Saturday, July 16, 2005

Innovation in Theological Education: The Problem Of Early Adopters

It seems that theological education is both one of the biggest innovators in education and at the same time stuck in practices of the past.

As I understand it, some theological schools in the past offered complete Masters degrees via correspondence. Not just a few people took advantage of this distance learning. Sometimes people who were not morally or socially qualified for ministry. Some even obtained the theological degree as a form of mockery to the Christian faith. In response to this the accrediting agency made 18 hours the maximum hours that could be done via coorspondance. Now accredited schools are severely limited in the types of distance learning they can offer in fully accredited M. Div. program.

In the technology field, there are individuals called 'early adopters'. Early adopters purchase produces when the new product first comes out. They are willing to take some risk. At the present there are some people who are purchasing hybrid cars. These are run on electricity and gasoline. One big advantage for these cars is the fuel effeciency. However there are many unknowns in adopting these cars. What happens when they go to the junk heap? How do we dispose of the battery components? How do we ensure there is not a hazardous waste spill polluting the water shed at the site of every major wreck? Perhaps these questions have been answered by industry experts, but still adopting new technology brings risk.

By analogy, when we innovate in educational practices, we incur risk and may cause unintended outcomes. Who would have thought that distance learning would have brought mockery upon the field of distance learning in theological education? Now that distance learning means hooking up to the Internet to do classes, distance learning has a number of schools who offer degrees totally on line. But accredited theological institutions do not offer M. Div degrees via distance education because they were an early adopter who got burned with unintended outcomes.

I believe the accrediting agencies for theological schools need to rethink their stand on this issue and offer alternatives to 18 hours limitation on correspondence study. However, the bigger issue is how does one innovate in the feild of theological education?
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