As I write this, I am in the Kansas City International Airport awaiting a flight to Joplin, Missouri. I'll be meeting with those who teach college classes for the Consortium of Christian Colleges for Distance Learning. This organization has existed for something over five years. During that time hundreds of students from Christian Colleges across the country and in Canada have taken courses.
Dr. James North got me involved shortly after he offered the History of the Restoration Movement online. More students enrolled than he could handle along with his full time teaching load at Cincinnati Christian University. Over the years the number of students enrolling in the course has grown tremendously. This past semester more than 30 students enrolled in the course and 31 are pre-enrolled for the spring semester. I generally get the majority of the students from colleges and universities other than Cincinnati Christian University. This semester students are enrolled from Great Lakes Christian College, Manhattan Christian College, Ozark Christian College, Kentucky Christian University and several other schools as well.f I generally have more students online than I ever did in Restoration History classes at Intermountain Bible College or Boise Bible College.
I have long been a believer in online higher education. I also believe in using online educational opportunities for the local church. As in most cases, the Restoration Movement is behind the curve in adopting the technology to its fullest extent. Churches, even the mega-churches, have barely scratched the surface. Most of the hesitation results from the belief there needs to be "face to face instruction or relationships" for education to be effective. Don Wilson at CCV was such a "Luddite" that he refused to see the effectiveness the use of really good online learning opportunities could provide.
In my view, the whole idea that education depends on "face to face" instruction is ridiculous. The success (and misuse) of such interactive exchanges in MySpace.com or various chat rooms reveals that relationships are formed. The issue is communication, not proximity. The push back is that face to face exchanges are more honest because you can see facial expressions and other feedback. Posh! It may be true in some cases, but there are those proficient in cheating, prevaricating, or misleading in face to face encounters as well. I can tell you from personal experience and observation that ministers trained on college campuses have no guarantee they can positively interact with people and be successful in the work of the ministry!
The secular world is seeing the value of Internet education. Several states are using "virtual high schools" to provide education for those who do not adapt well to public school learning environments. More and more colleges are offering complete degree programs online without any (or very little) residence requirement.
Let's be honest! It is all about money! We have invested millions in more than 35 campuses across the country and more around the world. It takes millions more for upkeep, housing, and other services provided on campus. Internet-based education requires excellent and innovative instructors and sufficient software and servers to handle the load. With today's modern technology it is possible to create virtual classrooms with visual interaction and feedback. It is possible to use live streaming teaching sessions or those that have been videoed. It is possible to utilize excellent graphics, maps, illustrations, and other teaching aids to help the student learn.
Yes, I know education is more than passing on information. Still the college is the place where students receive foundational preparation for life. In today's world education is focused on the pragmatic. We have John Dewey to thank for that! As a result, we have men on the field who can pull people together but are unable to disciple them. We also have men on the field who can disciple Christians but can't get a crowd if their lives depended on it. (I may be one of those!!) Ah, such is the body of Christ where interdependency is part of the Kingdom plan.
I have to draw my rambling to a close, but you have gotten the point. I favor Christian education -- foundational, biblical, doctrinal education. I don't care how a person gets it. Ideally, it would be provided in the local church. Less ideal, but proven effective, is the Bible College. The "wave of the future" though rests with those who can use the technology at our disposal to accomplish the goal of teaching what the apostles taught to faithful men who will teach others (2 Timothy 2:2).