There are many challenges for educators in using distance and online education to adequately prepare students for their future professions. These challenges are accentuated in disciplines that prepare people for relational professions, which require people skills and a certain maturity of character. Educators in many disciplines, including theology, have questioned the suitability of distance and online education for preparing students for relational professions. This paper describes research that investigated educators' concerns about distance and online education in Australian theological education institutions. These concerns focus around "formation" or character development, which is considered an essential element of theological education. The study used a questionnaire and interviews to explore theological educators' understandings of formation and what educational practices can be used to encourage student formation. The coding of participant responses identified a number of categories of understandings and practices of formation. These provide a detailed and nuanced understanding of formation, which may assist educators in the development of formational learning in a variety of contexts and modes of study. It was also found that concerns about formation at a distance cluster around particular categories and practices of formation. Further exploration of these concerns and strategies for addressing them is recommended. These findings may be of interest for other disciplines which prepare people for relational professions or place value on character development.
- distance and online education
- theological education