All schools and colleges are wrestling with the impact of the digital revolution on both the delivery of education and on the learning styles of our students. Online education is growing at 19% per  year, online enrollment now represents 25% of all higher education enrollments, and demand for online courses is now greater than demand for corresponding face-to-face courses.

As the dust settles (I hope) we are faced with four main options for delivering education:

1. The Traditional Lecture: Mainly a monologue where information is delivered orally from one teacher to many students at a set time each week.

2. Distance/Online Learning: Individual students are given the course materials and assignments to work through on their own and at their own pace. Usually a solitary learning experience, with little student/teacher interaction and no student/student interaction. High dropout rate.

3. Flipped Classroom: Instead of lectures in the class and assignments at home, the class is “flipped” so that students watch/listen to the lecture at home in their own time, and come to class to work though problems, assignments, application of lessons together with the teacher and other students.

4. Blended Learning: This tries to combine the best of the previous three methods. Most (though not all) lectures are delivered online. Classroom time is given to working on assignments, testing learning, applying knowledge, discussion, and also to special lectures. In addition, technology is used to facilitate collaborative (student-to-student) learning via forums, etc.

Here’s a paper with a synopsis of some of the most significant online articles that have been written on the evolving educational scene over the past year or so. The research is increasingly showing that the Blended Learning model is the way of the future for many (though not all) subjects. The advantages, in summary, are:


  1. It costs the school less (30-50% less) and should therefore either reduce student costs or increase educational value.
  2. Reduced tuition increases accessibility of education to poorer individuals and communities.
  3. It saves time because the video lessons are prepared once and used (with some updating) thereafter. It also saves the student time because he/she does not need to be travelling to/from so many lectures.
  4. Research shows that students tend to complete the courses faster.
  5. The learning outcomes are equal to or better than traditional lectures.
  6. Class time used for practical application of knowledge.
  7. Emphasis not just on what you know, but can you use what you know. Not just the transmission/reception of information or ideas, but how to use them.
  8. More time for one-to-one mentoring, modeling, relationship building.
  9. Moves away from seat-time (credit hours) to competency.
  10. Tends to produce more creative and accurate assessment methods than traditional major paper plus end-of-semester exam.
  11. Plays to strengths of digital generation and provides means for constant student interaction and student-to-student teaching/learning.
  12. Reduces the need for new buildings.
  13. Increases personalization of education, customizing courses to individual learning styles, speeds, and needs.


  • What do you think of these trends?
  • Should seminaries just stick with the traditional methods?
  • What’s your experience of these different methods?
  • What are the best ways to make blended courses work?
  • Are there any subjects that should always be taught by traditional lecture?
  • Should schools offer different methods to suit different kinds of learners?
  • What should be a professor’s role? Do we need professors dedicated to online teaching?
  • Dave Moser

    After taking two MDiv classes via distance education I chose to stop until I could attend class in person. (Thankfully, that’s coming this September!) The format of the courses was recorded lectures with written group interactions online along with emails with a TA.

    My experience: Nothing replaces face-to-face interaction with a professor.

    There are so many nonverbal signals I don’t pick up on. I can’t raise my hand and ask a question in real-time. Even when I do ask a question, feedback is delayed and impersonal. Distance learning simply doesn’t work for me. I can go to Monergism’s mp3 library, combine that with conversations with my pastor and it’s just as effective.

    I find the thought of the “flipped classroom” interesting though. Even though it separates the lecture from real-time interaction it maximizes the amount of time interacting with a professor. It’s essentially an expansion of office hours.

    I’m approaching this from the perspective of graduate level liberal arts so that definitely colors my view. I might have a completely different perspective on the topic with respect to grade school math.

    • David Murray

      Very helpful, Dave. Thanks. I think the key with the flipped classroom is not to lessen contact time with the prof but to make better use of it.

  • Eric J Dolce (@AntiOrdiary74)

    As someone who would LOVE to go seminary, I would hate to see face-to-face time with faculty be minimized in any significant way. I am already blessed with resources via iTunes where great schools like RTS and Covenant have generously posted whole classes via iTunes U. I could and do go through them on a regular basis. But prep for ministry re: discipleship and I don’t think that happens effectively outside of the face-to-face component. Ideally, all seminary-level work would take place in churches rather than online.

    • David Murray

      Thanks Eric. I agree with you on the need for face-to-face time.

    • Eric

      Sadly, classroom time does not really provide an opportunity for up-close face-time with the professors, so discipleship doesn’t happen there at all.

      That is generally done in shepherding groups (or whatever your particular brand of seminary calls them) which is outside of class as an extracurricular activity.

      So, I don’t think that there would me much lost in that department if a seminary moved to a larger online curriculum.

  • David MC

    Earning all of my education exclusively at night, I am all in favor of as much online learning as possible. So many of the lower tier classes for a BA could be done this way. However, the 3-400 classes and definitely grad school should be an experience with a live professor and students. The best classes are the ones where you learn as much from the people around you as you do from the course. This is amplified at night, where many of your classmates are professionals already. I would imagine that this type of mutual learning would be even more important in seminary. Iron sharpens iron, but you need more than one piece to make that happen.

    • David Murray

      Yes, student-to student learning is much easier to facilitate online.

  • Eric

    Unfortunately, I don’t see the cost for students going down even if an educational institution gradually migrates toward online/distance education.

    I can speak from experience at SBTS that the net cost of registering for an online course is higher than traditional courses (same tuition with extra web fees and whatnot). The “modular” courses (where lectures are done online with 2 8-10 hour days of face-time with the prof) are the same cost as traditional courses.

    I would love to see more of the flipped classroom in seminary, but time spent watching lectures at home would need to be part of class time (and I realize that would cause problems with accreditation). Part-time ministry with part-time side job and full-time seminary don’t leave me much time for listening to lectures in my “free time.” I LOVE the flipped classroom concept with more time spent on discussion with the professor after hearing the lectures, though.

  • Aaron Sams

    Hi Dr. Murray,

    Thanks for bringing these powerful tools to the forefront. At the risk of shameless self-promotion, I wanted to introduce myself. I am a fellow Reformed Christian and member of the RPCNA. I am a former high school chemistry teacher and pioneer in the flipped classroom conversation in K-12 education. I recently published a book on the matter (and am working on a second one) that I would be happy to discuss with you, but will refrain from linking to or promoting on your blog.

    Additionally, I have recently been hired by the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh to start a distance learning program.

    I really just wanted to let you know that I really appreciate your insight and writing on technology, and I have even led a church class through you “God’s Technology” videos. I would love to continue to learn from you, and I would also be happy to share any of my own experience and expertise in digital learning if you are ever interested.


    Aaron Sams

    • David Murray

      Hi Aaron. Great to “meet” you. I read your book about six months ago and it had a significant impact upon me. I was moving my classes in that direction, but your book gave me a lot more confidence, and practical guidance to continue the process. I saw Barry York’s blog about you being hired at RPTS and must admit I was a bit jealous! I’ve passed on your details to our DL guy as well. Would you be willing to come up to Grand Rapids and lead the Faculty in a seminar on this concept? We can promise RPTS that we won’t try to pinch you.

      Thanks for your kind words. Glad that God’s Technology is being used in this way.