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E-quipped to serve? Mission training delivered by e-learning - By Kate Wiseman PhD

3 years 7 months ago #50 by dturnbull
Dear Kate

Thanks for the detailed reply to my response to your first paper, for sharing the link to your full thesis, and for the manner in which you have responded to my particular questions. No problems with the essay length in reply as this provides valuable detail.

I am sure there is much that can be discussed and explored as our programs have similar objectives. Certainly your response does reveal we have much in common, especially in regards to e-learning resources, asynchronous learning, the role of the instructor in creating community for online students, the role of the outside practical activities and reporting back, the use of interactive quizzes, the use of case studies as a way around simulation activities on-campus, blended learning with intensives on campus (just starting to use these in a greater way but in Australia due to distance not all are able to attend), and needing to establish community before the forums.

Like the way you see e-learning has beyond online resources. The multimedia side with CDs has been used in the exceptional cases but are a challenge to build from the online site. The transfer of information is not easy.

Good at All Nations that you managing the bandwidth side within your core materials. We do this by providing mp3 files when offering videos which require more bandwidth. Also we use Adobe Connect Pro for group oral conversations and reserve Skype for individual contact.

Sad that you have so many restrictions on e-books. Would agree that many of the mission related textbooks are not available as e-books yet and this limits the use of them, especially those in more difficult locations.

Like the idea of the live text chat room. Will explore this. Providing the transcript is a good idea too. Also your virtual café and prayer room are very creative indeed.


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3 years 7 months ago #49 by lkwiseman
Hello David

Thank you so much for your encouraging response to my article and I am so sorry it has taken me till now to reply – I have been away speaking about e-learning in Rome and in Sweden in between the ‘day job’ at All Nations!
It is so good to hear of your experiences of delivering mission and intercultural studies online – I am sure we have a lot of thoughts and ideas to share.

As you say, it is so important to be aware of the contexts and cultures in which e-learning is delivered, and to appreciate that having a fast (or indeed any) internet bandwidth cannot be taken for granted. This is why I suggest that e-learning should not be restricted to online courses but also include other forms of technology-enhanced learning such as DVD and other multimedia resources. And that e-learning resources not be designed in such a way that they rely on fast download speeds or broadband. At All Nations we avoid using bandwidth heavy resources within our core teaching materials so that no one is disadvantaged due to technical limitations, reserving tools such as Skype for tutorial support.

We have found, like you, that providing access to online journals through our e-learning platforms is a great benefit to our students – not just those studying at a distance but also those on campus. E-books have been more of a challenge as we have found that licencing restrictions here in the UK really limit the number of titles that we can afford to purchase, and also that many of the key texts that we use are not yet available as e-books. Maybe you have some experiences to share about this?

To answer your questions:

1) What was the methodology in drawing these conclusions and how did you gather the data to make the conclusions you have?

My methodology was complex!

Firstly, before I could draw any conclusions about what were the criteria for delivering effective e-learning through e-learning I had to examine existing data on the criteria for delivering effective mission training (regardless of delivery mode) and also effective e-learning. From this I was able to determine where the common ground was. I used a very extensive systematic literature review as my main method to do this. Secondly I analysed our experiences of developing two of our e-learning courses and the evaluations of over 130 students to identify what additional criteria seemed to be contributing to the effectiveness of these programmes. Then I brought the two strands of the research together and using ‘framework synthesis’ came up with the 20 criteria and 71 associated sub-criteria that were then developed into the final framework. This all took about seven years!

2) The major issue for our institution with e-learning centres around asynchronous delivery versus synchronous delivery. What was your experience?

We also use asynchronous delivery for several reasons. Firstly, it helps students that may be struggling with low bandwidth, secondly it enables us to operate a learning schedule that works across time zones (as our learners are situated throughout the world) and thirdly it enables more reflective learners to participate fully in activities while encouraging the development of reflective practice in those who are more ‘activist’. As you say it does take away the spontaneity that comes with synchronous learning but we try to add in learning activities that will appeal to different learning types and to build up community through our discussion forums ‘in and out’ of the classroom. I have started using a live text chat room for the occasional group chat in one of our programmes and that seems to really add an element of synchronous learning while providing a transcript for those who can’t take part at that time.

