The shift from “bricks and mortar” campuses to virtual classrooms is being actively pursued by a large segment of American theological seminaries, reports the Christian Century (Feb. 20).
As with radio and TV broadcasting, it seems that evangelical seminaries are the most heavily invested in the new learning technology, which could range from a few courses being offered online to new distance learning programs aiming for an international following. One leader in offering online courses is evangelical Gordon-Conwell Seminary, which started a program that allows students to take up to a third of their degree requirements in “self-paced courses.”
Fuller Seminary has expanded its international reach, offering online courses to students in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. In response to the fast growth of online programs in seminaries, the Association of Theological Schools will decide this summer whether to accredit Masters of Divinity programs in which more than two-thirds of their courses are presented online.
The evangelical Association for Biblical Higher Education already does so, writes Lawrence Wood. In one sense, the importance of fostering community in seminaries, where prayer and learning together is a priority, might be a mitigating factor in adopting virtual classrooms. Yet seminaries have long offered distant learning in one form or another for part-time students. Leading mainline liberal seminaries have been resistant to the trend. Union, Yale, Harvard and Duke offer no or few online courses, which may pose difficulties, since they have the highest tuitions (Union costs $44,000 per year). Wood concludes that “Perhaps the next step for seminaries is to deliver academic resources directly to congregations.”
Luther Seminary, for instance, already offers several long-form webinars for congregational leaders that resemble degree programs.
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