Dr. Timothy Jones, Associate Vice President for the Global Campus at Southern Seminary, recently wrote a helpful post covering both a brief history of online education and noting positives and concerns for online theological education as we enter 2016. I find this post helpful in a number of ways, not the least bit the honesty about the potential pitfalls and concerns about online theological education. After talking about the many benefits of online education he says,
At the same time, I’m also cautious about training pastors and other ministers from a distance. I have no doubt that online education can produce the same test scores as on-campus education. But preparation for ministry is far more than mere movement of data from the professor’s mind to a student’s memory. Ministry preparation requires the intentional formation of God-called men and women for the faithful practice of ministry among persons who are collectively the beloved Bride of Christ. Intentional formation for ministry requires personal care and interaction.
I agree, we can’t reduce online theological education to merely transferring data to the student. Education should be a wholistic experience that forms the student beyond mere intellectual pursuits. Formation of the person can’t be mediated through the screen so how can we form our students when we are not present with them.
He goes on to warn about not doing online education for simply pragmatic reasons:
As I watch the rapid growth of online learning, my most pressing concern is that theological seminaries may transition their training to online formats for purely pragmatic reasons—recruitment, retention, the pursuit of profitability. What can quickly be forgotten in this rush toward online education is that the Scriptures and our theological confessions should shape not only the content of our courses but also their design and delivery.
He then raises three concerns that I think are spot on and honestly wrestles with each question:
- How will we teach students to value place if students and faculty are never together in the same space?
- How will we select, value, and equip faculty for a task that requires more time and engagement than an on-campus class?
- How will we effectively partner with the student’s local church so that this congregation becomes the student’s primary context for formation as a minister?
You can read the article in its entirety here