3) Would agree with you that community can be created in an e-learning context?

Yes I do, most definitely. But it takes active engagement on the part of both the tutors/facilitators and the students and a high level of openness amongst participants to ensure that text-based discussions flow and activities that intentionally stimulate a reaction. For example, we ask our students to interview someone from another culture and report back. This appeals to the different learning styles and provides experiences to share with peers. In our postgraduate Masters programme students are required to upload work for discussion with peers in the online forums. Participation is compulsory in our discussions and tutors/facilitators also participate. We also build community by having ‘virtual café and prayer room’ facilities and in various other ways. We recently tried a group skype chat with tutors and students meeting and praying together – this worked very well, but is best with only around 5 people.

4) One of the key teaching mediums for cross-cultural engagement relates to simulation activities and games. These have featured greatly in my teaching over the past decade. How can the elearning community replicate these experiences online?

This is a challenging one, along with other forms of practical ‘hands on’ activities. We haven’t tried doing simulation activities and games within our online courses yet, but are looking at interactive quizzes and similar resources. I don’t think we can replicate the kind of simulation activities and games that we have on campus, but we can provide comparable alternatives such as scenarios for reflection, quizzes where the student can choose from a variety of outcomes, case to discuss and also, I think, opportunities for students to work together within forums on presentations.

5) The research focused on shorter term program I wonder what the impact would be for longer programs such as three year bachelor degrees?

I also looked at the impact of the first three years of our Masters programme that is delivered as a blended approach as part of the research, although the focus was on the shorter programmes that were more established at the time. What I have found with the Masters, which is a three year blended programme, is that it is harder to build an actively engaged community than a short-term programme as the students are often juggling other commitments and less inclined to chat in forums. However, discussions on the teaching content work well, as does the sharing and peer evaluation of presentations and text based live chat. The longer the programme the more complex the design of the e-learning, but we have broken the Masters into the separate modules and created courses for each of those. There is more opportunity for blended learning – intensive summer schools etc – with our the longer programmes, and also the opportunity to build longer-term relationships. What are your thoughts on this from your experience?

6) How do educators maximise the use of online text forums to stimulate mission formation and community? Forums are one of the most powerful learning tools available through e-learning.

Briefly, and I could say so much on spiritual growth and community, I think that the forums provide a great opportunity for spiritual, mission and personal formation once the community has been established through more informal interaction and shared activities like sharing personal testimonies, personal interests etc. Tutors/facilitators, I think need to be intentional about asking deep questions, sharing their own stories and encouraging reflection about the discussions and other learning content through reflective activities. At All Nations we use workbooks that are ‘marked by personal tutors to encourage the students to think about how what they are learning is impacting their spiritual journey and relationship with God, and preparing them for cross-cultural mission.

7) How to integrate the use of social media into the e-learning experience?

I think there is scope for this, but probably more as a tool for informal interaction more than teaching and there are some security issues associated with social media that would need to be worked through. Linking to an institution’s official, public social media pages in order to enable the students to feel more a part of the wider community would be a good starting point for integrating social media into e-learning platforms.

8) To what extent are webinars valuable in e-learning education?
If the students and the institution all have the capacity to be able to participate at the same time without having technical problems I think this is a very useful way of delivering distance education, but they have to be accessible to all, not just a few.

I have written an essay here, but what interesting questions you have raised. I look forward to hearing your thoughts too.

My second article, which builds on this one, is now available. Your comments on that will be very valuable. I too look forward to the ongoing conversation.

My full thesis can be downloaded at

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3 years 9 months ago #47 by dturnbull
Thanks for a very stimulating bulletin and for sharing the results of your research. Congratulations on this valuable project.

