When I began at the seminary 26 years ago, there were many full-time students. We had classes throughout the week and they were almost all offered during the day. Relatively few students were part-time and nearly everyone finished their programs in three to four years.

That era seems long-gone these days. Changes in the structure of our culture have altered the manner in which people attain a seminary education and Grand Rapids Theological Seminary has adjusted over the years accordingly. We’ve offered night classes, two-week intensives, and online courses. Some of our programs have gone entirely online in recent years.

Many people prefer to take courses “live” and in-person, but there are some students with certain learning styles who thrive in alternative formats. I’ve had great experiences in each of these modes over the years and am convinced that they can be compelling and engaging when done thoughtfully, making adjustments according to the format.

The current pandemic is pressing us to once again be creative in how we offer our courses, curriculum, and programs, and that has resulted in our transition to a HyFlex model—or, “hybrid” and “flexible.” This consists of three modes whereby students will engage with the course and its content, and it gives students options.

First, students may prefer to be On-Site participants in a course, engaging the class in the traditional residential classroom. Another option is Live, which allows students to participate in the class remotely—from anywhere in the country or around the world. These students will interact with the professor and fellow students in real-time.

A third option available is for Anytime students. For people who need greater flexibility regarding scheduling, this option allows students to engage the classroom material and ongoing discussions when it is convenient for them, yet still within the same structured course (with deadlines for assignments throughout the semester).

This HyFlex model has some great benefits for seminary education, offering greater flexibility regarding time and space. Students may engage the course when it is convenient for their schedules. And if they can’t be here in Grand Rapids, they can still be “in class” without losing any time toward the completion of their degree. I know of a few students who are progressing toward graduation but who have had to move away from Grand Rapids for one reason or another. Our flexible options for them mean that they’ll be able to keep on track and stay connected to our community.

Another benefit to this model is that the discussion over the material presented in class can continue throughout the week all semester long. And students can engage the subject matter and one another both live and at any point in the week. It’s a routine thing for me to be cutting the grass or washing dishes a few days after a lively class discussion and a thought will strike me that is relevant to a question asked or comment made by a student. Rather than waiting a week or so until the next time we meet, we’ll be able to keep the conversation going in the online space without losing any time or forgetting how and why a contribution like that is important.

We’re in the midst of some challenges, but such times highlight the strategic significance of theological training for the good of the church, and all of us at GRTS are excited about the new possibilities our innovative format will provide.