Thursday, October 3, 2013

Online Seminary versus Residential Seminary

Daryl Eldridge, President, Rockbridge Seminary

James Hill is looking for ministry training.  A former high school teacher, the church called James to be their youth minister.  Christi Davis has just completed college and feels called to missions. Which format, online or residential seminary, is best for them?  There are many factors that go into making this important decision. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each learning environment.

Pros of Online Seminary Education
  • Convenience.  You don’t have to move or travel; you can stay on your field of ministry.  You learn at your own pace and study at your convenience.  You can discuss the class topics with students from around the world.  It’s flexible.  You can work on your courses anytime and anywhere you have internet access.
  • Less Expensive.  Generally, online programs are less costly than regular brick and mortar programs.  In addition, you don’t have additional costs such as commuting, moving, parking fees, building fees, and so on.
  • Interactive Learning.  Online courses are designed to highly involve students in the learning process.  Courses are learner centered, meaning students have responsibility for contributing to the learning community.  Quality of dialog is higher, because students have time to reflect on their comments and the comments of colleagues.  Creative teaching methods used in online environments contribute to self-direction and critical thinking.  Communication techniques learned online help students transfer their learning to the digital world in which they minister.
Cons of Online Seminary Education
  • If you need the structure/discipline of meeting the same time every week, or if you need the physical presence of classmates, or if your primary learning modality is auditory, then online education may not be right for you.
  • Online learning requires you to be able to use computer technology.
Pros of Residential Seminary Education
  • Extracurricular activities.  Residential schools provide an array of learning opportunities such as chapel, guest lecture series, musical performances, sports and recreation.
  • Library access.  Most residential schools have large libraries.  Though online programs have digital libraries, they are not yet as robust as residential libraries.  Theological libraries can send printed materials to students, but this requires time and expense.
  • Social Interactions Outside of Class.  Residential education provides opportunities to develop face-to-face relationships and have coffee or meals with fellow students and faculty.  This doesn’t mean online education is not relational.  Deep lifelong friendships can develop online.
Cons of Residential Seminary Education
  • Residential seminary education takes the student from their field of ministry and provides limited opportunities for real-life experience in churches and ministry organizations.
  • Students in residential programs compete for ministry positions in the area.
  • You can’t learn ministry by reading or studying about it.  Ministry training is best when students have opportunities to apply weekly what they are learning in the classroom.
There are advantages and disadvantages to every type of learning environment. Your learning style and the needs of your family need to be considered in choosing a seminary. James decided to get his degree online because he didn’t have to uproot his family or leave the community he felt called to serve.  Christi, on the other hand, decided a campus experience was best for her.  She prefers lectures and the social experience a face-to-face classroom can provide. 

You can receive a great seminary education by either learning environment.  It is not a question of which learning environment is best, but which is the best fit for you.