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The nature and application of formational learning in the distance medium



As theological education increasingly uses more flexible approaches to teaching and the number of distance education students increases, more attention needs to be placed on how formational education takes places in this environment. It is assumed that we cannot successfully address student formation in online learning contexts. However, with the advances in technology, the debate has moved on to exploring how theological education might adapt to new teaching and learning environments and use new pedagogies and technologies to prepare students for ministry. This article poses the question of how formational education is possible in the distance environment, considering the nature of formational education. In attempting an answer, the foundational dynamics of formation are unpacked using an analysis of the current literature together with highlighting the essential pedagogical factors of community, student support and faculty that are central to student formation. This article is of value as it highlights how formational education can be locally adapted within the distance mode.
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HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies
ISSN: (Online) 2072-8050, (Print) 0259-9422
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Marilyn Naidoo1
1Department of Philosophy,
Systemac and Praccal
Theology, University of
South Africa, South Africa
Corresponding author:
Marilyn Naidoo,
Received: 03 Sept. 2018
Accepted: 13 Nov. 2018
Published: 28 Feb. 2019
How to cite this arcle:
Naidoo, M., 2019, ‘The nature
and applicaon of formaonal
learning in the distance
medium’, HTS Teologiese
Studies/Theological Studies
75(1), a5228. hps://
© 2019. The Authors.
Licensee: AOSIS. This work
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Distance education in the form of blended learning, hybrid courses or fully online is a key element
of academic offerings in theological faculties at universities and bible colleges in South Africa.
Theological institutions have long made use of distance learning to train church ministers because
of the perceived benefits of potentially reduced costs through reaching a wide target audience.
The need for distance theological education has grown for reasons of access – people living in
remote or rural areas, especially older and practising pastors or lay leadership, those already in
Christian ministry needing few credits to complete their qualification (Moodie 2008:50). In the last
few decades, main-line denominations like the Anglicans and Methodists used the Theological
Education by Extension College of Southern Africa, or even the University of South Africa for
clergy training.
In our context, formational and vocational education takes place mostly in denominational
theological training institutions rather than public universities; that focus on an academic model
offering theology as an ecclesial discipline in the public sector. Having said that, some public
universities, such as the North-West University with its open distance learning (ODL) unit, do
provide distance education in a confessional mode. There are a growing number of smaller private
theological colleges, for example, the Baptist Theological College, with about 80 contact students,
which previously did not offer distance education, but now has over 300 distance learning
students. Some have incorporated distance education opportunistically, as a convenient way to
increase student enrolment in a competitive market, without the required capacity in ODL
pedagogy. Nevertheless, the flexibility of learning provision, with the idea that students can
succeed has made it a viable option for institutions. Given these potential benefits, especially with
the move to a ‘networked society’ (Croft 2008), many churches also are engaging effectively with
social media for ministry, together with its growing use by many church members.
Distance education curriculum and delivery has since changed from essentially correspondence
courses to openness, with materials changing from being content-driven to becoming more
student-centred, incorporating visual elements and multimedia such as YouTube, PowerPoint
presentations, radio broadcasts, video conferencing and digital library resources. This trend
towards student-centredness reflects international tendencies towards a more constructivist
approach to ODL delivery (Bozkurt et al. 2015). In addition, academic staff have had to understand
the nature of ODL and the rigours of teaching and learning through distance and mass education.
As theological education increasingly uses more flexible approaches to teaching and the
number of distance education students increases, more attention needs to be placed on how
formational education takes places in this environment. It is assumed that we cannot
successfully address student formation in online learning contexts. However, with the
advances in technology, the debate has moved on to exploring how theological education
might adapt to new teaching and learning environments and use new pedagogies and
technologies to prepare students for ministry. This article poses the question of how
formational education is possible in the distance environment, considering the nature of
formational education. In attempting an answer, the foundational dynamics of formation are
unpacked using an analysis of the current literature together with highlighting the essential
pedagogical factors of community, student support and faculty that are central to student
formation. This article is of value as it highlights how formational education can be locally
adapted within the distance mode.
The nature and applicaon of formaonal
learning in the distance medium
Read online:
Scan this QR
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to read online. Note: OEH: The Online Educated Human: Teaching values, ethics, morals, faith and religion at a distance, sub-edited Ignaus Gous
(University of South Africa).
