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More Schools Offer Online Seminary Education

When Church of God-affiliated Anderson School of Theology, located in Indiana, explored the possibility of starting a campus in Florida, it conducted a survey of prospective students and discovered that their potential pool strongly preferred online education over a campus extension. Anderson complied with a program that has evolved into a fully accredited online master’s degree. Anderson is one of eight schools of theology that now offer fully online degrees accredited by the Association of Theological Schools, a member organization that accredits and supports excellence in North American schools of theology. 

In an article published in In Trust Magazine, Anderson’s dean, David Sebastian, said that initial faculty resistance has been overcome and skeptics have discovered that technology and creativity can overcome perceived barriers to effective distance learning and teaching. Another school, Chicago Theological Seminary, said the decision to fully host online degrees has sparked an enrollment boom. According to Chicago’s president Alice Hunt, it’s not unusual for on-campus students to also sign up for some online courses and for distance education students to opt for an intensive winter or summer program on campus. Chicago’s primary fear, that they would end up with two separate programs, has failed to materialize; instead, they have one program delivered through multiple modalities.

Of course, the move online is not all roses. Without “face time” students have to work harder to get the kind of fellowship they value. Also, there is an additional learning curve and initial workload as faculty become familiar with distance learning tools and prepare multimedia presentations to highlight segments of their course material. However, there are offsetting benefits. For example, online students tend to be more involved in class discussions than on-campus students. “Granted, online students are required to enter the discussions,” observed Chuck Lawless, the vice president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, “but that’s one of the strengths of this approach.”

For more articles that address the challenges and opportunities permeating theological education in the contemporary era, explore In Trust Magazine, electronically archived on the In Trust Issues page. In Trust has also begun providing public access to other important resources initially produced for members; see what is available on the “Engaging Resources“ and “Resource Guides“ pages, both of which are periodically updated. Also see our feature article, “Caring for the Rural Church,” which showcases a distance education program tailored for bi-vocational rural clergy offered by Wartburg Theological Seminary of Dubuque, Iowa.

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