The “block-release” or modular mode of delivery receives its name from the fact that all courses are released “en bloc” or in one go. Traditional delivery methods schedule a specific number of class hours per course for each week over a duration of several weeks. This means that a traditional course would spread 30 hours of classes over 10 hours of a term by offering 3 hours per week. (e.g. 3 hours of “Intro to OT” each week for 10 weeks)
While this does allow time for students to process and reflect on what has been discussed in class, this also disrupts the learning experience due to other courses being scheduled in between. In effect a student will have an average of 24 hours of classes per week, covering up to 8 different subjects. (e.g. 3 hours “Intro to OT”, 3 hours “Intro to NT”, 3 hours “Systematic Theology”, 3 hours “Homiletics”, etc.)
The benefit of having a full week to reflect and understand this weeks sessions before continuing the course next week is countered by the same principle applying to 7 other sessions, all vying for attention and reflection. In practice most lecturers see themselves spending time in recollection, trying to collectively remember what had been said or asked in the last session before being able to continue where the course left off a week ago.
This mode of delivery allows for reflection but loses focus.
The block-release mode doesn’t spread the sessions out over several weeks but has all sessions (30 hours) scheduled in the same week. This means that there is very little time for reflection and further studies between sessions but it also means that the entire week is spent on one topic and not spread out over several. In general all students still remember what has been discussed yesterday and can continue without much need for recollection or looking up notes.
This mode of delivery allows for focus but loses time to process content.
If this was the only difference we would probably still argue the benefits and challenges. But the block-release mode of delivery has more advantages.
One of the biggest obstacles to quality theological training in Africa is affordability and accessibility. Distance education is often hailed as the solution to both challenges. However distance education tends to isolate the student from her/his peers and often leads to academic knowledge without the inter-personal skills that are required for ministry. Further it is often said that the African doesn’t learn from a book but learns in community. While we do believe that distance education has its merits and is a viable option we do believe that there is a demand for something between costly residential training and isolated distance education. That is where we see the block-release mode.
The block release mode allows for students to keep their ministry, employment, family life, etc. mostly intact with as little interruptions as possible. Instead of relocating the entire family to a college campus and then paying tuition fees for several years from a salary that has just been abandoned the block release mode allows for ministers and employed persons to keep their ministry or income and study at the Seminary, only spending 1 week at a time on campus.
Instead of abandoning a church for a number of years and then returning only to find a heap of rubble (or worse) left of the previous church the minister can remain in the church and study as much as time and ministry allows.
Whatever has been studied can immediately be related (and tested) in real-life ministry. Churches can send candidates for training but don’t lose the candidates for the years of study but can still benefit from their growing spiritual maturity and depth.
Of course there are challenges as well …