My own institution has been offering missional and intercultural studies programs online for external students for nine years now. So the experience from All Nations being evaluated provides some valuable insights into the core elements of e-learning. I am delighted that you acknowledge the need to not ignore the growing demand for e-learning capacity, particularly amongst some of the younger generations. The reasons such as travel, distance, needing to stay put to maintain professional requirements and the desire for part-time study. In saying this challenges do exist but like cross-cultural engagement creative responses are required to seize the opportunities provided. The trend will continue through the existence of generational expectations. For me exploring e-learning is a cross-cultural exercise requiring cultural intelligence and contextualization methodology.

In recognizing the use of computers and technology for training, one must recognize that not all contexts have reliable supply or internet or resources for the technology, especially in regards to bandwidth capacity. Even in Australia there is great divergence in bandwidth capacity.

One of the other benefits of e-learning is access to e-books and peer-review periodical activities. Valuable research can be conducted through electronic databases and catalogues.

Several questions arise for me.
1) What was the methodology in drawing these conclusions and how did you gather the data to make the conclusions you have?
2) The major issue for our institution with e-learning centres around asynchronous delivery versus synchronous delivery. What was your experience? Our students prefer asynchronous which limits some of the useful activities can be achieved synchronously.
3) Would agree with you that community can be created in an e-learning context. I have used Adobe Connect Pro, a virtual classroom package that our institution has a number of classrooms. The challenge is to get buy-in when online oral participation is often voluntary. Making such sessions compulsory is not easy as not all students are available at the same time or for a synchronous classroom. Time zones can be troublesome. Online text forums can be useful but does not suit all students and all learning styles.
4) One of the key teaching mediums for cross-cultural engagement relates to simulation activities and games. These have featured greatly in my teaching over the past decade. How can the elearning community replicate these experiences online?
5) The research focused on shorter term program I wonder what the impact would be for longer programs such as three year bachelor degrees?
6) How do educators maximise the use of online text forums to stimulate mission formation and community? Forums are one of the most powerful learning tools available through e-learning.
7) How to integrate the use of social media into the e-learning experience?
8) To what extent are webinars valuable in e-learning education?

More research into e-learning and cross-worker training should be inspired by this project, especially in regards to the impact on the cross-cultural workers in the field.

Look forward to the ongoing conversation.

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3 years 9 months ago #46 by lkwiseman
Hi Jim

Many thanks for your response to my first article. It’s good to hear how technology is helping you to keep in touch with others, including mission trainers. You raise some very important questions indeed. Here are my thoughts.

In response to your first question, "Can em-learning 'immunise' against indigenous learning?", my immediate reaction was, ‘I hope not!’ But the truth is, yes, it can – if done insensitively, without respecting the cultures and learning traditions of those for whom it is intended and the contexts in which the training will be applied. To ‘impose’, for example, a Western model of e-learning upon a culture for whom this is totally inappropriate could indeed ride roughshod over not only learners’ cultural learning curve but their cultural identity. Individual models of e-learning are themselves products of specific cultures and therefore I feel that one should never simply import a model created in and for one context into another. If we do, we are likely to totally undermine and fail to respect the culture, learning traditions, and language of those receiving the training. I would say that e-learning (or any other form of delivery) that does not take account of learners’ contexts (be they cultural, pedagogical, or otherwise) will neither demonstrate the Christian values at the heart of mission training that equips the whole person nor prepare the recipient effectively for God’s service.

If as mission trainers we want to equip mission workers with the skills to engage with other cultures sensitively and effectively, we must, I would suggest, reflect that in the ways in which that training is delivered, recognising that each context will call for a mode of training that is appropriate for and applicable to that situation and the needs of those being trained. This is why, in my research, I set out to develop a framework of criteria for the effective delivery of mission training through e-learning rather than advocate any specific model or form of e-learning. It may be that an existing model can be used as a starting point to develop others within different contexts, but I would say that this should only be in close co-operation with those experienced in the learning, cultural and language of the intended ‘audience.’ Local institutions and organisations should ultimately be enabled to take total ‘ownership, contextualising and translating the original concepts and material as appropriate to meet their own needs. Such co-operation can provide opportunities for valuable partnership between mission trainers, as we have seen at All Nations. Also, e-learning does not have to be delivered from ‘outside’, from within another culture. Learning technologies can also be used to complement or deliver local training.

