"Love it or hate it, on-line learning is here to stay," says Sam Simmons, a co-founder of a fully on-line seminary.
"What may have been considered a fleeting trend just a few years ago has become nothing less than a learning revolution," he said.
Simmons, a seminary professor who taught courses via the Internet during the past decade, debunks what he believes are five myths about virtual education.
The first myth he cites is "on-line learning is impersonal." He points out that the related myth is that traditional classroom learning is personal.
"It is not uncommon for a student to sit in a traditional classroom, listen to a professor, take notes, and complete exams without ever speaking to the professor or engaging in conversation with classmates. What's so personal about that?"
However, he finds on-line classes to be more personal than traditional classes because students are required to engage each other weekly.
"There is no place to hide. Being quiet is not an option."
Discussion will less likely by dominated by the few students who were able to think quickly and articulate well in front of others. "On-line learning levels the playing field."
The second myth is "on-line learning is unproven and still experimental."
For over a decade now, top accrediting agencies have recognized fully on-line degree programs begun by virtual universities and established institutions.
"Virtual learning is now accepted as a credible and useful form of education."
Myth 3 is "Practical ministry competencies cannot be taught online," but this again has a related myth - that the traditional classroom can teach practical ministry competencies.
People learn how to practice ministry in their local field, rather than the classroom. Therefore, isn't it better to have students stay put in their fields and learn online?
"On-line learning creates a learning community of learners who are doing ministry in churches all over the world. The discussion is not hypothetical. The application is not years away."
Myth number 4 is "On-line learning is not as effective as the traditional classroom," but studies shows that effective learning is determined by the teaching approach, not so much face to face interaction.
Finally, myth number 5 he claims is "On-line learning is not needed within seminary education."
On the contrary, he believes that rather than trying to put the burden on the church to fit into the seminary's paradigm, he points out that the seminary exists for the church and seminaries must adjust to the needs of churches rather than the other way around.
There is an urgency for seminaries to accept on-line training as valid because churches today are more likely to look within their congregations for ministry staff rather than hiring from a list of recent seminary graduates, says Simmons. Because it is unlikely that a new staff member can leave the ministry field for years to attend a far-off seminary campus, seminaries would do well to change their policies quickly.
"Though the traditional campus approach remains the best option for some, on-line ministry learning is a way for seminaries to take training to the churches," he says.