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Within both academic and vocational modes of distance
theological education, more needs to be done within the
curriculum to promote the development of an integrated
person. There must be a move away from controlled content
delivery to the facilitation of the development of the student.
Especially considering the type of student in training that is
shaped by social and digital media and the negative impact
of that, more needs to be done to nurture a new generation of
leaders. As Hess states, ‘eventually not only how we teach
will change but the people preparing for religious leadership
will be shaped by the technology itself’ (2013:6). Formational
education attends to the relational skills, integrity and
character development of the professional found in other
professions such as social work, psychology and the like:
No longer is education conceived in terms of function and role or
the transmission and absorption of information – instead it has
become an ontological activity in which the prime goal is human
development. (Naidoo 2012:6)
Quality theological education extends beyond learning in the
cognitive domain, even beyond the ‘development of thinking
skills, into the affective realm found in terms such as moral
development, formation, spiritual maturity, character and
other relatively intangible goals’ (Patterson 1996:66). Hines
et al. (2009:34). assert that church members view ‘spiritual
and relational skills as the highest priority for ministerial
Theological educators question whether these skills and
values can be nurtured in the distance environment when
it is seen as a ‘virtual fashion’ in the marketplace. Some
see distance education as ‘distancing’ the students in more
significant ways than simply geographic distance. ‘When
the face-to-face personal dimension is removed in a distance
or online course, concern remains whether the spiritual
formation of students can be promoted’ (Naidoo 2012:5). The
challenge of facilitating spiritual formation in a climate that
relies on ‘text-based and largely asynchronous exchanges
between physically isolated individuals’ (Dawson 2004:77)
raises concerns amongst Christian educators because the
concept of learning in isolation and detachment runs counter
to Christian nurturing and formation.
Indeed, questions regarding the capacity of distance and
online programmes to provide a community of learning are
a central reason for the hesitant acceptance of online
learning in theological education. There have been many
other objections to distance education:
… theological arguments – from theologies of community and
embodiment and presence to the pedagogical argument ‘this
does not meet our standards for good or appropriate pedagogy’,
to the sociological argument ‘there is a set of social dynamics
that cannot be captured in this medium’. (Naidoo 2012:8)
Concerns about the legitimacy of the formational potential
are valid, but the issue has moved on to ‘the quality of content
rather than the quality of delivery’ (Killacky 2011:167).
Scholars have now indicated that ‘community can occur in an
online context and that the social interaction of presence can
replicate the face-to-face human interaction of traditional
course offerings’ (Brown 2012; Graham 2002; Nysse 2011;
Ravoi & Jordan 2004; Russel 1999). As distance learning has
become a part of the landscape of theological education and
adapts to technological and social change, the focus should
be reframed and considered from the view of the positive
gains that are found in virtual interaction (Delemarter
2014:140). Thus, the issue at hand is more about the quality of
theological distance education and the ways in which
distance courses can promote and support opportunities
for formation.
It is important to note that when the intention towards
formation education is not existent in educational institutions,
as found in public universities in South Africa, it becomes
difficult to structure and align formational initiatives. A
national study on the intentionality of spiritual formation in
contact theological education (Naidoo 2011) revealed that
institutions have an awareness of the formational mandate
to varying degrees; however, it is not clear how formational
education is offered in the distance environment. The
challenge in reflecting on local practice is that few theological
colleges in South Africa have made use of online education
because of the high cost of the infrastructure development.
Added to this, academic staff tend to be overwhelmed
with doing education rather than reflecting on what it is
they do. This results in limited scholarship on different
formation models in distance education or how theological
training institutions should make proper use of information
technologies for theological teaching. Given that institutions
are driven by economic sustainability and pragmatics when
it comes to distance education without fully considering
the holistic ministerial preparation of students, this article
will shed light on the fundamental dynamics that make for
formational education in a distance environment by firstly
explaining the unique features of formational education
and its application in the distance space, and the essential
pedagogical dynamics that must be in place for formation to
take place.
