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North American universities increasingly offer distance learning options as part of their undergraduate, master’s, and even doctoral curricula. Distance education may include online courses (taught solely via the Internet), hybrid courses (online courses which involve occasional required face-to-face components), or a combination of the two. Once primarily associated with for-profit online-based colleges delivering educational content of questionable quality, online teaching and learning has been establishing its presence in mainstream education, including flagship public universities, small liberal arts colleges, and (of particular relevance for religious studies) seminaries. While premier private research universities have thus far expressed reservations regarding online education, one may observe incremental changes, as evident, for example, by the launch of EdX, a distance learning platform, jointly sponsored by Harvard and MIT. In addition to offering degree programs which may be completed long-distance via the Internet in their entirety, online and hybrid class offerings are gradually becoming a feature of traditional on-campus programs, when on-campus students choose to take some of their classes in these formats.

As distance education is on the rise, so is the demand in the academic job market for experience and the evidence of teaching effectiveness in online instruction. In particular, in the study of religion, a number of AAR job advertisements now list those among preferred qualifications, including for tenure-track positions. Indeed, given the current trends, it is reasonable to expect that many early-career faculty, now beginning their tenure-track appointments, will be teaching a mix of local and distance courses immediately or at some point in their careers.


Originally published in Craft of Teaching in the Academic Study of Religion. 2019. Blog post.