AbstractsEducation Research & Administration

A Comparison of Spiritual Formation Experiences between On‐Campus and Distance Evangelical Theological Education Students

by Mark Barry Nichols

Institution: University of Otago
Year: 0
Keywords: theological education; distance education; online education; spiritual formation; transformative learning; distance theological education; Christian Spiritual Participation Profile; community
Record ID: 1303725
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/4943


Distance education has a well‐established heritage as an effective means of formal higher learning. Despite this, its role in theological education is actively resisted by many theorists. The main reason for this reluctance to endorse theological distance education is the concern that distance students do not have an adequate formation experience as they learn. Formation is a term representative of development as a Christian disciple, typically measured in terms of spiritual maturity. Very few primary investigations into theological education students’ formational experiences have been undertaken, and no comparison of on‐campus and theological distance education students has been found in literature. Yet, the assumption of many writers is that theological distance education students have an impoverished formational experience. This study seeks to address a serious gap in literature. It provides a comparison of the spiritual maturity, propensity for further spiritual growth, and an exploration of the formation experiences of on‐campus and theological distance education students studying similar undergraduate degree programmes at Laidlaw College, a New Zealand provider of theological education with an evangelical emphasis. Laidlaw College provides both under‐graduate and post‐graduate programmes in theology; the participants of this investigation are students enrolled in the Bachelor of Ministries and Bachelor of Theology degrees, which are offered both on‐campus and through distance. These degrees have been chosen as the basis for comparison because of their similarity to the U.S. Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree, which, mainly because of concerns about student formation, can only as of 2013 – and by special dispensation – be earned solely through online distance education. Much of the recent debate in literature related to distance theological education has come from authors associated with the MDiv. At Laidlaw College distance students are not required to undertake any on‐campus or face‐to‐face tuition and study courses based on similar prescriptions, providing a clear distinction between on‐campus and distance populations. This study applies a mixed‐methods approach. From a population of 148 on‐campus and distance theological education students, 77 students were successfully surveyed using Christian Spiritual Participation Profile (CSPP) instrument. Semi‐structured qualitative interviews with ten each of on‐campus and distance education students were also held, exploring interviewees’ formational experiences during the period of their study with an emphasis on their all‐of‐life and church community perspectives. This study found no significant difference across the spiritual maturity profiles and propensity for further growth between on‐campus and theological distance education students. It is also evident that those students self‐selecting for theological distance study already tended to be mature believers, and studied alongside strong church involvement. The church membership and involvement of distance…