The alignment of formaonal
educaon with distance educaon
Since the prospect of incorporating distance formation
education is a necessity with the advances of technology, this
section will unpack the many commonalities between
formational education and distance, like the focus on the
individual in learning, a situated learning environment,
transformative education focused on personal growth and a
holistic focus for deep learning, to emphasis the possibilities
that can exist for formational learning.
Firstly, formation is a ‘model of learning in which faith,
study and tradition inform one another, and thereby foster
the development of the person’ (Naidoo 2012:4). Because it
is a process of becoming human (Smith 2009:70), there is a
fluidness in the goal of achieving maturity supported
by theological anthropology and developmental theory
(Overend 2007:138). Words such as integration and wholeness
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offer an overarching intention for formative practices that
integrates both cognitive and affective learning. Integrative
practices encourage students to be self-critical and transparent
to self and others about the theological commitments,
personal qualities and spiritual integrity that they carry into
their ministry. The self is examined and developed not simply
in an instrumental understanding that focuses on the
performance in ministry but on communicative dimension
known as emotional intelligence, and ultimately becomes a
search for meaning (Daloz 1987:62). While the formational
process of growth and change happens within the individual,
it is necessarily evidenced in relationship and in community.
These practices identify behaviours that should show up in
students’ personal and religious work and be embodied in
their very being as well as their doing (Hefner 2003).
Le Cornu (2003:18) suggests ‘that the distance learning mode
of education naturally lends itself to the formational mandate
on account of its learner-centred pedagogical approach’. To
conduct meaningful education is to begin where the students
are. It involves ‘student autonomy, instructor presence, and
interactivity’ (Pelz 2004:13). Student autonomy involves
the ability to work with other students in learning, while
the teacher ‘maintains a supportive presence throughout,
by guiding discussions, commenting on assignments and
offering valuable feedback to students on a regular basis’
(Pallof & Pratt 2007:78). In this learner approach, the shift
is from teaching information about the world towards a
learning-based method through engagement with the world.
In ‘a world in which knowing is constantly changing,
rarely fixed and deeply embedded in personal agency and
experience, students have to learn by engagement – by
doing, watching, experiencing’ (Hess 2013:14). We live in a
world where there is a huge body of knowledge and an
inquiring mind is of essence in order to establish ‘what we
do not know’ (Hess 2013:14). Technology represents a way of
life where digital platforms become primary locations of
communication and symbolic connections (Cloete 2015:144).
It makes us think anew about the world and how we interact
with it.
The philosophy of education used is based on constructivism
that ‘holds that learners actively construct meaning by
interacting with their environments and by incorporating
new information into their existing knowledge and hence
building on prior knowledge and skills’ (Njenga 2005:202).
It is important to note that the limitless information available
on the Internet may add value to the teaching and learning
in class; however, in the online process, even though there is
an abundance of information, ‘the transformation of
information into knowledge requires it to be adapted and
contextualised to the learners’ unique environments’ (Martin
& Briggs 1986:13). This is because very few independent
students can do this for themselves and it requires the expert
help from a teacher ‘to adapt and contextualise the information
or facilitate the student’s adaptation of such information’
(Martin & Briggs 1986:13). ‘Content is organized then
disseminated as the teacher helps students develop prior
knowledge and familiarize themselves with each new
learning experience’ (Ascough 2002:23). Thus, careful
attention needs to be made to the discussions and the scaffold
design of the assignments. Learning happens when students
move back and forth between learning and applying in ways
that are immediate and seamless. This constructivist approach
is in line with what Dan Aleshire refers to as the ‘ecology of
faith’ in which different but complementary contexts shape
students (in Lowe & Lowe 2010:98). This idea was taken
further by Lowe and Lowe (2010) who considered the entire
social ecosystem on human development:
An ecological perspective on spiritual formation in Christian
distance education permits us to consider the totality of
contexts and settings in which students study, learn and grow.
