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Monday, November 15, 2010

Technology Enhances But Doesn't Replace ... <fill in the blank> education

Today on the plane from Amsterdam to Detroit, I read a fascinating piece in Financial Times that has implications for theological education. The cartoon above is from the article. The article was titled, Technology Enhances But Doesn't Replace.

The article explores distance learning for MBA degrees. The author noted that surprisingly the demand for residential MBA programs has increased during the economic crisis. The expectation was that residential programs would decrease while online and distance programs would increase. However, the opposite happened.

The author explores why this might be. The author notes, "Learning in a group enables participants to pick up the subtleties of the interactions that are essential to management. The ability to understand not only what is said, but what is not, to negotiate and ultimately persuade is as important as having the right facts."

The point is that face to face interaction enhances the learning environment in a way that technology alone cannot. It isn't that a person cannot learn via distance education but that in general it is not the same as a residential program. The author concludes, "Online is better than nothing for those too constrained by cost or time to come together to learn. But that is a different kind of management degree."

The business world is now recognizing that there is value in residential programs for MBA degrees. If true for business, how much more so for residential theological education. Distance learning has it's place and is valuable but it is a different kind of theological degree than a residential program.

In any case, this is not a diatribe against distant theological education. Just some reflections, on how the business world increasingly values what it once thought unnecessary. Perhaps, a good lesson for us too.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


  1. A very good lesson, in fact. But one we already knew. Take a look at Being There: Culture and Formation in Two Theological Schools (Oxford, 1997).

  2. There are some classes that may just as well be taught on-line. Anything, for example, taught as "choke and puke" might as well be done without the teacher's presence. On the other hand, many classes do need the interaction factors. Some on-line teaching does require a classroom session now and then.

    How much of seminary training really needs the interaction? Splitting up the classes with this in mind might enable either a shortening time at the seminary (cheaper) or better/further/deeper teaching of the other topics.

    How much of this insight can we use in 3rd world countries where classroom time is away from families and expensive? How do we teach the self commitment to study without the impending need to be prepared for a personal "confrontation" in class? (This is not to say that this isn't a problem in the USA as well.)

    Good topic.