections. For you, synchronous online classes may not match face-to-face encounters, but they do give you opportunities to get to know your professors and fellow students personally, and vice versa. Those contacts may prove valuable as you pursue your career in the legal field.

Structure.If you thrive on routine, the set schedules for attending synchronous MLS classes may help you stay on track. And that may even make it easier for you to finish your degree by your intended graduation deadline.

Advantages of Asynchronous MLS Programs

An asynchronous MLS program also has unique advantages. If you’re considering this option, here are some factors to keep in mind: 

Flexibility. Do you work full time or even part time? Are you a parent or a family caretaker? An asynchronous online MLS program allows you to complete your coursework around your personal schedule—not the other way around. You can watch recorded classes at night, on weekends or during holidays. You can watch the whole lecture in one sitting or come back to it at a later time.

Learning pace. Usually, you can enroll in as few as one class (three credit hours) per semester. Or you can load up on more classes and finish your assignments quicker if your time permits. Asynchronous MLS programs let you set the timetable for completing your degree.

Wider options. If you don’t need to attend online classes in real time, it opens up your choice of schools to those located miles away from you and even those in different time zones. That means more options to pick an MLS program that best fits your interest in legal careers. 

Which Online Learning Type is Better for You?

This is a highly personal choice. Only you can decide which type of learning in legal studies will give you the best shot at thriving in your classes. In addition to your career goals, consider the following points listed below. 

A synchronous model may be a good pick for you, if you:

  • Like or need the regimen of attending classes at set times. 
  • Seek a two-way learning experience and the chance to engage with your instructors in real time.
  • Value the chance to make professional contacts with your classmates during interactive sessions.

An asynchronous program may be a good option for you, if you:

  • Want maximum freedom to fit your academic schedule into your personal life, with minimum disruption. Asynchronous programs may let you keep your current job while studying toward your online MLS degree.
  • Are independent and have the discipline to push yourself academically at your own pace.
  • Are a mid-career professional with existing legal industry contacts that you might otherwise hope to meet at school.

Information on this page was last retrieved in February 2022.