The Big Class: MOOCs for Christians and What We’re Learning

The bubble seems to have burst for the MOOC.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) were all the rage just two years ago when The New York Times called 2012 the ‘Year of the MOOC.’  On paper it sounds great: allow people who lack the resources to take an ivy league class on chemistry, that’s taught by one of the best communicators in the field, and it’s no wonder 40,000 people sign up.  Finally education is democratized, the playing field is leveled, and now students are the ones who can choose what they learn and when they learn from an ever-growing selection of FREE classes.

However, that dream is rapidly fading.

“The promise of MOOCs has been overpromised,” says Josuha Kim, director of Dartmouth’s digital learning initiatives. Research into who takes MOOCs, how well they do, and how often they finish courses has quickly deflated hopes that this could be a viable way forward for today’s busy (and broke) learner.  For example, the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education recently analyzed 16 Coursera MOOCs over a year and found that the average completion rate of a course was just 4 percent. What’s more, those who finished the course often possessed the resources to attend a terrestrial school if they desired.  “We don’t see evidence that that’s a model that leads to real learning,” said David Hammer of Tufts University.

When ChurchNext decided to offer a MOOC-style course on January 27 – February 3 we did so with fear and trembling, aware of the drawbacks of traditional MOOCs, and intentionally designing an offering set to combat the attrition and lackluster result of previous offerings.

We made the class 45 minutes long. We made video presentations 5-7 minutes in length. We peppered the class with text reading, video presentations, short pop up quizzes, discussion rooms, and even asked students to write a brief essay.  We also knew that, unlike a MOOC course, which brings in anyone from anywhere with little in common other than some level of interest in the class, we were bringing together people of a faith whose allegiance to a particular tribe (the Episcopal Church) would provide some sort of esprit de corps that would aid in the class’s success.

When it was all over The Big Class with Michael Curry had 3,000 students from 30 countries registered. Of those, 61% started the class and completed various levels of the class.  20% finished the course- 5 times as many as the U-Penn study. 81% said they were ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with the course, 82% said it had a moderate or major impact on their spiritual lives.  Several churches used The Big Class as part of their regular formation offerings, and some even projected the class on a big screen and took it in groups.

We can learn several things here: First, people are ready to learn about faith online. The feedback from learners was overwhelmingly positive, and the robust nature of the discussion rooms showed that people were deeply engaging in the material. Sure, the majority were not, but a large enough minority did so.

Second, there is a hunger for informed, moderate  conversation around religion. Bishop Curry’s course, ‘How to Be a Crazy Christian’ is a call to discipleship from a mainline perspective. His accessible style and reasonable approach provide a way for Christians to consider their call to follow Christ in line with their tradition.

Finally, online learning of this sort helps build relationships.  The discussion strings in the chat rooms – there were thousands of questions asked and answered during the class – betray an openness to engaging at some level with others about faith. Some people complained that the course took them 8 hours to complete simply because they got so caught up in discussions with others.

We continue to analyze this data and will undoubtedly draw more conclusions as we move forward.  We are grateful to our partners who came together to take this chance with us: Bexley Seabury, Forward Movement, The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, and Church Publishing, Inc.

New Course: Spiritual Roots of Loving Parenting with Scott and Holly Stoner

scott and hollyParenting is one of life’s most rewarding and challenging jobs. And in this course, taught by Living Compass founders Scott and Holly Stoner, we learn how a compass of faith, along with a faith community, can make the experience much richer.

Perhaps no other aspect of our lives offers as much frustration, challenge, victory and happiness as being a parent. Scott and Holy Stoner know this well. Not only are they the founders of Living Compass, a ministry devoted to wellness and wholeness within the Christian tradition, but they are parents as well.In this course, the Stoners touch on these important areas of Christian parenting:

  • We All Have a Compass
  • Grounded Parenting
  • Connected Parenting
  • Parenting and Discipline

This course is perfect for parents who are feeling overwhelmed as well as those looking for a spiritual center to their most important roles in life.

Learn more about this course here.

Holly and Scott Stoner are popular speakers, conference leaders, and founders of Living Compass, a ministry dedicated to wholeness. You can visit Living Compass here.

New Course: Lent for Families with Kim Baker

Kim BakerLent is a great opportunity not only for personal spiritual growth, but for the growth of the spirituality of families. This course is filled with practical tips from long-time educator and canon to the Washington National Cathedral Kim Baker who tells us how Lent offers an unparalleled opportunity for families to grow in Christ.