Rather than delimiting Christian development to physical face-
to-face community, an ecological perspective broadens our
perspective on multiple social environments … to accomplish
transformation. (p. 97)
Learning occurs in the social realm before it is internalised,
showing the interdependency of learning with the
sociocultural environment. ‘This widening notion of
community can impact the faculty’s sense of its theological
mission, as teachers engage the theological questions of
communities at a distance’ (Esselman 2005:160). Students’
church work contexts must be incorporated into studies to
supplement that formation that is already taking place in
the church. This approach includes all the voices in the
wisdom community; it ‘frees the teaching and learning
event to include all the members; it capitalizes on the
personal and professional experiences that each bring
to the conversation’ (Delamarter 2014:141). To develop
relationality, skills of discernment and communication in
the distance medium is key and it can become a resource in
face-to-face encounters, even in the evangelisation of
others. Cannel suggests that ‘an appropriate way to think of
the involvement of the theological institution in ministerial
education is not as preparatory but as developmental’
(2006:38). In other words, the sustenance of the ministry
profession is developed on regular and continuing education
and this can be performed in the online mode where the
individual is guided in reflection-on-practice.
The desired outcome of theological education is frequently
expressed as transformation; it should have a life changing,
transformative effect on students. Weinski states: ‘It should
be about coming to new and deeper understandings of
Scripture and theological questions, training of ministry
skills, spiritual growth, and character development’
(2008:108). Personal and spiritual formations are terms used
to describe the transformation desired in theological
education. Both transformative learning theory and Christian
formation are concerned with personal growth: the former in
developing meaning perspective and the latter in Christian
maturity (Reissner 1999). Transformative learning is a well-
established education theory (Mezirow 1990) evidenced
through changed decision-making and acting on new
insights. The theory recognises that learning is more epistemic
than cognitive, in that the learner does not merely know
more, but becomes a different person (Mezirow 1990:62).
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For Mezirow, transformation is holistic, involving all aspects
including the affective, cognitive and conative. Theological
education can be transformative insofar as it intentionally
encourages reflection and the reconsideration of one’s own
perspectives in the context of theological themes and this can
happen in any medium in which a course of study is
experienced, even distance.
The scope of formational education must go beyond a
restrictive cognitive qualification to more integrated human
development. Even though knowledge is the most appropriate
for easy delivery in the distance model, there is increasing
evidence that there is potential for skills training online
(Elias 2006) with the use of YouTube videos for discussion in
pastoral counselling classroom and tutoring through virtual
scenarios (Killacky 2011:176). Formational education that
takes a holistic purpose must also work towards the elusive
realm of non-cognitive development, and this has been
inadequately attended to in distance education research as
well as in the traditional classroom (Saines 2009:341).
Developing new perspectives and increasing self-awareness
are part of the complex competency in theological formation.
While there have been many efforts in developing taxonomies
of affective learning (Anderson & Krathwohl 2000), which
is equated with formation, it has also been problematic to
define, measure and assess (Cannel 2006:89; Overend 2007).
There is agreement amongst educators that deep learning
involves the affective domain and has to do with implicit
values and beliefs (Le Cornu 2006:30; Saines 2009). In contrast,
the ‘surface approach’ (Marton & Säljö 1976) looks at external
knowledge or information that is instrumentalist and can be
memorised and regurgitated. The superficial learning leads to
poor recall of the material learnt and the inability to apply the
learning to different scenarios. Polanyi (1983) took a ‘deep
approach’ looking past fixed knowledge to understand its
meaning and significance, drawing links and connections
wherever possible. A teaching space that is constructive and
relational is critical for deep approaches to learning theology.
At the same time, ‘engagement with deep approaches to
learning requires motivation and personal involvement’
(Saines 2009:336). Le Cornu (2006) states that:
… this progression from surface to deep is primarily characterized
by the degree to which meaning is sought and found, and can
therefore be considered as a developing internalization through
the process of reflection. (p. 12)
Polanyi speaks about ‘tacit knowing’, knowledge that ‘is
highly personal, embedded and difficult to formalize or
codify’ and links it to internalisation. At this final stage,
‘external knowledge has been so absorbed into people’s
beings through the process of reflection that it is now part of
them’ (Le Cornu 2006:15).
What we find here is that instead of a constricted idea of
‘ordered learning’ as the product of learning only, attention
must be given to the idea of education as a process, as
the transformation of ‘theological education will never be
achieved through curriculum reform alone’ (Hess 2005:89).
Relationships in the learning environment, the open teaching
manner and extracurricular activities all shape the learning.
The students now shift as consumers to producers of
knowledge, a shift from the end product to the process.
