Digital, Biblical Community

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The traditional classroom cultivates two crucial elements of education: student community and professor engagement. It is these very interactions that—when taking place in biblically integrated settings—allow for character development alongside of students’ academic learning and professional preparation. However, the emergence of the internet and the abundance of technologies that followed have redefined education. The classroom is no longer a specific location where students go to learn; the classroom now comes to the student. A student can now graduate from a university located on the other side of the world and never once step foot on its campus.

The important role that community plays in biblical education has made many Christian colleges and universities reluctant to offer online education. The question of “How do we ensure that we are reaching mission-fit students?” is a valid one. But rather than viewing this as a technology to be feared, we should look at it as a tool to be utilized. Prayerful thought and contemplation made it clear that online program offerings would extend, not exhaust, the University’s mission to educate mission-fit students to serve Christ. This has proven true. Cairn University continues to offer engaging classroom community and biblically integrated education through its online programs, and the flexibility of this new medium allows the University to reach more mission-fit students.

“Online community” may seem paradoxical to some. How can a student build a substantial relationship with a professor or fellow students when they are on opposite sides of the world? While this is a seemingly intuitive concern, we limit our understanding of community when we define it only by face-to-face interactions. In the same way that the exchange of letters between pen pals forms a deep, lasting friendship, the online classroom is also a facilitator of community and engagement; it just utilizes a different medium and environment than the traditional classroom. All online courses are designed to be highly interactive, ensuring faculty engagement and student project collaboration. In addition to substantial faculty video instruction, synchronous live sessions are regularly incorporated into the courses, which allow for real-time conversations and academic discussion. Education student Julia F. testifies to the closeness of this online community by saying that she enjoys “having the professor available in a video chat once a week and working as a team with other students on many of my assignments.”
Our online students learn from the same faculty who teach on campus—faculty who are committed to both professional and spiritual mentorship. Whether a student is learning on campus or online, our faculty challenge and encourage our students. This type of online community is certainly different from an on-campus culture, but it’s not inferior.
For the past 105 years, Cairn University has prepared students personally, professionally, and spiritually. This preparation is ensured by rigorous academics, professional training, and biblical integration. The University’s online classroom is no different. Our faculty personally create our courses, spending hours to ensure that the online coursework holds the same quality standard of our on-campus education. Using their own intellectual property is a time-consuming but absolutely necessary step in offering our students a biblically integrated education. In addition to Bible and theology courses being a part of each program’s curriculum, each course is biblically integrated, marrying professional study with faith and biblical truth.
Since online offerings began, Cairn University faculty and distance learning staff have created 10 online graduate programs and 160 individual courses, all of which are regularly evaluated, revised, and improved to maintain quality standards. These programs have proven highly valuable for students such as Dayne C, who stated, “Cairn University’s online education is outstanding. I have not experienced other online education programs where they take the time to carefully explain the coursework. Their understanding of the needs of online students and their attention to detail displays the care and thought they put into the programs.” Biblical integration is paramount in these programs. Scripture’s primary role in the curriculum necessitates a student’s ability to integrate faith and study. Our courses are flexible, but they are also academically rigorous and intentionally centered on Christ and His Word.
Consequently, our programs appeal primarily those who are interested in a biblically integrated education. Students who are mission-fit will desire an education that holds their values, whether on campus or online. To create (and continue to expand) online offerings does not just allow the University to reach more students, but more mission-fit students. While there is great benefit to an on-campus education, the proximity to campus and time commitment necessary to attend class is limiting to many students. Online programs allow students from all over the globe to receive a biblically integrated education. Since the University began offering programs online in 2014, students from 36 states and 46 countries have been able to receive their education in a flexible online format. Whether they are a busy business professional working in China or a stay-at-home mom sitting at her kitchen table in Langhorne, those who desire a Cairn University graduate education now have one at their fingertips.
Online students bring a rich new layer to the University student population. Without the limitation of living on or near campus, the majority of our graduate students are conducting their studies in the context of their own church, career, family, and culture. This gives online students the unique opportunity to take what they are learning and immediately apply it to their work and ministry. Additionally, studying within their own culture and context gives students the opportunity to edify one another through unique class dialogue. The students, as well as the faculty, benefit richly from the various walks of life and cultures that are brought into the classroom.
As we continue to pursue other opportunities in online education, our alumni testify to the thriving community
they experienced and the quality of education they received. A biblical graduate education is now available to more mission-fit students than ever before, and we continue to see the way that this form of education has benefited our students, their families, and their communities around the world. Regardless of vocation or location, our students are learning and serving throughout the world as biblically minded men and women of character.

3 graphs: 4 of 5 students reported that they were highly satisfied with their coursework. 88% of students would recommend Cairn online education to a friend. 90% of students agree that their professors actively participated in their course. (based on a Spring 2018 course evaluation)


Sali Kaceli is the director of educational technology and distance learning at Cairn University. He can be reached at