Online Seminary Available as Home-Study Option
By Marianne Holman, Church News staff writer
With enrollment numbers higher than they have ever been in the 101 years of seminary, more young people around the world are attending seminary than ever before.
“We have heard from a number of seminary teachers that the [missionary age eligibility] announcement changed the conversation of their seminary classes,” said Chad Webb, administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. “There is an increased urgency, and seminary has become more relevant and important to a lot of students. They know they are preparing to do something; they are not just attending class. It has helped them in their engagement level, their interest level, and their willingness to participate.”
Advances in technology have opened the doors to students who in the past may not have had an opportunity to participate in seminary. Previously, there have been three ways for students to enroll in seminary—released time, daily seminary (often referred to as “early-morning” seminary), and home study.
“With all the advances in technology in independent study courses, as well as online courses everywhere, we began to have conversations about if there would be a more effective way to help young people in these kinds of situations have a better experience,” said Kelly Haws, an administrator who oversees online seminary. “So we began thinking about ways more students might be able to participate in seminary.”
The online seminary option has been approved as an option for home-study seminary students who have access to the technology needed to do online seminary. As of now, the program is available in English-speaking areas with a plan to implement it in many other languages in the future in phases. It is not available for students who have the option to do released-time or daily seminary.
“The curriculum we have for online seminary is very well written,” Brother Haws said. “It is different than independent study courses. It is quite different than just posting home-study materials. This online class is interactive and is housed on a platform that facilitates teachers and students sharing with each other.”
Although the online seminary class has a similar look to home-study seminary, it is different for many reasons. Students can no longer set out a large block of time each week to get all of the week’s assignments done in one day. Instead, the online class members complete their online work four days each week—at a time convenient to the student—and participate together in a “class” once a week.
“When students log on, they will have a personal experience waiting for them,” said Brother Haws. “The class begins with them singing a hymn and having a word of prayer.”
Rather than just answering questions on a worksheet and turning it in for credit, students are led in a study of the scriptures and are able to answer questions, express feelings, and share their testimonies through feedback to their teachers. They are able to have a daily seminary experience from home, while still interacting with other students and their teacher. An online lesson usually lasts between 30–45 minutes. Teachers and students are not necessarily online at the same time, but they are checking in with each other and giving daily feedback. Just as a daily seminary teacher would physically meet with a class in other areas, teachers are able to “meet” with their students through online communication.
“It’s not an independent study class,” said Brother Haws. “If you’ve had independent study classes in school, you know that they are kind of a do-the-work-at-your-own-pace when you can grab a block of time to do it. Online seminary is not intended to be an independent study course. It is designed to be an online course, a daily course.”
One day a week students meet with their class—either physically in the same location or, if that is not possible, as a group through an online platform that allows multiple students to video conference together.
This gives the students the classroom experience and teachers the opportunity to interact face-to-face with their students. For many this medium is very beneficial—giving shy and outgoing students an equal opportunity to participate and be heard, as well as giving students time to reflect and thoughtfully respond.
For instructors, preparation and class time might look a little different for an online seminary class, but the time and effort required are comparable to that of a daily seminary instructor, Brother Webb said. Rather than a few hours of preparation and in class, teachers spend their time participating in the lesson, reading comments, and responding to their students.
“They know that many of their students will walk right out of seminary and into the mission field,” Brother Webb said. “Seminary is, in many ways, a large part of their preparation.”
Face-to-face seminary classes are preferred, so online seminary is not intended to replace released-time or daily seminary classes. Because there are still some areas around the world that are so spread out geographically, home-study and online seminary—where technology allows—are options for those students. The stake president can work with the Seminaries and Institutes of Religion coordinators in his area to decide which type of seminary classes would best meet the needs of the students.
“For online seminary, we have a little more than 250 classes primarily offered in the U.S., Canada, England, and Australia,” Brother Haws said. “We have a total of about 320 teachers and presently 3,200 students.”
Although online seminary is not an option for everyone, it is one way many students are able to strengthen their testimonies and understanding as they participate in gospel learning. “Whether they are in released-time, daily, or online seminary, the purpose or objective of having the class is the same,” said Brother Webb. “We hope for them to come to love the Lord and follow Him as His disciples.”
For more information visit the LDS.org webpage Online Seminary Resources.