‘Preoccupation with content transmission obscures the
important learning to be found in dialogue, debate, reflection
on experience, and critical inquiry necessary for the
development of wisdom’ (Nysse 2011:14).
Key pedagogical requirements
for formaon
Formation is about engaging in intentional practices via
structural processes and dynamics that shape and form
students. It is about ‘holding the institution accountable for
its curricular objectives and the processes of formation’
(Stache 2014:290). Academic staff will need to make the shift
from contact pedagogical thinking to transformed pedagogy
germane to the capacities of the distance environment. To do
this, there are particular critical dimensions for formational
education to happen successfully, conditions that must exist
if formation is to happen. Because students are being formed
as they participate, the dimensions of community, student
support and faculty modelling are a necessity. This is because
there is consensus in the literature revealing the communal
aspect of formation (Graham 2003:60; Hines et al. 2009;
Smith 2009:67). ‘It relies on both interaction with others
and the development of a supportive community’ (Brown
2012:43). Of critical importance in the community is the
work of mentoring and discipleship. The teacher is there to
establish a community of learning and to be a mediator in
that role. If these critical dimensions are not adhered to,
then there will be no integration of appropriate interactive
activities, no meaningful use of discussion forums, the
possibility of creating a fake persona and the general lack of
trust within the online community that can reduce the
overall educational value. These factors will be explored in
greater detail.
Nurturing community
Formational learning is understood as fundamentally
relational and relies on a supportive environment so that
interaction, internalisation and socialisation take place, and
this is very much the case in the distance environment:
Thinking about community in a broader sense forces institutions
to take into consideration not only the learning community of
the institution but the community in which the student is located.
(Stache 2014:288)
There is consensus that cyberspace is playing a decisive
role in bringing together diverse people, bound not by
geography but by shared interest. Pallof and Pratt (2007:25)
state that technology has ‘helped to create a new form
of social interdependence enabling new communities to
form wherever communication links can be made’. This is
understood as the socio-emotional approach to learning
(Brockbank & McGill 1998:37). Students in this internet-
savvy generation place a high value on relationships
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and community. They are naturally attracted to the
combination of technology and the potential for learning in
an online community. When there is engagement and
participation, a sense of community naturally forms.
‘This leads to social cohesion and authentic learning,
leading again to stronger participation’ (Wright 2011:58).
Thriving learning communities involve ‘social presence,
authentic learning, and interdependency’ (Shore 2007:88).
‘Shared goals, trust and mutual support lead to quality
social interaction which in turn leads to high performance’
(Shea 2006:37).
Community can be developed when academic staff present
material online in various formats, and discussion groups
can serve to integrate the learning material. Hines et al. (2009)
explain the process as:
… weekly questions are posted to a discussion board, with each
question targeting different aspects of learning, reflection, and
application. Students post individual responses and reply to
each other. The instructor facilitates ongoing asynchronous
conversation until the end of the week. In threaded discussions,
students are able to read each other’s thoughts, carefully reflect
on those thoughts and further the conversation. (p. 37)
This environment is often less threatening and encourages
students to self-directed and to develop problem-solving
skills (Wright 2011). The focus is on tacit knowledge that
builds from constantly changing experiences, rather than
fixed knowledge. These interactions between student and
teacher, between students themselves, and between the
student and the broader community make for formational
learning as when dialogue is increased, transactional
distance is reduced (Moore 1993). It ‘develops and maintains
relationships of mutuality and respect’ (Graham 2003:60).
These exchanges are central towards developing relationships
as they show evidence of belonging and becoming.
Other hybrid models involve a combination of face-to-face
and online learning opportunities (Delamarter & Brunner
2005; Esselman 2005; Hege 2011:13; Maddix & Estep 2010:76)
known as the ‘bricks and clicks’ approach (Weigel Van
2002:60–126). This model starts with face-to-face contact
and online communication continues the relationship. ‘This
model blends the best of traditional on-campus teaching
and learning with online or technology-mediated resources,
emphasising depth as well as access’ (Naidoo 2012:6).
Emphasis is on ‘what learning objectives for the program
need to be handled face-to-face and which can be done
online’ (Delamarter 2014:148).
