Asynchronous vs Synchronous Qualitative Research

Estimated Read Time
9 Minutes clock icon

In July 2022, Ross McLean, VP of Mobile Qualitative Research at Schlesinger Group, and Isaac Rogers, Chief Strategy Officer, presented “The Joy of Asynchronous Research.”

Digital qualitative research allows enterprises and institutions to gather targeted insights on customer behaviors and preferences. Where synchronous research requires the researcher and the participant to be active simultaneously, digital asynchronous qualitative research offers greater flexibility and delivers an average of four times the insights.

Watch the webinar, “The Joy of Asynchronous Research” here, or read on for the full run down.

Background: Schlesinger Group’s Digital Qualitative Research 

Schlesinger Group delivers comprehensive global data collection and market research solutions. Beyond world-class in-person facilities, Schlesinger Group offers a suite of enterprise solutions to meet any qualitative or quantitative research need, from self-serve technology to full-service expertise and high-quality, global respondents.  

A team of approximately 100 people are dedicated to asynchronous online qualitative research at Schlesinger Group. This includes research and project managers, participant and client technical support representatives, project and software designers, and engineers. Each project designer has on average five years of experience, and more than 100 successful project designs delivered. 

“We do on the order of 3,500 studies every single year across our platform,” said CSO Isaac Rogers. “Our people are passionate about online qualitative research and helping others to reach new research heights. We find ourselves debating, cross-training, testing, and discussing research best practices on a daily basis. As a result, Schlesinger Group delivers best-in-class asynchronous digital qualitative research for our clients thanks to global recruitment expertise and industry-leading data collection platforms.” 

Synchronous vs Asynchronous Qualitative Research: Is Real-Time Necessary? 

The first decision to make when it comes to qualitative research is the method: synchronous live qualitative or asynchronous digital qualitative. 

Do you need insights that allow you to see and interact with your respondents in real-time and in a live environment? If yes, synchronous research may be the right choice. 

Enterprises opt for asynchronous research for scalability, to avoid time constraints, to gather more data, to increase flexibility for everyone involved, and to have participants show, rather than tell. 

See below for an explanation of each qualitative research method: 

About Synchronous Qualitative Research 

Synchronous is a more sophisticated term for “live” research. 


Examples of synchronous research include: 

  • Face-to-face interviews 
  • Focus groups 
  • Two-way online interviews or focus groups 
  • iModerate live qualitative chat sessions 
  • Live, text-based interviews or focus groups 
  • Phone calls 

Benefits of synchronous research include: 

  • Wide open, exploratory research in real time 
  • Flexibility to change the topic of discussion instantly 

Drawbacks with synchronous research include: 

  • A moderator is required to watch sessions as they take place. 
  • Moderators and researchers come with a significant cost due to high time requirements. 
  • Scheduling and scaling research can be difficult, as all participants and moderators must be available simultaneously. 


About Asynchronous Qualitative Research 

Asynchronous research does not require live moderation, as participants respond in their own time without traveling to a research facility.  


Examples of asynchronous research include: 

  • Online quantitative surveys 
  • A community message board, or QualBoard 
  • Mobile ethnographies, or Over The Shoulder  
  • Text conversations 

Benefits of asynchronous research include: 

  • High scalability — 10, 100, or 1,000 research sessions all take equal time to moderate. 
  • Rather than real time, research happens at the right time for each participant. 
  • There is the potential for longitudinal research, as participants can respond at different times throughout a weekly or monthly period. 

Drawbacks with asynchronous research include: 

  • Greater design and planning requirements on the front end of the project. 

The Joy of Asynchronous Qualitative Research

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Schlesinger Group re-discovered the joy of asynchronous qualitative research and dedicated time and attention to growing this offering. The advantages this approach offers indicate it’s here to stay.

  1. Participants have the potential to “show” rather than just “tell” when responding to questions. This offers greater depth and breadth of insights for qualitative research.
  2. By decoupling moderators and participants with asynchronous research, participants have greater flexibility to answer questions on their own time. This drives up response rates and can improve the quality of responses thanks to reduced time pressures.
  3. Live moderation is no longer necessary. Data collection becomes more of a waiting process, where responses arrive throughout a set window of time.
  4. A final benefit with asynchronous research is greater flexibility. Enterprises and institutions are not locked into a web app or native app—both are available based on research requirements.


