We recommend that the United Reformed Church commits to equipping itself for the digital age, by taking good practice seriously and investing in enough capacity to do it excellently.
Blended Learning for Missional Disciples
Blended Learning becomes a powerful culture, tool, resource and possibility when set in the context of the URC’s mission priorities. These priorities follow a declared trajectory; an arc of aspiration.
Future Patterns of Ministry (2002) saw each Christian working out their ministry in their daily relationships and experiences. Equipping the Saints (2004) stressed the need to resource adequately the discipleship in the world of each church member. The Training Review (2006) crafted Resource Centres for Learning and held out the challenge of shaping and fostering a learning church. Catch the Vision (2006) reshaped structures and highlighted local congregational engagement in mission resourced, amongst other things, through a renewal of spirituality. RCLs and Synods, responding to such initiatives, developed a variety of Blended Learning opportunities. The Windermere Online Festivals illustrate significant potential.
Spiritual renewal often took off through the prayer and biblical resources of Vision 4 Life (2008 onwards). Significantly, V4L attempted much digital resourcing and acknowledged difficulties in making these accessible across the URC. Subsequently local mission and discipleship has been fostered through Vision 2020 (2010 onwards).
Now Missional Discipleship/Walking the Way (2015, 2016) is a focus for thinking and planning around discipleship. It includes a renewal of such resources as TLS. Blended Learning is fundamental to this emerging thinking.
e-Learning in the United Reformed Church’s Blended Learning World
From Synods and local churches using websites for information and links for worship and spirituality, to the use of recognised online programmes, the United Reformed Church is using a variety of e-learning as a part of both formal and informal learning. Social media is noticeable, linking URC communications, gathering local church communities, and supporting special interest groups. Windermere Online uses its website for engaging and reflecting, Northern College and Westminster College use Moodle in a wider collegiate network, and TLS uses the URC’s Moodle, URCLE, for training materials, though it can do much more. Our own small experiment in adapting TLS Lite materials to add e-learning to the blend shows this. Beyond the URC, the Methodist Local Ministry pathway modules and the online Mission Shaped Ministry course show how technical support and content knowledge must work together. We made some analysis of elements both of good practice within the United Reformed Church, and of examples of good practice elsewhere. Outside churches, there are many ‘massive open online courses’ (MOOCs), aimed at unlimited participation and open access, and include an enormous variety of short courses, whilst some online courses support on-the-job learning. Having surveyed the advantages and disadvantages of various types of digital platform, the BLTG affirms that “It’s not that [e-learning] is cool, cheaper, or easier, but that it can result in better learning and formation.”
(D Stoutt, CODEC).