Student support
One of the major challenges in providing formation in
distance education is student support; the availability and
provision of resources; technical help with the learning
environment; and administrative and personal support
(Graham 2002:228). Because there is a separation by distance,
time and resources, there must be adequate student services
and library resources. As Makoe (2006) states:
… students are expected to learn complex new material
independently and to adjust to new ways of learning in this
new environment. An initial lack of understanding of the
academic world and its demands are often linked to an overall
confusion about the nature and purpose of learning in higher
education. (p. 365)
Constructive learning involves fitting into new knowledge
with old understandings. Students at the beginning of
learning are usually focused on the task and surface learning.
As students grapple with ‘new theological vocabulary, as
their literacy and understandings develop so their deeper
conceptual frameworks of meaning’ (Saines 2009:339). Then
students tend to move on to the personally enriching and
communally engaged learning. A key factor is their increased
motivation and engaging dialogue with peers and teachers.
Students feel overwhelmed by the pressure of study
alongside Christian ministry, especially when they do not
have the basic building blocks of learning from their previous
learning. Students are familiar with the conative (doing) and
affective (feeling) and now have to focus on the cognitive
(knowing) ways of learning. Without the required study and
research skills and academic writing, students may not move
on to deep learning.
Many students also express ‘anxiety about their ability to
master the technology, and they feared that their lack of
expertise would jeopardize the learning of the subject’.
This anxiety is aggravated by general infrastructure
challenges in our context and institutions may have to
provide learning centres and train students in the use of the
computers or make computer laboratories available. Mabunda
(2010:239) reminds us that the ‘successful adoption of
information and communication technologies needs to
address different interlocking frameworks for change:
infrastructure, attitude, staff development, support,
sustainability and transferability’.
Formational distance education will need to deal with the
ethical components as there could be instability caused
from the growth in self-awareness. Patterson (1996) states
… education at its best moves the learner from one state of
understanding to another, and that process will necessarily
include times of disequilibrium. At such times, when the
learner’s emotional state is unsettled, and particularly when
dealing with matters of faith, it is incumbent on the teacher
to serve as monitor, guide and reassuring presence. The
commitment of a theological faculty to educate must include a
commitment to contain and to offer support in such disruption.
(p. 62)
Online education will need clear principles to create a safe
environment that can promote genuine dialogue:
It is important that process factors such as safety, emotional
accessibility between members of the learning community,
integrity and authenticity is established as core values or the
structural factors will be only minimally effective. (Naidoo 2012:3)
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Pallof and Pratt (2007) also suggest that:
… understanding different culturally related beliefs about the
nature of the individual and society may be critical in contributing
to differing orientations towards self-expression and social
interactions within educational settings. (p. 62)
Educators must be aware of students’ context and how it
impacts their learning. Clint, Graham and Mayes (2007:201)
state that ‘teaching to the student’s context may be more
important than focusing on a specific content in the distance
Faculty as key to formaon
Faculty is the critical factor in the success of distance
education. As formation education involves ‘shifts in self-
understanding, in adjusting world-views, in working out
conflicting and possibly internally threatening or challenging
information, this requires the presence and access to a
supportive authority figure’ (Ravoi, Baker & Cox 2008:12).
In this approach, the teacher shares his or her struggles
to appropriate wisdom to the student as individualised
mentoring becomes a value (Daloz 1987). ‘The most
meaningful experiences for students are focused on the
teacher’s relational skills and personal qualities, and in-class
interactive teaching and learning methods’ (Delamarter
2014:137). Hines et al. (2009) suggest that:
… assignments and class discussions become the primary field
of learning, while lectures become supplementary and the
teacher moves from the front of the room to assume a role as
guide and mentor along a journey of explorative learning. (p. 36)
This change in role can be exciting and can be threatening.
When teachers utilise learning theories built on interaction
that enable formation, there should be evidence of this
learning expressed by the students in their discursive
interactions demonstrating membership in a community of
practice (Wenger 1998) through aspects of belonging and
becoming. The best instructional motivator and support for
both cognitive and affective goals appear to be interaction
with a teacher.
In the online mode, the ‘competencies needed for teaching
were identified as: content facilitator, technologist, designer,
manager/administrator, process facilitator, adviser/counselor,
assessor, and researcher’ (Goodyear et al. 2001:69).