If those being equipped are from different cultures (e.g. as in an online course accessed by several nationalities) the ways in which cultural sensitivity and contextualisation are demonstrated are even more complex than if programmes are designed for a single culture or context. Here we have to find an appropriate point between the poles of being ‘context and culture neutral’ and ‘context and culture specific’ that enables participants to learn within a context that is not necessarily their own, yet still takes account of their background, learning preferences and culture. This takes effort on the part of course designers, content providers and course facilitators to provide opportunities for reflection upon the different learning traditions encountered and application of the learning within the learners’ own contexts. Those involved in developing and delivering the training therefore need to have sufficient cross-cultural awareness and experience to be able to not only recognise the potential for cultural insensitivity and take steps to avoid it, but also support the learners within what is, itself, a cross-cultural training context - encouraging them to experience the opportunities and challenges of being part of a multi-cultural community.

In response to your other questions, "What about people who are on the field already? Presumably such instruction is intended also for them? How can one ensure that one isn't riding roughshod over what should be their cultural learning curve? How can one also be encouraging them to engage locally, rather than being in Timbuktu, but spending their time doing 'mission' over the internet to All Nations, if you like?", All Nations’ e-learning programmes are indeed being accessed by those already on the field as well as those preparing for mission who can’t attend our campus-based programmes. Our Masters online programme is aimed specifically at in-service mission practitioners ministry who need further equipping (for example through specialising in a particular area). While our foundational level online courses are designed as pre-service, preparatory training, these have also been accessed by a number of mission workers already ‘in service’ and found to be helpful.

Some of the approaches suggested above will, I hope, help to avoid riding roughshod over the cultural learning curve of those in-service as this is essential regardless whether the learner is already on, or preparing to be on the field. However with in-service training delivered through e-learning, I would say that there is particular scope to intentionally provide activities and opportunities for reflection that integrate the learner’s context, culture and their experience with what they are encountering in the programme. This may be, for example, through discussion and interaction with peers and trainers, providing assignments and other learning opportunities that not only recognise the value of the learner’s own culture to the e-learning community but also ensure that all aspects of the learning experience are, as far as possible, applicable to the learner’s own context. Having local mentors in situ to support the student in processing what they are learning and relating it to their own situations can help with this.

Ensuring that e-learning is appropriate for the culture and context in which it is being delivered and applied (not always the same)and that it not only respects but embraces those contexts, cultures and learning traditions is a challenge that I explore in more depth in my PhD thesis. However, I would say that it is achievable – provided that culturally sensitivity and contextualisation are intentionally embedded into every element of e-learning programmes and that those with the knowledge and understanding of the ‘receiving’ cultures are actively involved in the process to ensure that they are tailored to, and appropriate for their needs.

I hope this rather long reply goes some way to answering your questions and that my second article will also add some more thoughts into the 'melting pot' in relation to this important topic.

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3 years 9 months ago #45 by jimoharries@gmail.com
Hi Kate,

Thanks for engaging, and then sharing with us, that thorough account of 'e-learning'. A very critical area to research, indeed. Also, personally speaking, I do indeed benefit enormously from numerous e-options keeping me in touch with, amongst others, mission trainers.

One basic question: can em-learning 'immunise' against indigenous learning? Related to this is the question of language (which of course ties in with culture). Again related to this is the question of power.

You have shared all nations' students' responses to elearning. But what about people who are on the field already? Presumably such instruction is intended also for them? How can one ensure that one isn't riding roughshod over what should be their cultural learning curve? How can one also be encouraging them to engage locally, rather than being in Timbuktu, but spending their time doing 'mission' over the internet to All Nations, if you like?

