Highlighting Rockr’s

On-line Learning – An Insider’s Perspective, by Ben Davis

I want to offer my two cents worth in the on-line vs. traditional classroom debate.  I do this as both a student who has completed on-line and traditional degrees and as an instructor who has taught in both modalities.  Both approaches to education have their strengths and weaknesses, but right at the outset I want to confirm that I have found that on-line courses and degrees are fully equivalent to traditional classroom-based degrees in terms of content, depth of learning, and student outcomes.

My experience as a student with on-line learning is extensive – I have earned six accredited degrees from five different colleges.  I selected on-line learning because of its flexibility and because I could complete degrees that met my specific learning goals without uprooting my family and moving across the country to go to school.  I could also continue in my job, and on that latter account studying in on-line programs was a real advantage.

The coursework and learning in on-line programs are certainly as rigorous as in the traditional classroom, so a student doesn’t have to feel that he or she would be unprepared to compete with those who studied in the traditional way.  As long as the institution has accreditation from one of the recognized national or regional accrediting bodies, you can be assured that the school meets the same standards as other accredited schools.  And, because some people have concern about on-line programs, these programs tend to get an extremely thorough assessment during both the accreditation and reaccreditation process.

As a “mature” student, chronologically, if not in other ways, I found on-line programs to be extremely beneficial.  First, my work experience gave me a good background to bring into the courses.  I certainly was not at a disadvantage with regard to my fellow students.

Second, I found that what I learned in my courses could often be applied immediately to what I was doing at work.  Actually, I looked for ways to make this happen.  What is learned in the classroom can be taken right into your job and applied to problems or situations you are dealing with at the time.

Third, and perhaps even more importantly, I found that what I was doing on my job could be taken into the classroom. Things I needed to understand more about at work or problems I was dealing with became topics for a number of papers that I wrote and were brought up in the discussions.  This latter allowed other students and even faculty members to comment on my topic and make helpful suggestions for me to think about.

Speaking of faculty-student and student-student contact, one major surprise for me with on-line education was discovering that I actually had morecontact with my professors and other students in my on-line courses than I did in my on-ground courses. In an on-ground course, you go to a classroom, sit in a seat for an hour or two, and then leave, not to see the professor or other students until the next class session.  In an on-line course, you are in constant contact with your professors and other students.  Discussion forums are a major part of on-line programs, and these give you regular, on-going interaction with students and faculty members as well.  I am always amazed by how quickly these discussions move from being just academic to becoming personal and connective.  A number of times I have seen students who had been in previous courses together pick up with each other where they left off some months earlier (e.g., “How’s you mom doing?  Is she out of the hospital yet?”).  In addition, most on-line course formats provide a “discussion” box on the course website that allows unfettered discussion among students.  Here there is always a lively discussion among students here, and the discussions are completely uncensored by the faculty and administration.  You may even find a few people in your local area with whom you can connect for face-to-face interaction if you want.

What are the downsides to on-line programs? Only two, and the student is actually in control of both.

First, on-line programs require more personal discipline than do classroom-based programs.  While on-line courses are structured on a week-to-week basis, they tend to be fairly flexible within each week. It is very different from having to appear in a face-to-face classroom two or three times each week.  As a result, it can be easy to let things slide if you are not careful.  On the other hand, if you areself-motivated, the program is ideal because you can structure your studying and coursework around your personal and professional schedules.  If you are not naturally compulsive-obsessive, it can be very helpful to set a weekly schedule for yourself and let a friend/boss/whomever serve as a point of accountability.

Second, despite what I said earlier, the direct student-to-student and student-to-professor contact can slide if you let it.  You really need to lean in and take advantage of the connectional opportunities that the on-line environment offers.  Instructors provide class discussion forums with specific questions or topics to be addressed each week, and these are included as part of the course grade, so you will always be interacting with other students throughout the course – how much is up to you.  Doing just the minimum will result in getting a lot less out of your courses than you otherwise would.

With regard to concern about the validity of on-line degrees, the on-line degree process is a fairly recent phenomenon and is becoming much more accepted as time passes.  With any change in academia, there are always those who drag their feet.  It wasn’t until the 1900s that engineering programs were felt to be academic enough to warrant a real degree, and those with a few years on them may remember the flap over Black Studies, Women’s Studies, and General Studies degree programs when they were first introduced.  Engineering and Black, Women’s  and General studies programs are now in existence at most major universities and are considered to be genuine.  In the same way, most of the major institutions now offer on-line programs (the figure is 98% of public universities), so the snobbery will eventually go away.

Bottom line?  I am sold on on-line leaning.  I have benefitted tremendously from my studies and I would encourage any skeptic to, in the words of the now-classic Alka Seltzer commercial, “Try it; you’ll like it.”

Ben Davis currently serves as Vice President for Legal and Academic affairs at a university that offers both on-line and on-ground programs.  He holds multiple degrees including two accredited doctorates, one from an on-line and one from an on-ground institution.

Why You Should Consider Rockbridge



A Different Kind of School

by Rhonda Kitchen, DMin

Developing servant leaders is a chief goal of Rockbridge Seminary. This cannot be achieved in the vacuum of a learning environment that focuses only on knowledge acquisition. Rockbridge degree programs are practical, relational, and relevant.

Students at Rockbridge will learn the skills of five areas of ministry competencies through online learning modules and textbooks as well as through one-on-one contact with a qualified mentor who will help them apply their learning in practical everyday ministry settings. The competencies are focused on developing the practical ministry skills of Worship, Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry and Evangelism.

Another practical aspect of Rockbridge is that students are able to work in their local ministry setting while completing their degree, rather than having to relocate to attend seminary. This provides the ideal setting for a student to practically apply their learning.

At first glance one might ask how can an online seminary be relational. The Rockbridge learning environment is like being a part of a family. As students interact, tight friendships are developed as students work through the assignments together and respond to practical questions on the discussion forums. These interactions allow students to grow, through feedback and encouragement, and many of these friendships continue past the classroom experience.

Professors at Rockbridge are every day practitioners of ministry, who understand the changing nuances of being in ministry. What may have worked well a few years ago, may not work today. Having a professor who has a grasp on the changing climate in the US and around the world is one of the premier benefits of attending Rockbridge Seminary. The course content is also focused on utilizing texts and materials that are current and applicable in today’s world. Many of the resources utilized in Rockbridge courses are cutting edge concepts for ministry. They challenge students to go to the next level not only in their capabilities but also in what God wants to accomplish in and through them.

God has a purpose for each of us. A willingness to be used and a willingness to grow are two of the necessary steps toward preparing yourself to be used effectively for Kingdom work. At Rockbridge you will receive an education that will prepare you to make a difference for the cause of Christ.

About the Writer: Rhonda Kitchen has an MACE and DMin from Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary and a MS in Counseling from California Baptist University. She writes small group curriculum and is an expert in missionary education in the area of security. She has taught at Rockbridge Seminary since 2007. Her courses include Recovery Ministry, Personal Counseling Skills, and the Theology and Practice of Ministry.