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4-29-15 The Launching of the Adventist Learning Community
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by Adam Fenner, PhD
Director of Adventist Learning Community

 
 
   
You might not think so, but Seventh-day Adventists are masters of technology. Think of how Sister White used the printing press, steamship, and trains to further the Great Commission. Historically, we have used any tool at our disposal to spread the Gospel. Think of how many billions of people have access to the Gospel through Adventist World Radio, or the Hope Channel, or 3ABN, our digital and hardcopy printing houses, or through the General Conference’s new world class website. Technology is and has been the tool God has given us to complete the Great Commission. How else could a handful of believers in the mid-19th century have grown into a worldwide Church with more than 18 million members?
 
Looking forward, the next technology we must embrace for the Church is the Internet. Whether we like it or not, the Internet’s reach into our lives is hard to exaggerate. Many younger Adventists recognize our Church has not yet harnessed the Internet’s full potential. Our uniquely Adventist message should be just as prominent in the digital realm as every competing distraction.
 
This is where the Adventist Learning Community comes in. Launched in April of 2015, the Adventist Learning community is a new web-based initiative of the North American Division with the goal of utilizing online distance education technology for the benefit of all kinds of ministerial and educational endeavors. Although only in its early stages, and offering only a fraction of the courses and resources it will one day deliver, the platform’s potential for changing the way our Church does business in the digital realm is plain to see.  
 
To sum up the Adventist Learning Community is difficult, but the Adventist Learning Community aims to deliver online continuing education for Church employees, track professional learning across the Division, offer certifications and training for volunteers and employees, enable schools  – K-12 and higher education – to share courses and resources, enable Conferences and Unions the ability to share proven models of evangelistic success, and equip those visiting the webportal with the resources they need to complete the Great Commission. That’s a long list, so allow me to explain.  
 
Right now, pastors and Church administrators have little to no professional development requirements. This is most unfortunate. How are our Church leaders going to stay relevant if they don’t constantly work to improve their skills and knowledge? The Disciple Peter makes this problem evident, stating, “for if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ellen White writes, “the gospel is not properly taught and represented…by men who have ceased to be students.”[1]
 
The Adventist Learning Community can provide Church employees with new opportunities for customizable professional development that can follow them throughout their career. Whether you’re a teacher, pastor, administrator, or staff member, you can take courses on the Adventist Learning Community for continuing education credit. These courses can be recommended to the employee by their employer or independently selected. Additionally, since the North American Division has developed a list of Core Qualities for some professionals employed by the Church, courses will be designed specifically to address those skills that employees need most.
 
For instance, if a Ministerial director notices a pastor in their Conference needs help empowering Church members to be serve as disciples, the ministerial director can assign the pastor a course written by Adventist leadership expert Bill Santos on enabling leadership. The pastor can take the course at his or her convenience anytime, anywhere and the course will count towards their professional development plan. Because the Adventist Learning Community is a Division-wide system, no matter where the pastor resides his or her professional development portfolio will be accessible to them and their employer. The same principles apply to teachers, administrators, and other staff members.
 
Beginning in July of 2015, if a pastor attends a seminar, conference, takes an academic course for university credit, or even reads a book relevant to their ministry, they will be able to self-report this professional development activity on the Adventist Learning Community and apply for continuing education credit from their Conference ministerial director. If approved, by the ministerial director, the activity will be assigned a continuing education value and will be recorded on the pastor’s Pastoral Continuing Education platform. Applying for continuing education credit can be done by simply answering a few short questions and providing a scan or photograph of their respective activity. By tracking pastoral professional development in this way, we can assess learning. This means we can individually help equip pastors with the specific core qualities they need to be effective.
 