Live Qualitative Sessions and Smartphone Ethnography

In a live qualitative session, researchers see participants without additional context. It is a vicarious view of their world through the participant’s eyes or device’s camera lens. As participants go through the research, they say what they think is relevant. Overall, this experience is from a first-person perspective, as reported by the participant.

Smartphone ethnography involves observing people in their own environment to understand what they are experiencing, seeing, and doing. Researchers don’t live through the participants’ eyes. Instead, they draw their own conclusions. This allows researchers to make their own decisions as to what is interesting and relevant — the “ethnographic perspective.”


What Happens When Participants Show Rather Than Tell?

For researchers, almost everything is simpler when participants show rather than just tell.

Participation rates are higher with longer engagement times and more opportunities for context in research.

In fact, Schlesinger Group has found that more content is covered over three days with an asynchronous research group than with a synchronous 90-minute focus group — that’s up to seven times more content!

Asynchronous research group covers up to
7 times
more content vs. synchronous

“We have measured time and time again, how much more content you get from a respondent and 90-minute focus groups versus, let’s say, a three-day online discussion or a three-day asynchronous Over The Shoulder (OTS) study,” said VP Ross McLean. “It’s usually about seven times more content.


The reason for this is participants have more time to think about and compile their responses to research questions. A reduction in time pressure means more participants engage more with each component of the research itself as well as with the peers in their group, at the same time becoming more comfortable and familiar with the researchers leading the group.

What Happens When Participants Can Answer on Their Own Time?

When participants answer on their own time, it means:

  • You are with them in the moment flexibly, rather than for a scheduled moment.
  • You are with them at the right time, rather than time limited.
  • Time pressure is greatly reduced, which is great for thinkers and introverts.
  • Creativity is promoted rather than stifled.
  • Participants can catch up asynchronously if they miss a session.
  • Everyone in the research group can use their device of choice (e.g., desktop, laptop, smartphone, tablet) to simplify photo, video, and media uploads.


What Are the Benefits of Removing Live Moderation?

When you no longer need to live moderate research sessions, the benefits include:

  • Infinite scalability with asynchronous data collection from participants
  • No travel requirements, leading to reduced costs and scheduling effort
  • Reduced inconvenience — observe a participant’s 5 a.m. coffee routine without waking up at 5 a.m. yourself
  • Greatly reduced moderator stress, replaced by initial design and planning requirements for front-end data collection and research
  • No issues with time zones
  • Respondents can be replaced or given more time flexibility to catch up on research
  • Lower costs per respondent


What are the Cons of Asynchronous Research?

Despite its numerous benefits, asynchronous research is not without its drawbacks:

  • Real-time interaction is not possible due to asynchronous data collection and research.
  • Researchers put in less effort coordinating a live event but have a greater requirement to design and plan questions in advance.
  • Participant insights such as body language and non-verbal cues are reduced without real-time interaction.
  • Upfront options for question and platform types can be overwhelming for researchers, reducing confidence when conducting research.

Contact Ross McClean at if you have questions on qualitative research or any other related topic.


Schlesinger Group Products to Support Asynchronous Qualitative Research

Schlesinger Group offers a strong and wide-ranging selection of data collection and research solutions to support asynchronous qualitative research.

Notable mentions include:

  • QualBoard – Smaller-scale DIY digital discussions and complex global projects are possible via QualBoard. Perform crowd surveys, lifestyle diaries, video chats, and quick polls with discussion boards to collect conversational insights from respondents.
  • Over The Shoulder – Over The Shoulder is Schlesinger Group’s mobile ethnography service, designed for maximum usability for both researchers and participants. Collect images and other media, or video diaries for real-world product testing. Choose what questions to ask participants and hone in on key insights with intuitive analytics.
  • QuantText – Uncover the “why” behind the “what” using text messaging alone. This hybrid service collects quantitative data with qualitative context using a moderated chat service—including via WhatsApp. The result is deeper insight, direct recruitment of quantitative participants into qualitative channels, and encouragement from chat interviewers.
  • Online Quantitative Surveys – Access global panels of research respondents. Choose end-to-end survey options that meet your objectives, timelines, and budget. Leverage data collection automations and data science principles to maximize data quality and velocity with global reach.


To book a consultation with Schlesinger Group for your next research project, contact