Distant Education

John Heyl Vincent, Methodist Episcopal Bishop, architect of what today we call the International Lesson Series and one of the founders of “the” Chautauqua, started a distant education program in 1878.  He recognized the need for some form of distant education as America and the church continued to grow and expand.  While the world and our church have evolved greatly since 1878, some of the United Methodist thinking about distant education has not.

I live in the great State of Tennessee where there is a public (YES Public) high school that offers a totally online high school diploma though TOPS.  TOPS is a public, statewide online school serving students in grades 9-12 physically located in the Bristol School System.

Many of our state and private universities now offer accredited, totally online high schools, including University of Indiana, University of Mississippi, University of Missouri, University of Nebraska, Stanford University, George Washington University and Brigham Young University.  (See article in US News and World Report written by Jason Koebler, Aug. 8, 2011.)

Most of us know of local colleges or universities that are offering classes and degree programs completely online.  The list of colleges and universities going on line is expanding exponentially year by year.  There are at least two web sites that have collected free online courses from the best Universities in the country (see coursera.org and edx.org).  Additionally, online graduate programs continue to proliferate as well.

To summarize one can get a high school diploma, a college degree, a master’s degree, even a PH. D. online, but one cannot do Course of Study on line!  The old saying rings true in this case: “Many UM Churches are ready if the 1950s return.” 

The same can be said about our approach to clergy education.  We need clergy education to be available now to those whom God has called and the Church has affirmed!  Hybrid (online and onsite education) and brick and mortar education facilities are useful for many BUT not for all.  Let’s catch up to this century and go fully online, at least for Course of Study, if not for the Masters of Divinity. 

Next let’s get the online Course of Study in different languages.  We could start with Spanish.  By doing this, we could get back to being an innovative leader in education, like Bishop Vincent in 1878, and not a church clinging to a culture and educational philosophy that no longer exists.

Spring 2016 by Dr. Ed Trimmer former Acting Dean of a United Methodist Seminary celebrating 40 years of ordination in June 2016.



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