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3 years 9 months ago - 1 year 3 months ago #44 by admin
Ruth Wall PhD
Chair, IMTN

More men and women today are being sent by the church across the cultures than at any other time in history. The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) estimates 400,000 international missionaries were sent out in 2010. This does not include the thousands working across cultures in their own countries. (The report Christianity in its Global Context 2013 is free and downloadable .) Whether cross cultural workers are reaching across cultures in their own countries or serving in distant cultures all need preparation to be effective cross-cultural gospel-carriers. Mission training is one of the most relevant issues for the global church today. How can the church possibly meet the demand? We continue to use and contextualize well tested methods of training but we also cannot ignore the tools and technologies of our time. We must seek ways to make the best possible use of all the means available to us! And so it is with joy that I introduce you to the author of this month’s two-part IMTN Bulletin, Dr Kate Wiseman. For more than ten years Kate has worked to understand how technology-enhanced learning can be an effective mode of delivery for preparing adults to cross cultures. As part of her study, she has worked with a team of mission trainers and others gifted with the skills to develop and deliver mission training via e-learning. Kate has reflected deeply on the effectiveness of e-learning as a mode of delivery and now, having written up her findings in a doctoral thesis in 2015, she is ready to share her insights from her journey into e-learning with those of us passionate about equipping the church for crossing cultures. Thank you Kate!

This IMTN Bulletin on mission training and e-learning is in two parts (February 2016 4 (a) and March 2016 4(b)) and it launches a new thread to our global conversation. We are working towards having pages on the IMTN website dedicated to e-learning. For follow up questions and comments do email Kate at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

E-quipped to Serve?
A journey into mission training delivered by e-learning
By Kate Wiseman PhD

Unanswered Questions
On joining the UK’s largest mission training college, All Nations, as its Librarian in 2003, I found that I was often asked for information on our e-learning programmes. When I told enquirers that we had no e-learning programmes the reply was invariably “Why not?” followed by “Well, does anyone else do mission training through e-learning?” I could answer neither question satisfactorily; I had no explanation for All Nations not offering e-learning other than that we had not yet gone down that road. Nor could I explain an apparent dearth of mission training programmes delivered online or through other technologies. Unanswered questions are challenging to librarians, so I embarked upon a quest to shed some light on the mystery, only to find that it deepened further. I observed that whilst many mission organisations and training institutions were using the internet and other technologies to support the administration of their training and ministries, there was in some circles – and over a decade on still is – hesitancy, even reluctance, to use technology-enhanced learning, or ‘e-learning’ to train those preparing for, or already engaged in mission work. Why?

Initial investigations indicated that this hesitancy is primarily due to doubts about whether e-learning (“learning facilitated and supported through the use of information and communications technology”1) is a suitable way of equipping mission workers. Such concern is not without reason. In his Forward to Integral Ministry Training and Design (2006) William D. Taylor expressed the dilemma facing many mission trainers: “We share the deep commitment that the best training for ministry is done in community and this has radical implications. What do we do with the rightful place of the exploding educational options through the Internet?2” Taylor’s statement raised yet more unanswered questions. How can community – long considered essential for fostering the levels of personal and spiritual growth needed for effective mission – be developed at a distance? Can spiritual formation take place in a ‘virtual classroom’? Is it possible to create a vibrant, mission-focussed, learning community that embraces the internet, mobile communications or other electronic and digital technologies? What about security?
Discussions with various mission organisations revealed that technological and economic constraints may also colour responses to the opportunities and challenges presented by e-learning, along with ‘not knowing where to start' when developing programmes. Can these technical and economic obstacles be overcome? Where does one start? What does mission training delivered by e-learning ‘look like’? What elements need to be in place for e-learning to be an effective medium for delivering such training? Moreover, most importantly, can it equip mission workers for the ministry that God has called them to do?

