The tools that can be utilized during an online course can be broken down into two main categories; Synchronous and Asynchronous. Synchronous tools would be instant messaging, live video chat (Skype, Google Chat) or even a telephone call! For an online course, it is not uncommon for a teacher to call a student welcoming them to the course. While it may seem like an ‘old’ technology, it is a great way to communicate synchronously. Asynchronous tools would be forums, email and even voicemail (although not as effective).
The synchronous tools are great because you know you have the persons attention at that moment. If a teacher is trying to guide a student to do something (maybe how to login to the CMS for the first time), then using synchronous tools leads to immediate results and both parties are on the same page. That teacher will know that the student has logged into the page and that student is able to trouble shoot any problems immediately over the phone or by instant messaging. This same example could be done asynchronously with images/text through email but if the teacher is very concerned about having students login, synchronous tools gives instant results.
The disadvantage of this is that the student and teacher both have to be available at that time and both need to have access to the tools being used. This is where the asynchronous tools shine. By having tutorials and readings done through forums or email, this allows both parties to work at their own pace and time. Also, if lectures are posted online, students are able to do their readings and homework at their own pace too. Asynchronous tools are not without their disadvantages as well. Most tools lack the body interaction of a face-to-face or face-to-classroom discussion. Tools that video stream often are not able to capture body expressions or reactions. There is also the issue of the ‘right now’ factor that asynchronous tools do not allow for. An emergency email can be sent out about some upcoming technical issues but whether it is going to be received immediately cannot be guaranteed.
Both tools can be utilized very effectively in an online course and they compliment each other well. Where one tool falls short, the other one excels and vise versa. I believe their the strongest when used in combination. Solely relying on one or the other, you will see their shortcomings but together creates a strong set of tools that have uses for all occasions.