For many, a biblically-integrated education feels too far out of reach—perhaps because of geographic location or because of the overwhelming price. Administration recognized these hindrances and sought to make the unique Biola education more available globally. Their desire, coupled with the help of the internet, created Biola LEARN.
The university launched the online platform this semester, which currently consists of 11 not-for-credit courses available to anyone. With Biola Lifelong Education And Resource Network, the university’s reach has the capacity to expand past the campuses’ parameters and into the greater world.
“The limits are non-existent as far as I’m concerned. We’re really hoping that this serves the world,” said Susan Ishi, chief educational technology officer.
In 2015, the Kay Family Foundation donated money to fulfill the University Plan’s aspiration six, which consists of expanding Biola’s global outreach. Originally the school planned to use the money to further Open Biola, a free video learning forum, but decided instead to create a brand new initiative.
“If Christ-centered, biblically integrated business education is unique and if studying [in] the environment where you are surrounded by other serious Christians, serious Jesus followers, if that is a pretty unique educational environment, should people have to move to La Mirada, California, to get that?” said Gary Lindblad, dean of the Crowell School of Business. “If we’re going to make this kind of education available, we’re going to have to go online. We’re going to have to make it available for people that are all across the country or around the world.”
The platform will allow people not affiliated with the university to take not-for-credit courses for a minimal price. Consequently, it opens significantly more accessible avenues for people to access this education.
The courses consist of 30 minute video sessions spread across a six-week period produced by faculty from different departments. The faculty can narrow material from one of their regular classes to fit into a series, or they can venture a new course idea based on their research. The course can apply to church small groups, pastors, business people or just people yearning to learn more.
“I think it’s people who are wanting to continually learn. People who are hungry for knowledge, people who trust the Biola brand for the kind of biblically integrated information that they want,” Lindblad said.
Administrator for lifelong learning programs Andrew Yee took the position as the program director for Biola LEARN in April, and over the summer he worked with software developers, a film crew and faculty to create the now clean, user-friendly site and courses.
providing quality online courses and degree programs
After nearly two years of planning, Ishi expressed her excitement over the program’s beginning and has high hopes for the impact of its future as professors share some of their best work with the outside world.
“I’m thrilled that Biola has not only placed such a strong emphasis on providing quality online courses and degree programs, but it is thinking very innovatively to step out of just the traditional mold of what education is and to look at diversifying ways in which it can touch and reach Christians all around the world,” Ishi said.
The initiative has the potential to create strong online communities that will cross geographic, cultural and socio-economic boundaries, and help develop common interest between friends, colleagues or parent-child relationships. If a parent and a Biola student wish to delve into a certain topic, they can take similar courses and discuss together.
Dean of the Talbot School of Theology Scott Rae has already seen the success of Biola LEARN first hand as he has spent the past few weeks bringing a small group through one of the sessions he recorded. He finds participating in the program enjoyable, and encourages the faculty under him to participate as well.
“We’re trying to persuade faculty that it’s actually fun to get in there and record. It’s work too, but you get to use all the latest technology too, to enhance what you’re doing,” Rae said.
The time it takes to produce a course varies depending on the amount of subject material each professor has. Once the professor gathers the material, the filming does not consume too much time—they can even film all six sessions in one long day.
Unlike many other online programs, this initiative serves lifelong learners and people wanting to learn from the expertise of Biola’s faculty without the commitment or cost restraints.
“One of the things I love to do, just in my own life, is to be able to take complicated things and explain them simply… For me, Biola LEARN is that exact opportunity,” Yee said. “We take what we study here at Biola and all the academic research that we do and then we deliver it in a package for the everyday person. So you’re not here training to be a scholar or a professional in this area. You just want to learn something and grow, and this is the opportunity for that.”