Traditionally, the most respected way of demonstrating competency for completing a certain task or profession has been through a license or college level degree. While this is still the gold standard, certifications and endorsements are proving more and more important in defining skills and aptitudes. In other words, people don’t always need a degree or state license to be trusted with a designated responsibility. This is especially true on the local Church level. It’s unrealistic to expect everyone involved in ministry on the grassroots level to hold a degree in ministry, and yet, it’s often necessary for them to have at least some training in order to ensure their work is done properly. This is where certification and endorsements come in. As a Church, on any level, but particularly in the higher levels of Administration, the training needs of people in the field can be identified, and then certification courses and programs to equip local church members can be built to meet the demand. Family ministry directors, single adult leaders, community services directors, youth leaders, and philanthropic leaders are but a few of the certifications we’re currently working on. Distance education can empower, train, equip, and unleash people for Christ in a cost efficient, convenient, and timely manner.
 
The great thing about using distance education technology is that it’s already established and available to most people in the North American Division. Technology is everywhere; smart phones, tablets, desktops, laptops, your watch, Google glass. There are devices everywhere you are and where everyone else is. The digital landscape is probably one of the most ubiquitous commonalities in the North American Division today. There are actually more internet ready devices than there are people in the United States.[2] In order to tap into the opportunities created by technology the ALC is partnering with Adventist institutions of higher learning such as Andrews University, Southern Adventist University, Southwestern Adventist University, and Loma Linda University. These institutions will be offering courses, content, and support to the Division’s push to make the Gospel more accessible and equipping people who wish to lead out in its advancement.
 
Distance education for ministerial and educational purposes is a paradigm shift for how our Church does business. Many employees of the Church travel more than they are at home. Those employees are doing a valuable service, training and preaching all over the globe. But this way of doing business is expensive and inefficient. When trainings are done at a conference, convention, or seminar not only does the trainer have to travel to the respective location, but so too do all of the attendees. This is true of teachers and their continuing education, of pastors and their professional development, and local church leaders. It means only those that can afford to attend the trainings and all of their associated costs can get the training. It also means that the trainer can only do a finite number of trainings each year. However, what if we took that training and delivered it for free online? If we did this, our Church would save money, we could equip more people to further the gospel, and we could assess learning rather than just assume learning was taking place. 
 
Right now, there are literally hundreds of uniquely Adventist websites offering ministerial and educational resources throughout the world. It’s hard to find what you’re looking for. What if we put all of our uniquely Adventist resources in one place? Videos, PowerPoints, photos, articles, audio files, and other resources you didn’t even know existed could be suggested to you. Ratings and user comments on the resources you find could help you make sense of your search and bring the best resources to the surface. And, above all, you could save time and better further the Gospel Commission using the best possible resources. The Adventist Learning Community is beginning to build just such a database. Obviously, this endeavor is in its infancy, but everyday dozens of new resources are uploaded to the Adventist Learning Community database, and by the end of the year we plan on having tens of thousands more.

This is just part of what the Adventist Learning Community hopes to accomplish, and some of the many benefits our Church can enjoy if we embrace distance education for ministerial and educational purposes. Visit us at adventistlearningcommunity.com and explore the possibilities and opportunities created by distance education technology for completing the Gospel Commission. God has given us a tool for his work, let us make the most of it.
 
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 Ministry Training and Teacher Certification Courses, new in 2015:
  • Teaching & Preaching to Copyright, Southern Adventist University
  • Adventist K-12 School Board Membership, NAD Office of Education
  • Adventist K-12 School Board Leadership, NAD Office of Education
  • Family Ministries Curriculum for Local Church Leaders (English and Spanish), NAD Family Ministries Department
  • Men’s Ministries for Local Church Leaders (English and Spanish), NAD Men’s Ministries Department
  • Single Adult Ministries Local Church Leaders, NAD Single Adult Ministries Department
  • 2014 Faith and Science Council Conference Continuing Education Certificate Course, GC Faith and Science Council
  • Native Ministries Continuing Education Certificate Course, Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada Native Ministries
  • Creating a Positive Digital Footprint, Southwestern Adventist University
  • Pastoral Empowering Leadership with Bill Santos, NAD Office of Education
 
adventistlearningcommunity.com

 
 
 
[1] Ellen G. White, Pastoral Ministry, p. 48.
[2] NPD Group, “More than 400 million Devices are Connected in U.S. Homes…,” Press Release, Port Washington, NY, January 02, 2013, available at: https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/more-than-400-million-devices-are-connected-in-us-homes-according-to-the-npd-group/.
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