There are many things to be said about Distance Learning. However, it comes with many pros and cons. Each of us in the distance program has our unique way of looking at this learning format. Some of us thoroughly enjoy being able to study from home somewhat on our schedule. But, at the same time, others take up the issue of being distracted and missing the social interaction that comes with traditional classroom learning.
During this fall semester’s intensive learning week, I asked several students their thoughts on distance learning and what they thought were essential pieces to this learning style. Several students made mention of the importance of the Intensive Learning Week. One MDiv student said that she knows that it can sometimes feel like you’re putting out extra money for something you are already in the midst of learning, but socialization with your peers and professors is worth the price.
Another student mentioned that the ability to feel fully connected to the seminary makes the twice-a-year pilgrimage worth the time, money, and effort that is being put in. He stated that you could develop more lasting relationships and build professional support networks for your future in ministry.
From an administrator’s point of view, Dean Sajdak spoke on the change that the Distance Learning Program and Intensive Week have gone under since He has been present for the last decade. The program formerly required Distance Learning students to be on campus for two weeks each semester, and classes were spread out throughout the two weeks. It has now changed and cut back drastically where some people can have classes just 2-3 days and go back home without missing anything significant for their program. When asked if he felt that MA seminary students that opt out of the Intensive have less of an experience than the MA students that have opted for hybrid, he said, “there is a sense of fellowship that comes with the intensive, but it is understandable that our international students might not be able to make that work for them. We still have a long way to go in understanding how this will continue to work.”
So, if you feel like Intensives are a piece of the puzzle to your seminary education and experience that should not be compromised on, you are not the only one. While plenty of students have suffered some form of a financial setback in the aftermath of a world pandemic, some students have decided that socialization with all folks from the seminary is a must for forming the educational experience.
Out of this writer’s own experience, I would say that it is worth the effort, time, and money to go at least once to the “on-campus” learning weeks. This allows you to connect with the administration and let your professors and classmates see you as a real-life person. Sometimes we spend so much time perfecting our onscreen presence that we forget what it is like to have decent appropriate face-to-face conversations with the people in our circle. It can be so tempting to stay in your own little world and feel unobligated to form meaningful relationships with your fellow seminary students, but I will tell you right now that you are selling yourself short. These beautiful students each have their own story and experience to share, and some of us seriously thrive within the boundaries of relational ministry.
A word of advice, take the time to weigh the pros and cons of your educational experience and find out what outside influences you hope to gain from your time here. Whatever you decide on, know that there is an entire staff and faculty at the seminary that is invested in your education and formation. We are all cheering you on to the end.
Sara Millard Distance Learning MA PCL seminary student. Pastoral Care Intern at First Presbyterian Church in Pueblo, Colorado. 4-time World Champion Pioneer Cart Shooter, 2-time kidney transplant recipient, and just happy to be here!