One blessing of the Church calendar is the cycle of life if mirrors in the lives of all Christians.

Lent is our wilderness because we all experience this time in our lives.  In this 45-minute course, Kim Baker shows us how Lent can be used to tap into these wilderness times as families.  Lessons include:

Why Lent Is for Families
Lenten Themes for Families
Lenten Activities for Families I
Lenten Activities for Families II

This course is ideal for families and educators looking to make the most out of Lent for families.

Find out more about Lent for Families here.
The Rev. Canon Kim Baker is the canon pastor at theWashington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. She is a lifelong educator specializing in children and families.

The Big Class with David Lose: How Can Our Congregation Use This Course for Lent?

D Lose SquareLent is a blessed opportunity for us to learn more about our faith. Many church members count on this holy season to draw closer to God via the time honored traditions of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and study.

Along with our partners at Augsburg Fortress we are excited to offer a terrific resource: the online learning version of Making Sense of the Cross with David Lose. Many congregations have been touched by Augsburg’s outstanding DVD series, which is a 6-part, video-based curriculum that walks learners through Scripture, tradition, and David’s sound insights into how Christians can approach the Cross. This DVD series is available from Augsburg Fortress here.

What we have done at ChurchNext is turn that material into an online learning experience. Instead of 6-parts, the online learning version gives us 3.  And the material is also ordered differently – with David’s interpretation first, followed by his presentations on Scripture and tradition.

In Part I of the ChurchNext online learning version students will learn about the importance of approaching the Cross as an experience. In other words, as a participant in the ongoing work of God to reconcile the world through Jesus Christ. This course is available for free to all from March 5 – March 12 then will be available for purchase.

In Part II David walks us through the witness of Scripture, particularly the distinctive lenses of the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John will be available March 23.

In Part III David takes us through the history of interpretation of the Cross. Students will learn about three distinct theories of the atonement that have endured through time and will be available March 30.

This online alternative offers congregations the opportunity for those who might not normally attend 6, face-to-face gatherings during Lent, to learn and participate in their own time, at their own pace, via an online learning experience.

A suggested approach would be for congregations to sign up as many of their parishioners as possible to take the free online course called The Big Class with David Lose, which you can take for free by clicking here. Parishioners can take this  class for free on their own time and at their own pace anytime between March 5 – March 12.

Congregations can also consider putting the course on a big screen with speakers and taking it as a group.  That’s what groups like this parish in Wisconsin recently did with a previous Big Class.

Curry at Wauwautosa
The course will take an average learner about 45 minutes to work through, though you can take longer depending on how much discussion you choose to engage in. An Internet connection is needed. There is no special software needed.  A 3-part course means that it may be easier for congregations to interest those who have other time commitments during Lent.

Each of the 3-part online learning experiences comes with two downloads. One is called The Takeaway and offers a 1-2 page synopsis of the course so learners can continue to review the salient points of each class. The second is called Discussion Questions and is designed for face-to-face gatherings, so that once people have taken a class they can come together and talk through the material. The downloads to these 3 courses are available within the course. We will make the first one available by March 4 on our blog (under The Big Class tab) to those who will be leading these classes. Others will follow.

Therefore, congregations may want to consider using both of these resources during Lent – the Augsburg Fortress DVD series for people who are able to commit to and gather for 6 weekly sessions. And the ChurchNext online version of Making Sense of the Cross for those who are able to gather less frequently or not at all.

The Augsburg Fortress DVD series is available here. And the complete, 3-part ChurchNext online learning version will be available on March 5. Again,  the first class is free from March 5 – March 12, and there will be a charge for the other two. Students can pay $15 for an unlimited ChurchNext membership and take these courses at their own time and pace. Congregations can pay $10 per course and use it in groups as depicted in the photograph above.  Your congregation may also want to consider a Congregation Membership to ChurchNext, which would make these classes (and the other 50+ in our catalog) available to parishioners for free, with the church paying a greatly reduced subscription price.  If you have any questions feel free to contact us at

New Course: Introducing Lent with Maggi Dawn

Maggi DawnLent is a holy season of devotion that offers wonderful opportunities for life transformation. Theologian and author Maggi Dawn unpacks the wonder of this season. Click here to learn more about and to take this course.

Lent is the Christian tithe. 40 days which we give back to God by intentionally drawing near to the Lord. The season of Lent is an opportunity for life-change, as we are invited to participate in special rituals and activities centered on Christ’s own preparation for death and resurrection.

