In theological education, forward-thinking people are predicting the increasing importance of online courses. Online classes take education to where students are -- at home, or in their offices. And perhaps it's easier to fill a course with 15 or 20 students from literally around the globe than to get these same students into the door of the brick-and-mortar classroom. 

Cash cowOf course, dectractors of online education have their points, too -- the educational experience isn't the same. As Ben Stein recently wrote today in his business column, describing the advantages of face-to-face meetings over teleconferences: 

Technology is wonderful and indispensable. But for finding out the tricks of the trade, the way business runs in bad times and good, the latest developments in business and the economy, nothing can replace the spark of intelligence that travels from person to person at meetings.

The same certainly applies to learning. Nevertheless, I'm sure the online education will continue to grow.

But boards need to think about the finances of online education as well. And some people are hanging on to a belief that online education is cheaper to deliver than traditional teaching. Is that really so? I imagine that the situation will vary according to setting: If you've got a lot of empty classrooms, an online course may not be any cheaper than having a class on campus. But if you're considering new construction, more online classes may be able to eliminate the need for a new multi-million-dollar classroom building.

This topic is being discussed on the BlogU section at Inside Higher Ed. Although the BlogU post is actually addressing community college education, it's not difficult to make the jump and apply the same thinking to theological education.

Here's a highlight from the column:

Anyone who has taken, or taught, or even closely observed an online class knows that it's far from automated. The burden on the instructor to get through as effectively in two dimensions as in three is considerable, and requires both effort and craft. That means paying for course development, and offering training and support, and aligning the student support services with the very different expectations of online students. Some of us believe that it's a worthwhile enterprise for educational reasons, even allowing for an unfortunate institutional learning curve in the early going. But it's not a cash cow, and done right, it won't be.

Read the entire column here



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