I want to express in a description of personalized language instruction that some activities are synchronous, i.e. require a person-to-person meeting in realtime (e.g. in person, telephone, video-chat, texting) but other activities are asychronous, i.e. each person can complete communication on his own time (e.g. e-mails, website posting, dialogue journals that are exchanged, reading articles, correction of texts).

Instead of "Synchronous Activities" and "Asynchronous Activities", which are technical and require too much explanation, what are two other terms that would communicate to anyone the sense that the first group requires two people to be available at the same time, and the second group does not?

None of these are satisfactory:

  • "Meeting Activities" and "Non-Meeting Activities" ("non-meeting" is awkward)
  • "Same-Time Activities" and "Different-Time Activities" (awkward)
  • "Shared-Time Activities" and "Own-Time Activities" (awkward)
  • "Meeting Activities" and "Personal Activities" (maybe)
  • "Interactive Activities" and "Non-Interactive Activities" (maybe, but asynchronous activities can still be interactive [e.g. a dialogue journal that is passed back and forth])
  • "At-Meeting Activities" and "Out-of-Meeting Activities" (ok, but I don't want the second group to be defined as the negative/opposite of a meeting)
  • "Meeting Activities" and "Independent Activities" (this seems to be the best so far)

What 's the best way to express "Synchronous Activities" and "Asynchronous Activities" in a way that anyone immediately understands the above meanings of the terms?

  • Why do "same-time activities" and "different-time activities" sound awkward to you? They express exactly what you want to say in more familiar terms.
    – Irene
    Nov 2 '11 at 15:10
  • They seem awkward because it's not really clear from the names what is occurring at the same time or different time, e.g. jimreed's suggestion "real-time" and "turn-based" are terms that come from gaming and so people already have an idea what they probably mean in this context. Nov 2 '11 at 15:41

10 Answers 10


It's not that the words synchronous and asynchronous are "too technical" for the intended meanings - they're simply the wrong words to describe interaction between people (though they are standard terminology for the two different types of communication between electronic devices).

The normal term for what OP calls "synchronous" is [real-time] interactive. I can't think of a standard word for the opposite, but perhaps something based on delayed response would do.

Per @cindi's comment below, non-interactive is a perfectly good term for person-to-person communication where any response is so long delayed it's not meaningful to speak of, for example, the flow of conversation.

  • 1
    The dictionary meanings are: synchronous = existing or occurring at the same time, asynchronous = not happening at the same time or speed, so I think they are exactly the right words for what I want, but they are just too unfamiliar to most people since they usually describe technical, not human activity. Nov 2 '11 at 14:55
  • "Interactive" and "delayed" seem right to me (as adjectives applied to a word like "conversation"). Yes, the delayed kind also involves interaction, but that's not what people think of. Nov 2 '11 at 15:18
  • @Edward: I didn't mean those words don't have something of the meaning you're looking for. It's just that I don't think anyone would use them in relation to communication between people, despite being standard terminology for the two different types of communication between electronic devices. I'll edit to reflect that. Nov 2 '11 at 17:04
  • Doh! I never even thought of that! Will amend the answer, thanks. Nov 2 '11 at 18:19
  • @FumbleFingers ah ok, I understand, yes: asynchronous and synchronous are are too mechanical in register, I currently have "At Meetings" and "Outside Meetings" which is the best I can think of so far. Nov 3 '11 at 8:35

I will suggest Coordinated and Individual activities.

  • IMHO that's jargony enough that it isn't a lot better.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 3 '11 at 15:23

Games can be divided into two groups: real-time where things keep happening all the time (e.g. soccer) and turn-based where you can only do things when it's your turn (e.g. chess).


I would use conversational and written.

Your example of texting as a synchronous activity is borderline in my book.

  • That's a good point with texting, but in the context of English teaching, the participants would actually be expecting an immediate response as with a phone call. The terms seem to cover most of my examples, but I want to be able to extend it to e.g.: student records a presentation on his own time or keeps an audio dialogue journal with the teacher which is not written and conversational, yet belongs in the second group "asychronous". I think I need terms that have "time" in them instead of the Greek "cronous" root, like "time bound" and "time free" or something like that. Nov 2 '11 at 15:00
  • 1
    @EdwardTanguay Computer games can be divided into two groups: real-time (where things keep happening all the time) and turn-based (where you can only do things when it's your turn). Is that closer to what you want?
    – jimreed
    Nov 2 '11 at 15:11

I agree with @FumbleFingers on "interactive" and "delayed", but another possibility is "immediate" and "delayed" conversation/interaction/etc.


On the side of 'synchronous' there is: direct, simultaneous, real-time, immediate, online, interactive.

On the side of 'asynchronous' there is: indirect, non real-time, delayed, off-line, non-interactive.

Immediate and delayed seem to fit the best, but are far from perfect (defining). It might not be possible to find 'easy' words that are correct in all their aspects (such precision requires words to be technical).


What seems to have become the standard usage where I live is to use online for things that happen during the meeting, and offline for things that happen outside (typically after, between just the interested parties. This blog claims this is now common corporate jargon, which jibes with my experience.

For radio call-in shows (an interesting related use-case), callers now habitually refer to hanging up and listening to the response on the radio (vs. staying on the line so they can try to respond to the response) as "taking the answer/comments off the air", which seems to be to be a very similar phrase.


A few suggestions:

 Meeting activities and independent activities
 Scheduled activities and unscheduled activities
 Together activities and independent activities
 Pair (or group) activities, and independent activities
 At-the-same-time activities and on-your-own-time activities

Feel free to mix and match.


Good to see you on another stackexchange website.

There are a lot of different things we say to represent things which are synchronous vs. asynchronous, but they vary by situation.

For example, synchronous tasks are done "at the same time" while asynchronous tasks may be done "separately," "alone," or "independently."

Communication done synchronously may be done "in person" in the case of a meeting, or more generally "together," while synchronous communication is done "separately" or "in your own time."

In your own time is arguably more colloquial like "off-line" or "out of band."

I think without context as to where these words will be used, it may be hard to come up with a good set of words or phrases that won't require further definition. In fact, there may not be a good set of words or phrases to express want you want and this may be your opportunity to coin them.

English speakers, in my experience, tend to be a little less accepting of new portmanteaus than are German speakers so you might stick to short phrases. Here are some examples of terms I've heard that describe generally what you're looking for.

  • Together Tasks vs. Separate Tasks
  • Group Activities vs. Individual Activities
  • Parallel vs. Linear

Good luck Edward, Patrick Caldwell


A word that many help you here is sensitive:

  • Phone conversations are time-sensitive because you must respond then and there
  • Letter writing is time-insensitive (or less time-sensitive) because you can respond when you feel like it

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