Maggi Dawn knows much about this. She is the author of a book on lent called Giving It Up, and has a special place in her heart for the ways in which lent can transform lives and point them back at God.  In this course, Maggi will teach us:

  • Why Commemorate Lent?
  • Origins of Lent
  • Themes of Lent
  • Practicing Lent

This course is an inspiring introduction to this holy season and is appropriate for those who are new or have spent years commemorating Lent. To learn more about this course click here.

Maggi Dawn is Associate Professor of Theology and Literature and Dean of Chapel at Yale Divinity School. She is the author of several books including Giving It Up, a book of daily Bible readings for Lent.

Announcing The Big Class with David Lose: Making Sense of the Cross (Free)

D Lose SquareThis Ash Wednesday, March 5, 2014, anyone with Internet access and a computer or tablet can get free instruction on Making Sense of the Cross, a series that invites online learners to “listen in” on an open conversation about the cross.  Click here to learn more and register for free.

From March 5–12, the Rev. Dr. David Lose, professor at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, will teach The Big Class, a program of ChurchNext. The course will expand on the popular Making Sense of the Cross, a six-session, small-group course published by Augsburg Fortress, Minneapolis.

Dr. Lose will moderate the course and answer online questions during the week of The Big Class. Participants can take the class anytime during the week at The course will take 45 minutes to complete and need not be taken in one sitting. No special software is required.

AF_logo_Large_blkThroughout Making Sense of the Cross, readers are encouraged to think about and experience the cross and its meaning for their lives. “The Cross has been as life-giving as it has been mysterious,” said Chris Yaw, founder of ChurchNext, a producer of online learning experiences. “However, David possesses that rare gift of theological insight and communication prowess that will makes this course incredibly helpful to anyone looking to gain deeper insight into Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

The Big Class is a worldwide online course for all who want to go further in their walk with Christ and is free to everyone, everywhere, thanks to the support of Augsburg Fortress. Special materials will be available for congregations and education classes that desire to take the class together as part of a Lenten study.

“How we understand the cross shapes how we construe and construct our life in the world,” writes Dr. Lose. “By diving deeper into the message and meaning of this, the greatest event in the world’s history, we grow deeper into the kind of people we want to be. I’m excited to be able to offer this course free to a worldwide audience, as a way to use new technology to unpack ancient truths.”

Making Sense of the Cross is part of the Making Sense series—a dialogue that encourages students to bring their questions or doubts to the table. During these conversations, there are different opportunities for the learner to interact with the Bible and the Christian faith, ultimately leaving room for personal transformation of the heart and mind.

ChurchNext creates online Christian learning experiences to invigorate lives and congregations. Along with our partners we are devoted to helping people grow in their Christian faith, improve their lives, and better the world. Learn more at

Augsburg Fortress is the ministry of publishing of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Visit for more information on the Making Sense series, or to learn about additional Christian materials that help communicate the Gospel, enhance faith, and enrich the life of the church and the communities it serves. Augsburg Fortress. Creative. Christian. Together, we create resources that renew Christian life and community.

New Course: How to be a Crazy Christian

This last week, we launched our first free, online course called The Big Class with Bishop CurryBishop Michael Curry. This class will be open on Wednesday for you to take or to add to your own schools. It would be a great course to do in a lead up to Lent, during Lent, or even in Easter as it talks about what it means to follow Jesus and what it means to be a Crazy Christian.

You can find the class here!

This is a course with a warning label: All who enter here, expect to be transformed. Episcopal bishop Michael Curry is an inspiring and enthusiastic reformer with a clear call to reinvigorate the Church. Many people have experienced Christ’s transforming power through Bishop Curry’s ministry.

Garrison Keillor once said going to church makes someone a Christian about as much as sitting in a garage makes someone a Chevrolet. Bishop Michael Curry, of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina has a heart for reawakening believers to the tremendous gift and challenge of giving our all to follow Jesus. His term for this kind of person is a Crazy Christian.

In this 45 minute class, Bishop Curry will tell us:

  • What Is a Crazy Christian?
  • Why Being a Crazy Christian is Easy – and Hard
  • Habits of a Crazy Christian
  • Giving Yourself Permission

This course is ideal for those who are looking to be encouraged and challenged in their Christian faith.

Bishop Michael Curry serves as the Bishop of North Carolina in the Episcopal Church, and is a popular speaker and writer. His most recent book is Crazy Christians: A Call to Follow Jesus.