Searching for answers I embarked upon doctoral research into how holistic Christian mission training – training that equips the whole person (intellectually/cognitively, personally/spiritually and practically - ‘head, heart and hands’ 3) for mission work can be delivered effectively using e-learning. My aim was to try to answer two questions: What criteria (factors, elements, or conditions) need to be in place in order to deliver holistic Christian mission training effectively through e-learning and, Can those criteria be incorporated into a framework that could be used by mission trainers to develop or evaluate e-learning programmes? It has taken ten years to come up with some answers! Along the way, I have had the privilege of working with colleagues at All Nations to develop a portfolio of e-learning courses that have enabled over 130 students to be equipped for new or ongoing mission work. We started as complete novices in the world of e-learning and are now pleased to offer two short foundational mission training courses delivered totally online and a blended Masters programme involving both online and face-to-face study. Through this experience, and systematically reviewing literature and resources on mission training, theological education and distance learning I discovered that mission training can indeed be delivered effectively through e-learning, – provided that certain elements are place.

A Christ-centred framework for delivering mission training through e-learning
So what are those elements? My research indicated that 20 criteria are needed, 18 of which have sub-criteria associated with them. I found that these all need to be present and in balance with one another for mission training to be delivered effectively through e-learning. Most importantly, Christ and the learner must be at the centre of every element and aspect of the process as seen in the framework presented below (p4.)

Rather than seeing e-learning development and delivery as a linear process, this framework encourages us to take a holistic approach to e-learning in which our core values (Christ) and the needs of the learner affect every key element upon which effectiveness of the training depends – community, design, pedagogy, resources, support and technology. When we intentionally do this, our training programmes will display the characteristics seen in the outer band – they will, for example, be ethical, secure, responsive to the needs of learners and developments in mission, education and technologies, and have a transformative effect upon not only those being trained but those delivering the training. As we seek to deliver holistic mission training that seeks to equip the whole person, and embraces the wholeness of Christ, our e-learning programmes can themselves become holistic in the way in which they are developed and delivered. The Christ-centred values upon which the framework is built will be discussed in part two (Bulletin 4(b) in which we will consider the various elements in more detail and how it can be applied in practice.

Click for diagram

Seven conclusions
I would like to suggest that when all key criteria are intentionally present and are held in a harmonious, balanced relationship with one another as indicated in this framework, seven conclusions can be drawn.

(1) Community can be created through e-learning
My research and work at All Nations confirmed that equipping for cross cultural Christian ministry is most effective when it takes place within community. However, it also showed that community does not necessarily have to be face-to-face for it to be meaningful. A vibrant virtual mission training community can be created at a distance, provided that it intentionally incorporates collaborative and interactive learning, discussion, and ‘social presence’ (the extent to which a person is perceived as an authentic, ‘real person’ in an online environment) and aims for maximum learner and staff engagement. Such a community cannot replicate one created and designed for a face-to-face environment; nor should it, since they are completely separate entities with different dynamics. However it can be an effective, alternative or complementary ‘seed bed’ of learning, support and fellowship that offers a truly global and cross-cultural learning experience. Where some form of face-to-face contact can be added (either physically or through networking tools such as Skype and ‘webinars’), relationships and interaction can be positively enhanced. However the community’s effectiveness and the level of equipping for ministry and mission is not dependent on this. E-learning can itself offer ‘community’ to mission workers – particularly to those who are isolated, either geographically or socially. In these circumstances, it can provide a vital sense of connection with others, enabling not only effective learning to take place but emotional and spiritual needs to be met.

(2) Personal and spiritual formation can take place within e-learning
A potential ‘stumbling block’ to the delivery of theological education and holistic mission training through e-learning is the concern that personal and spiritual formation cannot take place effectively outside a face-to-face, campus-based community. I found significant evidence that this is not the case, and that much personal development and spiritual growth can occur within a virtual learning community. (All Nations’ e-learning courses have shown that personal and spiritual formation, and the transformation that is its goal, can take place in the virtual classroom). However, it needs to be actively promoted. Strategies to encourage the creation of the community in which personal and spiritual growth takes place should be intentionally built into the design of programmes and courses. These include interaction and engagement with peers, staff, mentors and learning content, appropriate activities, discussions, opportunities for Christian fellowship, prayer and worship and the modelling of core Christian values by staff. Programme design should also take account of the wider institutional and Christian communities of which the learner is a part, including the local church, and incorporate learning activities and networking opportunities that reflect this. With these elements in place, e-learning can not only promote personal and spiritual growth but also be transformative.