‘Understanding the local context of the student, creating a
learning community, and teaching information literacy have
all been added to the professor’s job description in an online
course’ (Goodyear et al. 2001:69). Thus, the teacher’s role has
expanded and therefore the approach to pedagogy must
expand as well. However, as Delamarter (2005:148) states,
‘theological education is not populated with faculty members
with extensive backgrounds in educational methodology’.
Those who are expected to use new methods should be
well supported. Faculty members need training in the skills
required to work with technology and need support for
experimentation and innovation. In addition, teachers ‘need
better understanding of the paths and processes of adult
development – of how persons develop identities, interact
to create meaning and experience deep learning’ (Weigel Van
With the growth in distance education and the change in the
learning needs of students, attention needs to be made to
providing formational education, but it must be based on
sound pedagogy and the innovative use of instructional
technology. It needs to prepare students for ministry in a
world revolutionised by technology. Technology is no longer
only in service of institutions; institutions also need technology
to communicate effectively in the present day.
Nevertheless, it is also not helpful to naively believe that
distance education and electronic media will always enhance
the experience of students, but if academic staff can build
capacity in formational education, the positives of accessibility,
participation and flexibility can be used to craft a supportive
learning environment. With the pedagogical focus of student
centredness, learning in practice, holistic and transformative
learning formational programmes can start to take shape.
Compeng interests
The author declares that she has no financial or personal
relationship(s) that may have inappropriately influenced her
in writing this article.
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... Researchers in theological education and Christian education have identified some critical elements for character and spiritual formation to happen and which need to be present in theological education programs, independently of the selected delivery mode: faculty training for the new delivery environment, fostering and developing a sense of community among students, and a robust mentoring or spiritual guidance system (Egorov et al., 2019;Maddix & Estep, 2010;Marmon, 2013;Masterson, 2014;Naidoo, 2012Naidoo, , 2019Roche, 2013). This study took these elements as its main categories for analysis. ...
... Current advances in technology, financial, and geographical factors, as well as a shift of demographics in student bodies at colleges and universities, gave an additional dimension to the problem of training clergy for ministry (Naidoo, 2012). Institutions of higher education in general, but especially those involved in theological education, responded to the needs of training leaders for the church through distance education and online learning (Maddix & Estep, 2010;Naidoo, 2012Naidoo, , 2019, therefore, doing away with the central location that brought learning communities together, which was the locus of character formation efforts, and bringing the huge element of social distance (Egorov et al., 2019;Naidoo, 2012) into the equation of character formation in theological education. The social distancing has such a significant impact because it tends to create alienation, privatization, and isolation of the students, which is the exact opposite of the kind of environment generated by a community of learners (Naidoo, 2012(Naidoo, , 2019Rovai, 2002). ...
... Institutions of higher education in general, but especially those involved in theological education, responded to the needs of training leaders for the church through distance education and online learning (Maddix & Estep, 2010;Naidoo, 2012Naidoo, , 2019, therefore, doing away with the central location that brought learning communities together, which was the locus of character formation efforts, and bringing the huge element of social distance (Egorov et al., 2019;Naidoo, 2012) into the equation of character formation in theological education. The social distancing has such a significant impact because it tends to create alienation, privatization, and isolation of the students, which is the exact opposite of the kind of environment generated by a community of learners (Naidoo, 2012(Naidoo, , 2019Rovai, 2002). ...
This study aimed to explore how character formation educational outcomes are achieved through online education in students preparing for church leadership. This research was a qualitative descriptive case study conducted at a fully decentralized higher education institution in Europe, among its primary stakeholders: graduates, students, faculty, and local administrators. The findings of this study supported the proposals from the literature that character formation outcomes can be achieved through online education. Therefore, character formation requires appropriate structures and teaching methodologies to foster community, instructors who effectively use pedagogical and interpersonal practices in their classes, and a robust mentoring program supporting the whole educational endeavor.
