Summary of Leadership Styles in Synchronous and Asynchronous Virtual Learning Environments

A Summary of
Leadership Styles in Synchronous and Asynchronous Virtual Learning Environments

Article By
Stefano Ruggieri, Stefano Boca and Maria Garro (PDF)

There is a difference.  Face to face leadership is different than virtual leadership.  Ruggieri, Boca and Garro highlighted that while face to face leadership is established through physical presence including “body language, vocal inflection, eye contact and clothing” (p. 98) along with comments from inside the group. Virtual leaders are challenged by the technology. “The medium forces the leader to adopt other indicators to let followers know he/she is in charge, which include frequency of intervention, small delays between request and responses, being (almost) always available” (p. 96).  How you recognize the leader happens in different ways online.

Ruggieri, et. al. noted that virtual team research reinforced that transformational leadership develops higher levels of “trust, performance and job satisfaction compared to those of transactional leadership”(p.97) yet it’s still lower than face to face situations. Virtual communication occurs synchronously in real time through video conferencing or live chats or asynchronously at different times through discussion threads or email (p. 97-98). The authors noted text based communication as the most commonly studied medium. Text has many positives including the capability to enable many people to contribute at once (p. 98).

A good reminder for all of us is the caution that typing speed along with the ability to decode and read can significantly influence a person’s ability to participate, which may not be indicative of their ability to contribute to the group but of a language barrier (p. 98).  An important reminder for all of us as educators of EAL students and for team leaders with large cross country teams.  Our preferred medium may be text but not everyone may be able to fully participate and contribute.

The authors explained Henri’s method for examining the 5 dimensions of the learning process through online communication because not only are the number and frequency of messages important, but the meaning and learning embedded within the exchanges. Ruggieri, Boca and Garro studied synchronous and asynchronous communication within text based problem solving groups with transactional and transformational leaders.

The researchers noted online groups led by a transformational leaders resulted in”an increased level of cognitive and metacognitive communications” (p. 100) which in turn led to leader behaviour which encouraged self awareness and personal growth, as well as, enhanced levels of “proactive personality and team identification” (p. 101).  Because the transformational leader builds the skills of the followers, they “have the ability to influence the emotional climate of the work group” (p. 101).  The chosen interactive medium is a tool that also shapes group communication differently than face to face interactions.

Overall, Ruggieri, Boca and Garro provide an insightful look into the world of virtual leadership and how your online leadership style has the potential to affect motivation and effectiveness of your team.

As a team leader, I’ve often wondered how to lead online and this article provided an interesting look into how technology impacts our communication, leadership and in turn our team results.  Whether it’s a large scale home based business Facebook group or a ETAD discussion forum, leaders will emerge.  The groups I’ve most enjoyed follow a transformational style where I’m inspired to join in and participate rather than because I have to.  As I reflect back on 9 online classes, some of our most insightful, interactive and asynchronous conversations have developed in our groups with transformational leaders that encouraged us to share our ideas without the fear of being wrong.  For the real learning is in the sharing of and reflecting on ideas.  You don’t grow unless you share, make connections and think more deeply.

Ruggieri, S., Boca, S., & Garro, M. (2013, October). Leadership Styles in Synchronous and Asynchronous Virtual Learning Environments. The Turkish Online Journal of Educational Technology, 12(4). Retrieved from






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