Book by Jonathan Finkelstein
Review by Joyce E. Howland
Empire State College, Alfred Unit                  
Alfred State College Campus (NY)

Jonathan Finkelstein suggests that advisors and instructors can humanize their contact with students who are distance learners and help them better connect to the campus through the use of synchronous learning environments.  The book offers ways to reach students where they are and methods that can help develop the human interaction needed to expand student learning and improve retention.  

Finkelstein meant this short book as a guidebook to real-time learning.  It succeeds, providing both an introduction to the subject for the beginner and resources for individuals with experience in real-time interactions. The first two chapters explain how real-time learning can enhance the college experience.   Chapter 1 discusses the specific areas in which synchronous interaction can contribute to learning.  Finkelstein is careful to point out that it is important to be selective about the use of these tools, choosing them to obtain specific goals like learning to think on one’s feet or improving pronunciation where textbooks and on-line asynchronous interaction tend to be less effective.  Generally he does not advocate using these tools for lecture but rather for learning that requires an active exchange between students and facilitator or among learners.  While some of the objectives he discusses can be met by more traditional Web courses, he  persuasively points out the advantages of real-time learning.  Chapter 2 considers how synchronous teaching can enhance learning. Here he looks closely at how real-time learning can improve our practice in undergraduate education using Chickering and Gamson’s (1987) seven principles for good practice (as cited by Finkelstein, p. 147) as a framework.

The third chapter offers the basics for the various synchronous learning technological options; here Finkelstein discusses the uses, advantages, and challenges of the major systems available including live text -- such as instant messaging -- live audio, live video, and virtual whiteboards.  Finkelstein presents the characteristics of various types of synchronous interaction in terms of the number of people best served, the type of information best exchanged, and the possibilities and problems of each.  This complements the information on technology in the third chapter.  The next section provides useful lists that detail what is needed for various types of synchronous sessions; this will be useful for both the beginner and the expert.  These reminders are helpful not only for real-time distance learning but for any presentation.  Those experienced in synchronous learning will find these lists, plus the references at the end, the most valuable part of the book.   The last chapter presents a variety of class exercises that have been successfully used in real-time learning.  This is followed by a section on resources including both Web sites and print sources.  Here Finkelstein provides a short guide to items that should be considered when selecting the equipment and software necessary for implementing synchronous learning.

While the text of this work directly speaks to those teaching on-line courses, the author uses the preface to point out that these real-time learning tools may be useful in advising.  There is no doubt that advisors can effectively use the technology Finkelstein discusses as well as the learning activities suggested. This book is certainly worth having on your shelf as a reference to real-time or synchronous learning.  


Chickering, A., and Gamson,Z. (March, 1987). “Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Educaiton.” AAHE Bulletin.  Washington: American Association for Higher Education.

Learning in Real Time: Synchronous Teaching and Learning Online.  (2006) Book by Jonathan Finkelstein. Review by Joyce E. Howland. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. 176 pp., $27.00. ISBN # 978-0-7879-7921-8
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