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Students in Luther Seminary's distributed learning program had very positive things to say in a recent survey. Distributed learning is a format that allows students to obtain their degrees by taking half their classes online and the other half in short-term, on-campus intensive courses. The program allows them to complete their degrees without moving to the St. Paul campus. Most students complete the program in four years.
The study found that distributed learning students were enthusiastic about the opportunity to immediately integrate their learning into their ministry. Hal Weldin, Coordinator of the M.A. Youth and Family Distributed Learning Program, noted the benefits of this integration. "Distributed learning students are already embedded in a ministry setting. As a result, their theological education influences their ministry and their ministry influences their theological education."
Currently, Luther Seminary offers a distributed learning program master's degree in Children, Youth and Family (CYF) ministry. Introduced in 2001, the program currently has 63 students and 11 graduates with seven more students graduating in May 2007. To participate in the program, students are required to be in a supervised ministry setting. They aren't newcomers to CYF. They average seven years of ministry experience when entering the program.
The evaluation of the distributed learning program included an online survey, two focus groups with students and 36 individual phone interviews with graduates and current students. Ninety percent of current students and 80 percent of graduates participated in the survey.
One of the key findings from the study was the invaluable importance of the relationships among the groups. They also declared that the study of theology shifted their vocational thinking. Beyond this, 89 percent of students identified that the program produced positive changes in their job performance and 98 percent reported positive growth in their perception of themselves as ministers as a result of the program.
In addition to finding that the program has a positive impact on their ministry, students also report a lack of the debt that traditional (on-campus) students often carry. About 70 percent of residential students carry debt and their average indebtedness is $41,681. In contrast, 80 percent of students in the CYF distributed learning program have indicated that they graduate without additional educational debt.
Students also had high praise for Luther Seminary, rating it a 4.6 on a scale of one to five with five as the highest potential mark. When asked for their comments, most focused on working with Luther Seminary staff and faculty. One student described Luther Seminary as a "great environment for this type of learning." Another student commented that while not expecting to enjoy online learning, the student found it provided an opportunity to "challenge and direct my learning and have conversation with the professor and peers at a deeper level of understanding."
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