(3) Effective mission training delivered through e-learning needs engagement
A key discovery seen through delivering All Nations’ e-learning programmes was the importance of both learner and staff engagement within the learning community. Lack of engagement negatively affects not only the one who is disengaged, but the e-learning community as a whole. Effective e-learning requires both a proactive learner-centred approach by trainers and a willingness by the learner to be totally committed to being part of the learning community. If one of these elements is missing, it will be hard for either learner or trainer to have a rewarding experience. When both are in place, however, learner and provider inspire one another to further engagement and responsiveness. There is deeper transformational learning on the part of the learner, and an increasing desire on the part of the provider to develop even more learner-centred resources. When provider and learner are responsive to each other in this way, e-learning can be not only effective but life changing for both parties.

(4) ‘Head, heart and hands’ can be engaged within e-learning
Holistic mission training needs to engage ‘head, heart and hands’ just as much in the virtual classroom as face-to-face. Evaluations from All Nations’ two foundational level online courses and an online postgraduate study skills course (part of the Masters programme) showed that e-learning can indeed be used to deliver mission training that engages ‘head, heart and hands.’ However, a holistic approach must be incorporated intentionally into activities, assessments and all forms of interaction. This can be done by actively encouraging reflective practice and adopting a blend of formal, informal and non-formal learning throughout the learning process. Since a key aim of mission training is to develop reflective practitioners, reflection should be an integral part of any mission training programme including those delivered through e-learning. Likewise, an appropriate balance between formal, non-formal and informal learning is essential for any form of mission training regardless of how it is delivered. It is the “three legged stool” on which that holistic training for ministry and mission rests4. Differences between Western and non-Western pedagogical approaches show how important it is for that balance to be culturally appropriate when developing mission training programmes. This is particularly vital with e-learning that crosses global and cultural boundaries. It takes thought and creativity to provide opportunities for non-formal (heart) and informal (hands) learning within the virtual classroom, whereas formal (head) approaches are generally less of a challenge. Nevertheless, at All Nations we found that it can be done and is not an obstacle to delivering mission training through e-learning.

(5) Effective mission training delivered through e-learning must have ‘a human face’
It is impossible to deliver learner-centred holistic mission training that focusses on the needs of the whole person – educationally, emotionally spiritually and practically – without providing an environment in which the student feels supported, nurtured and encouraged to grow. Not only is this central to the Christian principle of discipleship, but to the very nature of mission training and theological education. This is no less the case within the e-learning environment than the face-to-face community. It has been said, “mission must have a human face5” and the same can be said about mission training delivered through e-learning. Somewhere, there needs to be at least one person who is able to offer a similar level of support and guidance as in a campus-based programme – someone with whom the learner can share thoughts and experiences ‘face-to-face’. That ‘human face’ may be a mentor within the learner’s own context, or a personal tutor, facilitator, subject expert or mentor who connects with the learner via Skype or similar internet facilities. Ideally, there will be an entire team of ‘human faces’ to share the responsibility of nurturing the learner.

