Prediction No. 1: The future of theological education is the traditional classroom setting, where there are vital face-to-face interactions between students and teachers.
Prediction No. 2: The future of theological education is also online, with far-flung students sitting in their home offices, where they interact with professors and fellow students via Internet-based technologies. In fact, online education is already taking place at dozens of theological schools, and their number will assuredly increase over the next few years.
Which costs more? That question is not so easy to answer. I'm hoping to keep exploring that over the next months and years.
Here's an article on the topic from Inside Higher Ed, one of my favorite sources of news about post-secondary education.
In "Don't Starve the Staff of Online Programs," writer Cam Cruikshank examines online education at the community college level, where it's seen as a solution to overcrowding.
Very few theological schools are facing overcrowding, but many are looking at online courses as a way to enlarge their area of ministry, reaching new students and bringing in new revenue.
The costs associated with online education include all that expensive technology. But if online education is going to succeed, new staff positions may be needed as well. Here's the point of view of Cruikshank, who is VP for enrollement management at Tiffin University:
However, launching an online degree program is not as simple as hiring adjunct professors and teaching courses that have been used in a physical campus setting. To do it right, you need a good learning management system, faculty who are experienced and effective online teachers, training and instructional design support, IT support and online tutors.
Of equal importance is an enhanced level of student support, especially help with financing a college education and with navigating the complex bureaucracy that we call higher education.
One way an institution can help students through this maze of financial aid forms, bursar office policies, registration deadlines, and graduation requirements is by utilizing success coaches.
I doubt many theological schools are going to hire success coaches, but administrators and boards need to consider what help students may need to prepare for ministry. A mouse isn't enough -- they need human contact. And human contact costs money.
Read the whole article here.