Distance education has been part of Adventist education for well over a hundred years. Originally, distance education consisted of correspondence curriculum that American missionary families could use to maintain their children’s Adventist education while living and serving abroad.
In 1909 Fredrick Griggs had a forward-thinking vision of how to make education accessible even though it would often be months between a student receiving the curriculum and being able to do the studies, with parents creating the school-like atmosphere.1 Today, students doing distance learning benefit from the digital world that is immediate and has become a common mode of education.
Over the last twenty years, several variations of online learning have opened the doors to students in North America and across the globe to have access to Adventist education. Why do families choose distance learning when there are so many Adventist school options?
Elsa, an online student attending Griggs International Academy (owned by Andrews University),2 shares her view as an online student. “As a missionary kid, having the opportunity to continue learning no matter the place or time without interruption is such a blessing. Because of the amount of movement my family and I partake in throughout the year, having my courses on my laptop provides the chance to not only keep advancing through school, but also to be active in my life outside of school in an effective and accessible way.”
Although she currently lives in the United States, online learning gives Elsa a chance to do mission service throughout the year with her family and continue her Adventist education. She also gets to interact with other Griggs students from around the world almost daily in Zoom meetings, worship, and workshops. Griggs International Academy is asynchronous (flexible self-paced learning) with synchronous (scheduled online streaming) events with teachers and students.3
David attends Atlanta Adventist Academy4 even though he does not live in Georgia. He goes to a school site each day to attend live-streamed synchronous classes that are interactive with the three main Adventist academy campuses in Atlanta. His site is one of many that connect directly to his cohort classmates and their teacher streaming lessons from one classroom to several sites at one time. David and his local classmates are supervised by an on-site facilitator throughout the school day. Using a Learning Management System for assignments and exams makes his educational experience mirror that of his classmates in Atlanta. He even gets to travel to Atlanta for orientation, field trips and social events throughout the year. This type of education is considered synchronous online learning.
The history of distance education/online learning shows that Adventists are leaders in innovative faith-based education. The grass roots for Adventist distance education started at the beginning of the twentieth century with Griggs’ vision. He started the Fireside Correspondence School, later called Home Study Institute (HSI), then Home Study International. It wasn’t until 2005 that the school became Griggs International Academy (Griggs).
Over 200,000 students have studied with Griggs since its inception. Currently, Griggs serves approximately 2,000 students per year through affiliate international schools, North American Division (NAD) School Partnerships, and directly enrolled online students from over 60 different countries.
Adventist colleges have utilized correspondence courses for distance education for years, but the K-12 model was limited to HSI for many years. Adventist Education for the 21st Century (AE21), started in the Potomac Conference in 1993,5 moved to the Florida Conference in 2000, and became part of Forest Lake Academy in 2004.6 This model incorporated a mix of synchronous and asynchronous learning and included students attending physical school sites and those studying from home.
In 2006 Atlanta Adventist Academy transitioned to a full-time streaming online school with three main campuses located in the Atlanta suburbs. With teachers and facilitators on each of these campuses, students attended the site closest to where they lived to avoid the treacherous commute through Atlanta.
Teachers gave instruction in one classroom while the other sites had two-way streaming, all managed by a sophisticated streaming platform. Today, Atlanta Adventist Academy uses advanced interactive simultaneous videoconferencing technology and has eight additional sites that connect daily. Principal Kirk Haley notes that “the Adventist church provides different types of learning opportunities to help with the needs of our children and parents.” In 2012 Richmond Academy in Virginia began a similar delivery for high school students and currently has three sites using live-streaming cohorts.7
There are other Adventist online schools that use a similar style of delivering education as Atlanta Adventist Academy and Richmond Academy. They include kindergarten through grade twelve (K-12) online education and not just high school. Two schools are in Canada: Alberta’s Prairie Adventist Christian eSchool8 was established in 2007; West Coast Adventist School in British Columbia9 was established in 2006. West Coast Adventist School uses a hybrid model for K-8 but is totally asynchronous for high school. Also, a newly established Michigan-based school, A.S.P.I.R.E. Academy,10 established in 2018, offers a similar asynchronous delivery for K-12 students.
Prairie Adventist Christian eSchool principal David Elias captures the power of Adventist education online: “Online learning allows Adventist Education to reach students and families who might not have the opportunity to attend our brick-and-mortar schools. Some families do not live close to a local Adventist school, cannot afford to send their children to a boarding academy, or their lifestyle is not conducive to attending in-person classes. This is where our online academies provide a solution.”
A Sustainable Future
All the schools above were well established institutions prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were instrumental in helping to uphold Adventist education during the days of lockdown around the world. Not only did they give families an online option during that time, but these schools assisted many brick-and-mortar schools in quickly setting up remote classes so students could stay in the NAD schools where they were enrolled.
The pandemic changed all of us, and there was clear evidence that Adventist education could support a crisis many did not anticipate. Adventist online schools do not replace brick-and-mortar schools, but they are making Adventist education more accessible to more students because of the flexibility and affordability they provide.
Online schools often include traditional elements of brick-and-mortar schools such as spiritual programs and socialization, while brick-and-mortar schools are using more elements of technology like online schools. There will always be differences, but both models can support each other while having the common goal of making Adventist education accessible to as many students as possible.
The future of distance education/online learning for K-12 is sustainable and valuable to the Adventist school system. Whether a student is taking one online class to catch up or an entire grade-level course load from an online school, there are many available options. Distance learning is utilized in so many variations that most students will take some form of online class either in high school or during their university years.
Online classes have pros and cons to be considered. They do require students to keep a steady pace with self-discipline to maintain learning, often involving parents more than a traditional classroom might. With online learning, there must be an intentional effort to participate in the socialization that students need during their formative years.
Adventist Distance Learning/Online Learning will continue to develop and improve. Technology continues to evolve for delivering education and the Office of Adventist Education in North America provides specific accreditation standards to fit schools that use online learning delivery.
Further, AEtech (Adventist Education Technology, a NAD standing committee on distance education) provides guidelines and best practices for Adventist online learning. They also include a directory of schools that have received approval and accreditation for online delivery. The Adventist Learning Community (ALC)11 is another resource that has developed a class to help train and equip educators who teach online.
We’ve Come a Long Way
Adventist distance/online education has come a long way since its inception. From the early days of correspondence to the sophisticated platforms used today, Adventists have embraced the benefits of providing high quality education to students around the world. As Adventist online education continues to evolve, it will be exciting to experience the new possibilities that emerge and how these developments will support the strong mission of Adventist Education and the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
1 F. Greenleaf. “Timeline for Seventh-day Adventist Education.” Journal of Adventist Education, 2005, p. 12, https://circle.adventistlearningcommunity.com/files/jae/en/jae200567051005.pdf.
3 International Associate for K-12 Online Learning. The Online Learning Definitions Project, https://www.aurora-institute.org/wp-content/uploads/iNACOL_DefinitionsProject.pdf
5 E. Plemons & Thompson, G. “Making Change for the 21st Century – AE21,” Journal of Adventist Education, 1998, https://circle.adventist
learningcommunity.com/files/jae/en/jae199760021006.pdf; E. Plemons, “Startup.com: The Pilot for AE21 Distributed Education,” Journal of Adventist Education, 2000, https://circle.adventistlearningcommunity.com/files/jae/en/jae200063011006.pdf.
6 S. Bacon, “Distance Learning with a Personal Twist.” Journal of Adventist Education, 2003,https://circle.adventistlearningcommunity.com/files/jae/en/jae200365042005.pdf.
10 aspiresda.com11 https://www.adventistlearningcommunity.com/