(6) Effective mission training delivered through e-learning needs vision
Effective mission training delivered through e-learning extends far beyond ensuring the right elements are present to meet learning objectives. It requires a clear and prayerful vision of what can be achieved, together with an ability to see the ‘big picture’ by seeing the opportunities that technology-enhanced learning can offer. This vision looks beyond the challenges of developing community and spiritual formation, security issues and economic and technological constraints, important as these are. Rather, it envisages how technology can enhance opportunities for the relationships and growth that are so important for the effective equipping of mission workers rather than how it could reduce them. It involves being willing to look creatively at different options and consider which are most appropriate for the context and culture in which the training will take place and be applied. E-learning does not have to be delivered totally via the internet, or even at all, as seen by the positive effects of using multimedia resources within projects such as Live School6 and those by MAF Learning Technologies7. For particular audiences and circumstances, for example, in the case of advanced level mission training, a blend of e-learning and face-to-face training may offer mission trainers and learners ‘the best of both worlds.’ Such a vision needs to extend beyond the confines of an organisation, church or training institution, and reach out to the learners for whom the programmes are designed. Focus needs to be on those currently unable to be access mission training and the difference that e-learning could make to them, rather than the obstacles to delivering that training. Mission training that sees beyond the challenges and looks forward to the outworking of that training in the lives of those who will access it, and those impacted by them, can itself be mission and ministry. From an eternal perspective, e-learning is as useful a tool for building the Kingdom as face-to-face training – it is just a different, complementary tool to be used (as with any tool) in the right context and for the right purpose.

(7) Holistic mission training can be delivered effectively through e-learning
At All Nations we have been very encouraged at the positive way in which our e-learning courses have been received by participants and the extent to which they felt that they were ‘e-quipped to serve’ through the programmes. Over a six-year period, 98% of students completing All Nations’ foundational level e-learning courses (128) said that the level of preparation for mission had been very good or good, with the remaining 2% (6) considering that preparation had been satisfactory. Only time will tell to what extent the preparation will result in their effectiveness ‘on the mission field’ but the indications are that e-learning will have played a significant part in what is a lifelong process.

E-learning should not be seen as a threat to established programmes of mission training that are delivered effectively in a face-to-face setting. The value of such learning cannot be underestimated and is not in question. However, it would be fair to say that there are labourers preparing to go into, or already in, the harvest field for whom face-to-face, or campus-based, learning is not an option due to family commitments, lack of resources, or physical and geographical barriers. For workers such as these, e-learning can open doors to learning that were previously closed. Over the last ten years what started as a research journey has become my mission. I have a vision to see those unable to access face-to-face training effectively equipped through e-learning to serve God in mission, and to help mission trainers explore the possibilities that e-learning offers both as a tool to enhance face-to-face training and as a delivery mode in its own right. It is my hope and prayer that today’s – and indeed tomorrow's – technology can provide an opportunity for God's workers to be effectively “e-quipped to serve” and that through them, the Good News of Jesus Christ will extend beyond the boundaries of time and space to those who are “yet to hear.”

Finally, to return to Taylor’s question which was in many ways the catalyst for my journey into e-learning – whether our conviction that community is essential for effective ministry training and the opportunities offered by technologies such as the internet can be combined “in the same geography.” My response is Yes, I believe they can, provided that the factors and conditions needed to build that community are in place, and that the community is set within a balanced relationship with the technology and the other key elements necessary to deliver the training effectively. As for those other important questions that pose such a challenge for mission trainers when contemplating e-learning – from my experience and those of my colleagues, I am confident that they too can be answered positively when seen as opportunities to break new ground and see what God can through perseverance, prayer, and partnership. What do you think? Let’s have those discussions and share ideas and experiences!

1. JOINT INFORMATION SYSTEMS COMMITTEE (JISC), 2015a. Introduction to e-learning [online]. [viewed 22.2.15]. Available from: www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/guide/introduction-to-elearning
2. TAYLOR, W. D. 2006. Forward. In: BRYNJOLFSON, R. and LEWIS, J., eds. Integral ministry training design and evaluation. Pasadena: William Carey Library, p. x.
3. For a discussion of whole person learning see WALL, R., 2015 IMTN Bulletin 1 Equipping the whole person
4. BRYNJOLFSON, R., 2005. Three-legged stools and training. Connections . vol. 4, no. 1, p. 35
5. KOHL, M. W., 2001. Mission – the heart of the Church for the new millennium. International Congregational Review. no. 2, p. 98 [pp. 87-107]. web.b.ebscohost.com/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfv...mgr112&vid=6&hid=110
6. LIVE SCHOOL, www.liveschool.org/
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