The Self-Elected Learning in an Educational and Committed Team (SACEM) Annual Meeting, a gathering of church-wide continuing education staff members, sponsored by the National Council of Churches, met in Dallas, Texas, in early 1980's. Among this group were Pastor George Keck (LCA; Professional Leadership) and Pastor William Behrens (ALC: Office of Support to Ministries). Dallas is also the city in which the Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist Church is located. This occasion offered the possibility of visiting the Office of Continuing Education, which initiated the Group Guided Study Program for Ministers and Laypersons of their denomination in 1965. A quote from the brochure reads: "The Group Study Program is planned to provide a structure and resources for groups of ministers and laypersons who wish to seriously study the Christian faith and its implications. It is designed for personal enrichment and carries no academic credit. Individuals, clergy or lay, may also use the program alone but the benefit of group discussion, mutual support and motivation are very great."
The visit and following conversations by Pr Keck and Pr Behrens with Perkins inspired them to share this information with their respective church bodies. The LCA contacts were with the Division of Parish Services and Director for Theological Education. The ALC contacts were with the Division for Theological Education and Ministry, Parish Services and Augsburg Press. It is important to note that Theological Education had developed fourteen Regional Continuing Theological Centers attached to colleges, Districts geographically distant from seminaries or colleges joined in sponsoring events and other educational establishments. Western North Dakota placed a pastor on staff, working on an advanced degree, and indicated he would spend half of his time on continuing education for congregational leaders. This individual was a pilot and so flew to cover the many miles in that area to gather small groups to more effectively use his travel time.
A quote from the Meeting Minutes of October 14-15, 1982 states that:
Because….there is the expectation and need for continuing education of professional leaders and lay leaders; people have varied learning styles and motivation regarding continuing education….Since learning is enhanced when…it is geographically near, is self directed, the learning process is dialogical; the learning group involves a diversity of persons, subject matter deals with felt/real needs and is intellectually respectable; it acknowledges the value of personal and professional support.
The proposed sites for this Continuing Education effort were Carthage College, Kenosha, WI, Luther/Northwestern Seminary, St Paul, MN and Trinity Seminary, Columbus, OH. Given the fact that Pr Norman Wegmeyer, who directed the GLEE Continuing Education Center in Wisconsin and was an early consultant to the project, a shared time position for the director was desirable. This opportunity was available at Trinity Seminary who would extend him a call for half-time position at the seminary on October 7, 1983.
When Pr Wegmeyer considered the intentions and directions given by the Steering Committee, he realized that the Perkins original design, of shipping out and retuning multiple textbooks and papers would be costly and administratively difficult. Given the new culture that appeared in the 1980's, the easier and less expensive route would be to consider the "content to be shared" by audio or video tape. Audio tapes were frequently used in the earlier years, but the video tape soon replaced it as a primary delivery of content. This also suggested that the participants could gather as a class for a given period or if a group already met on a monthly or weekly schedule, the program could continue over weeks or months. This brought to mind that Pastor Study Groups (Pericope Study Groups) were naturally developing and expanding on a rapid basis by focusing on the Gospel Lectionary. As it developed, video was elected as the medium for bringing 'content' into the small group experience. The person who recruited others for this educational experience also ordered the materials, provided the video player and then served as the discussion leader. In many cases, the discussion leadership was passed among the group participants.
The Center staff aided in the theological education of these lay persons and by the time that the ELCA was formed in 1988, it incorporated a category of Licensure and Synodically Authorized Ministry (some times called Lay Licensed Pastors).
From 1998 through 2005, SELECT/Select Learning moved out of a nearly unprecedented 20-year period of stability and slow growth into its modern era of growth, adaptation and change.
As Select moved into the 21st century, some of the easier changes included moving from analogue formats (including the use VHS tapes as the primary mode of distribution), to the digital format of DVD. While it took well over a decade for congregations to acquire the equipment to use VHS, the change to the DVD format moved at a much quicker pace. What has proven to be much more challenging, however, is the switch from DVDs delivered to the learning site to digital media which are streamed directly to the site.
Select Learning, however, was faced with a second and more far-reaching transition. No longer was it sufficient to offer seminary-like courses for some candidates for rostered ministry and continuing education courses for those already rostered. The growing awareness that ministry is the proper work of all the baptized opened the opportunity to offer theological education to many more people. Some would continue to be educated for service as a rostered leader. But many more were asking to be better equipped for their many ministries, their various vocations in God's world.
