Online module completed. This week, I finished reading the last assignments and forum posts in the online Team Leader Orientation module I had been facilitating in February and March. The second edition of this course is now history, and I am very pleased to see that 12 more team or area leaders have completed all the assignments and have “graduated” from this 5-week course. During those five weeks, each of the course participants identified their key areas of responsibility as a team leader, and what outcomes they desired to achieve in each of those key result areas by God’s grace. They sought to describe how they would know whether they had achieved these outcomes. These different components were assembled in an outcome-based job description for themselves, which they then submitted to their classmates for comments and critique. The job descriptions were very well done, and I know several of the students are still revising and improving them as they discuss them with their teams and area directors. For those interested in seeing the template for developing the job description, you can find it on the SEND U wiki.
Dealing with the drop-out phenomena. Facilitating a leadership training course through the Internet presents some significant challenges. The dropout rate for distance education is generally much higher than for classroom educational settings. It is really hard to remain motivated to complete a course consisting of a series of lectures, if you have no support from fellow classmates, and instead are surrounded by all the distractions of family and work. I believe that a good part of the reason we endure lectures in a classroom setting is because we know we are not alone, and we can also commiserate together about our tired brains and sore backsides over coffee after class.
I know the drop-out phenomena of distance education from personal experience. I still have the textbooks and CDs from a couple of distance education courses staring at me from my shelf, a costly reminder of my failure to complete that particular education goal. I enrolled in these courses during home service, received all the textbooks and the CDs, and started listening and watching recordings of actual classes taught by a couple of well-known missiologists. But I was distracted by all my other responsibilities, and after a few weeks, my initial motivation to master these courses dissipated. I decided to postpone working on the courses until we moved to Ukraine, and then I got wrapped up in my new role at SEND U. Well, you know the rest of the story. So to combat this tendency to drop-out of online education, the training has to be highly interactive, and the facilitator must take a very active role in encouraging and guiding each participant to contribute and participate.
Discussions by keyboard. Some of the participants came into the Team Leader Orientation course expecting that it would consist of a series of live classroom-style lectures and discussions. But it would have been virtually impossible to find even a single hour throughout those 5 weeks when a dozen busy mission leaders from 9 different countries would have been awake and available all at the same time. To schedule a minimum of 15 to 20 such live sessions for a full 5 week course would have been a frustrating nightmare. So the class was designed to be very interactive, but all the discussions were through the medium of a keyboard. Throughout each week, the participants were encouraged (actually required) to type their thoughts into class forums where everyone could read them and respond to them. These discussions often took on a life of their own, going back and forth with multiple participants, all without much, if any direction from me as the facilitator. Frequently the assignments themselves were posted to the forum so that everyone could read them and benefit from one another’s insights. In an average week, we were receiving about 7 different posts from each class member. That adds up to a total of close to 400 such “posts” or short e-mails throughout the life of the course. A common complaint at the end of the course was that the participants wished they could have had more time to read all the posts and interact with them more thoroughly.
But it’s not just about the task. But class discussions were focused not only on the responsibility of leading a ministry team. Throughout the course, I repeatedly heard the participants emphasizing the importance of devoting significant time to developing their personal relationship with God, and how foundational this is to their effectiveness as a missionary and as mission leaders. Many of the class shared examples of spiritual mentors, teachers and pastors who left an indelible mark on their lives through their example of personal commitment to Christ. One of the team leaders shared the example of a veteran SEND missionary, who had often been heard to say that a good recipe for a growing relationship with Jesus is “an hour a day, a morning a week, a day a month.” Some class members resolved to set aside days for prayer; others shared their commitment to set aside a significant length of time each day to spend time with God. In this discussion, there was not a legalistic “one size fits all” approach. Team leaders spoke from their hearts and expressed commitments based on their own context, personality and walk with the Lord. As much as I enjoyed seeing these young mission leaders interact with the leadership concepts that I had prepared, I found it equally rewarding and personally refreshing to see them recognizing the even greater value of a daily “training time” with the Master Teacher.