A few years ago I wrote:
The best place to prepare pastors, missionaries and workers who will lead, plant and serve churches is a church. Academic content can be very effectively delivered anywhere. We see no compelling reason to remove the learner for several years from a normal church experience as preparation for service in a church. Because of this, we locate SBP campuses in church facilities.
The paragraph focuses on keeping the learner in the same type of setting in which he or she will ultimately serve. Aside from whether or not that is desirable, please notice the one statement that, if it is so, makes it all possible: Academic content can be very effectively delivered anywhere.
Is it so? To millions of consumers and producers of distance education, it is an obvious fact, but some people still have their doubts.
Some educators who have only experienced a residential approach correctly doubt the same experience can be duplicated off-campus. I think the error is that it even should be duplicated in toto. Some on-campus educational practices exist to serve institutional structures and not necessarily the best interests of students and learning. Why reproduce such practices in settings that would allow better approaches or alternative approaches that yield similar outcomes?
Some students who have endured a poorly designed distance course may also have their doubts. I currently am a distance learner myself, and the experience is not always positive. Quality suffers if the “distance department” is viewed as a new profit center for the institution or as a recruiting tool to get students to move to the “real school” or as a way to cheaply recycle educational materials originally produced for face-to-face instruction or if technology is imagined to guarantee an education.
Of course not all face-to-face courses are winners either, but it isn’t really helpful to compare a mediocre brick and mortar experience with excellence at a distance or vice a versa. What is becoming more and more evident is the desire to take education to the learner can overcome the difficulties. Secular educators who want to do it are finding ways, and some are surprisingly simple. The “how to” exists if the “want to” is strong enough. See www.khanacademy.org/ for an unusually good example of technical simplicity and educational success. I cannot imagine our cause is less worthy than Sal Khan’s.
At GBS/SBP we believe our core educational value of access is God-given. The Lord has called GBS to make quality ministry preparation accessible. He has given us what can only be described as a fanatical desire to take the education to the students. If you see some wisdom in that for Great Commission success, thank you for praying for us and for helping as you are able.