This exploratory study looks into the use of webinars and how they impact student learning and engagement. An analysis of literature will be carried out to explore student learning and engagement and the link between webinar use. Recommendations would be given to practitioners to help them enhance the student learning and engagement through the use of webinars and also identifying the right virtual platforms for use. The objectives of this research were to identify the role of technology in student learning and engagement; secondly, develop an understanding of the use of webinars as a tool; and, thirdly, understand and analyse the impact of webinar use on student learning and engagement. The research is going to follow a constructivist approach utilizing qualitative methods to collect data. Questionnaires would be distributed to business school students who have experienced both face-to-face sessions and webinars. In conclusion, a holistic approach needs to be taken to understand the nature and the use of technology to enhance the learning and engagement of students. In addition, a more informed approach needs to be undertaken when framing policies for technology in the higher education sector. This should involve all stakeholders and would be significant in supporting the use of technology and enhancing student learning and engagement.KeywordsOnline learningStudent learning and engagementWebinarsTechnology use in HEBlended learningTeaching and learning
In the recent literature on formation in online theological education, a number of thematic strands can be delineated: the apologetic, didactic, pedagogical, empirical, and geographical strands. However, apart from the early apologetic stage of the discussion theological reflection plays a minor role in the literature. In this article, I argue that theology plays a limited and superficial role in contemporary writings about formation in online theological education. Yet, spiritual formation in online theological education needs theological grounding. Given the accelerated shift to forms of online education across the world, such theological grounding is an urgent task. In this renewed theological engagement, three areas especially call for sustained attention: (1) the multi-faceted nature of spiritual formation; (2) the question of agency in spiritual formation and the consequences for the theological curriculum; and (3) engagement with theological traditions that offer ample material to guide our contemporary thinking about spiritual formation.
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This study intends to explore the current trends in the field of distance education research during the period of 2009-2013. The trends were identified by an extensive review of seven peer reviewed scholarly journals: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. 331 articles was reviewed. Mainly content analysis was employed to be able to analyze the current research. Also, a social network analysis (SNA) was used to interpret the interrelationship between keywords indicated in these articles. Themes were developed and the content of the articles in the selected journals were coded according to categories derived from earlier studies. The results were interpreted using descriptive analysis (frequencies) and social network analysis. The reporting of the results were organized into the following categories: research areas, theoretical and conceptual frameworks, variables, methods, models, strategies, data collection and analysis methods, and the participants. The study also identified the most commonly used keywords, and the most frequently cited authors and studies in distance education. The findings obtained in this study may be useful in the exploration of potential research areas and identification of neglected areas in the field of distance education.
The purpose of this book is to engage challenging issues that are called into question during ministerial training. This is a volume presenting eleven contested issues that attend to concerns related to structures, processes, knowledge and practices within theological education. Contributors offer keen insights about how to think differently and more complexly about these matters within a changing South Africa. It is an affirmation of the multiple voices, locations, identities and positions within South African theological education, as a starting point for transformative theological education. It is hoped that these reflections can enable future ministers to confront the question of how to be in the world with the required competence, integrity and professional identity to meet the needs of church and society.
This main goal of this article is to propose three principles of how to make online teaching and learning more effectively.
Spiritual formation is one of the recognized benchmarks of higher education that is Christian. A communal commitment to spiritual formation is indeed part of the Christian higher education community's DNA, and is in fact reflected in the criteria for accreditation in both the Association of Biblical Higher Education (ABHE) and the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). However, as many Christian institutions of higher education begin to engage in online instruction, even offering entire degree programs online, how can they affirm their campus's commitment to the spiritual formation of students? This article addresses the question of providing intentional Christian nurture toward spiritual formation in online degree programs. The aim of the article is to inform participants of the challenges and opportunities for student spiritual formation in online degree programs so as to better equip participants to develop Christian nurture initiatives for online students from an informed perspective. To do so the article includes two parts: (a) the development of a theoretical matrix for online spiritual formation, based principally on precedent literature and the experience of the two authors; and (b) a survey of actual Christian nurture and spiritual formation models specifically designed for online programs.
This article sets forth a model of student spiritual formation in Christian distance education that integrates the biblical concept of spiritual development that takes place within the spiritual ecology of the church as the body of Christ with Bronfenbrenner's Ecology of Human Development theory. The ecosystems model views spiritual formation as an ecological phenomenon whether the ecosystem exists in physical, spiritual, or cyberspace environments, thereby offering evidence for the possibility of student spiritual formation in Christian distance education settings regardless of physical proximity.