In my last post I wrote about the potential of eLearning in helping people grow as disciples. As was discussed in the comments, eLearning will never replace personal relationships as a path to growth. However there are great possibilities as we work in this new reality where schedules are busier and priorities are shifted. We may wish we could go back to the way it was, but, in the meantime, technology has offered us a tremendous gift.
This blog has been a little lonely as I have been digging in to learn all I can about software, platforms and options. Here is what I have discovered so far:
#1 You can offer eLearning at no cost.
At University, we offered one course in our Pathway to Discipleship online. We didn’t have anything budgeted for it and we weren’t sure it was going to work so we did it without spending any money. Our online course, The Forum, was hosted on a free WordPress site.
It was pretty low-tech. I recorded a video teaching session for each week. I used a Flip Cam (remember those?) and a tripod to record the lessons. Each lesson was posted at the beginning of the week along with the reading assignment. We then posted two discussion questions. Each participant was to read the assignment, watch the lesson and then respond to at least one of the questions. They were also expected to respond to someone else’s answer. That was an attempt to create some amount of discussion. The technology worked remarkably well.
WordPress blogs have two features that make them feasible for simple online courses like this: limited access and nested comments. When using a blog format for a course, it is essential that it not be public. If anyone on the internet can have access and comment, you are likely to end up with spam or, at least, people chiming in who are not part of the class. Nested comments are a great feature that allows it to be clear when people are responding to someone else’s comments.
#2 You can offer eLearning with more features for a very low cost.
A couple years after we launched The Forum, we had another challenge outside of the discipleship area. United Methodist Churches are required to offer training for adults who work with children, youth and adults with special needs. Like with other classes, it was difficult to get people to participate, even though participation was mandatory. Ministry leaders had to offer a large number of classes on different days and different times to cover everyone. This was a perfect scenario for online training. We created written material and filmed training videos.
However, it was necessary to have confirmation that each participant had completed the training. We turned to ClassMarker. For $20 a month, we were able to embed a quiz on the website.
After watching the videos, participants were required to take a quiz to measure comprehension. If they passed the quiz, the service let them download a certificate of completion and notified their ministry area leader by email that they had completed the course.
#3 There are some much more powerful options out there, still in reach of church budgets.
I have spent the last couple of weeks digging into Moodle, Blackboard and other Learning Management Systems. I have also learned Captivate, Adobe’s powerful content creation system and Camtasia, a much more affordable and simpler software for creating videos for use in courses.
There is a lot to digest. I am taking in as much as I can so that I can share some clear advice to churches who want to get started.
I am also preparing to launch my first online course. I am going to offer a short course on creating or renovating a church website. The purpose will be to help non-techies learn the essentials for great church websites and how to get started. The secondary purpose will be to see how all this tech works in practice. Stay tuned for details.
In the meantime, is your church offering any online teaching? If so, what software and platforms are you using and how are they working?