At the end of January I start my fifteenth class towards my M.Div at Southern Seminary. I’ve done everything from Systematic Theology, Introductions to the Old and New Testaments, Church History, Greek, and Hebrew. A few classes were considered “on campus” because, apart from the online portion, I had to travel to Louisville for a week of lectures.
Pay the SBC rate, which is half tuition. I also pay a $250 internet course fee per class. I don’t have to pay the fee for on campus classes, and depending on where I sleep and what I eat, the cost isn’t must different either way. It’s just a matter of deciding whether or not I can afford to take that much time off work for something other than a relaxing vacation.
I took my first online course as an undergraduate student at Ferris State University back in 2006 or 2007 and lost my 4.0 to a lousy A-minus. Since then, I’ve taken probably 20 or so classes that were all or mostly online. A lot has changed in nine years. Some things haven’t changed at all. If you’ve never taken an online course, or if you’ve been wary of them because of phony degree mills, you might want to read on. If you’ve taken online classes, I’m sure you can identify with what follows, and I welcome your comments with your unique experiences as well. Here’s what I’ve discovered about online learning:
It’s harder than traditional classroom instruction. Perhaps that 4.0-shattering A-minus has colored my perspective on this, but in the nine years of online coursework I’ve had, I’ve never found online classes easy. Even week-long accelerated courses with online coursework are easier than fully online classes. Here’s why:
- There’s always more reading involved. What we lose in face-to-face time always seems to be accounted for in face-to-page time. “Read these six books in their entirety.”
- There’s always more homework. Professor’s don’t always know how to make up for the lost face-to-face time, so they like to pile on mandatory discussion forums, reading logs, additional journal articles to read, book reports/reviews, weekly quizzes, and more. The stigma that online learning is not as legitimate as classroom learning makes professors, perhaps without realizing it, pile on the homework.
- It’s less personal. Consider how easy it is to fling mud and act rude when writing blogs or comments on blogs because we don’t know the people we’re conversing with. Like it or not, professors are not wholly objective when grading research papers and other qualitative assignments. Imagine a professor who is grading two research papers. The one is by a student he remembers for his smile and kind manner. The other is by a student he remembers for misspelling “Professor Hinkle” as “Professor Hinkel”. They’re papers are decent, but not outstanding. One gets a B, the other gets a B-. That’s just the way it is.
Instruction has gotten better. Instruction in my first online class consisted of assigned readings, a group project, and a class discussion forum. Now my classes actually have video recordings, and some of the better professors add bits of humor and personal stories to make it feel more like a classroom than a safety in the workplace training video. Most professors are very knowledgeable about their fields of study. Few have received much training in facilitation, adult learning styles, or course design. Fortunately, it seems like either they are getting better training, or they are tapping the professors who are better at it to do the lecturing.
Interaction could be improved. There are still online discussion forums, but professors are finding new ways to make them interesting, such as having to find information for other students’ research papers or requiring responses to other students’ posts. However, most of the time interaction with the professor is limited to a series of video lectures and an email here or there, and most of the time those emails are directed to the PhD candidate garret fellows. In the future, I’d like to see more real-time interaction like a Google+ Hangout once or twice a semester where students can write or call in to ask the professor questions. I’m surprised none of my professors have done this yet, but I mention it on all of my end-of-semester student surveys, so I’m still hopeful. One professor I had required us to schedule a time with him to call and talk for fifteen to thirty minutes just to get to know each other better and to discuss the class, ministry, or other subjects. It was one of the better classes I’ve taken.
It takes self-discipline. Getting to an 8:00 am class on time three times a week requires one type of self-discipline. Watching three lectures at your convenience requires another type. It’s easy to put off watching lectures, reading books, writing papers, and taking quizzes when you have all week or all semester to do them. Between work, family, church, and whatever other activities I may be involved in, carving out the time to get my homework done is difficult, especially when I don’t have to do it right now.
That’s all for now, and it ended up longer than I initially thought it would be. What are your experiences? What are your thoughts or questions? Share them in the comments below.