These changes and transitions began to move at a much faster pace when Norm Wegmeyer, director of Select Learning from its beginning in 1984, announced that he intended to retire in early 2004. The Select board responded to this by undertaking a multi-faceted futuring process. The first of these was to adopt this mission statement:
The mission of SELECT is to provide basic theological education resources to a variety of audiences in the ELCA, with a focus on serving audiences that are often small, isolated or marginalized to take advantage of other mainstream, mass marketed sources of theological education.
A second response was to explore a variety of options for the future of Select Learning. These included
By early 2004, Skip Cornett, who continued to serve as Director of Continuing Education at Trinity Seminary, began his service as director of Select Learning. Under his leadership, Select completed the project of migrating all of the course content to DVD format and converting all of the paper study guides into digital format so they could be included in the course packaging on a CD. Partners in this conversion process were staff at Seraphim Communications. This partnership proved to be so effective that within a short time the courseproduction and order fulfillment parts of Select Learning were moved to Seraphim.
A next milestone in Select Learning's modern era began in April 2005 when Jodi Hanson was engaged to work with the Director of Select Learning, Skip Cornett, Dick Bruesehoff, Director for Lifelong Learning of the ELCA, and Gloria Doherty, Director of The Fisher's Net, to write a grant request from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans. The focus of this grant was to give assistance with
Select Learning was awarded this major grant in the Fall of 2005. This $300,000 grant enabled Select Learning to develop into what it is today. Highlights include:
Select Learning Courses completed, Summer 2005-Summer 2010
To give you an example of the rapid development of resources, aimed at lifelong learning of all the baptized, take a look at the following list. Financial partners are listed after each course, which demonstrates how Select Learning has been able to connect interested parties, and provide them a vehicle for sharing their resources with others.
Core Courses (including partners in production)
Core Courses Re-mastered from VHS to DVD (Funded by Select Learning and Thrivent)
Additional Courses (including partners in production)
Select Learning and the Fisher's Net Merge – Fisher's Net Select
As Select Learning developed and began to offer online courses, it became apparent that its mission was beginning to overlap with the mission of another ELCA ministry, The Fisher's Net. While the history of the Fisher's Net is a story worth telling, that will need to wait for another day and another article. Suffice it to say that the core mission of the Fisher's Net was to have all online courses available on one platform so that learners could move between schools to get the best educational opportunities possible. While that vision never was realized, due in part to the explosion of Learning Management Systems, the Fisher's Net did provide both Moodle and Blackboard platforms for online learning.
Select Learning chose to use the Moodle platform and still does. Initially a client of the Fisher's Net, in 2007, Select Learning and the Fisher's Net merged into one and became Fisher's Net Select. That continued until 2011, when it became apparent that the Fisher's Net side of the ministry could no longer sustain itself. The Fisher's Net will end July 1, 2012. However, Select Learning has taken over the Moodle operation, and moved it to Augsburg College's servers. All Select Learning online courses are now housed there.
Select Learning Adds Podcasts in 2011-12
Once again, Select Learning is working with partners to make quality theological education available to all in a way that fits their lifestyle. Podcasts are the delivery method of choice for many busy learners. Currently, two projects are underway, with more to come.
First, the Northwest Synod of Wisconsin's Lay School of Ministry (LSM) has for many years had an outstanding continuing education series open only to the graduates of LSM. Now, for the first time, this series of lectures is being made available by LSM through Select Learning, as downloadable podcasts. The series for this year is titled: "Lutheran Answers to Real Questions".
Next year's series, which begins Sept. 2012, is titled: "The Book of Faith Meets the Missional Church."
The second project is titled SCAN. Some of you might remember SCAN, a radio series that ran in the 80s and 90s, produced by Hal Dragseth for the American Lutheran Church. It featured stories of people from all walks of life and told their stories of faith in action. Thanks to a grant from St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, St. Paul, MN, and hundreds of hours of volunteer time by Hal Dragseth, these half-hour radio shows have now been digitized and will be uploaded as podcasts on the Select Learning website. With over 500 shows, this will be a fabulous new resource as people try to better understand what it means that our baptism is our vocational call to serve God by serving the neighbor with our varied gifts.