Online Education: Not Our Understanding of the Human Person

This blog is in response to Professor Blum’s article Catholic Distance Education: What would Newman say? 

NB Professor Blum was one of my professors at the Augustine Institute.

About a decade and a half ago, I began my inquiry into pursuing higher education in theology. I approached a prominent and well-regarded institute to determine my candidacy. During the course of the interview, I asked about the fledgling industry of distance education. The quick response to my query was, “That does not fit our understanding of the human person.” As this institute was known for its emphasis on the human person, I took that objection quite seriously, and so my quest for deeper learning in theology came to a screeching halt.

I had seven children at home spread across four schools, in two states, and the District of Columbia. My home calendar, before iCal, had five colored pens attached to it. Woe to the person who thought they needed one of those pens. The traffic to the institute easily could have been 1 hour each way from my home. With my nerves frayed I would have been a poor student, wife, and mother.

A second barrier was the typical scheduling of classes, three-hour blocks, at times, which conflicted with my duties as a wife and mother. Day courses perhaps could have been managed, perhaps, but for my family and my temperament, evening courses could not. I had to be honest about these limitations, and so I thought an MA in theology was not a fit for me at this time.

A few years ago, after having started my advanced theology degree, I had an occasion to visit this same institute. I had started my education at the Augustine Institute, wary of the approach to the human person. With those caveats in my mind, I approached my online course work with these tips in mind.

To be completely transparent, these tips were developed by me to counter the concerns expressed the not-to-be-named Institute years earlier. My successful online learning is a result of being challenged about the notion of the human person. Prof Blum does an excellent and generous detailing of the handicaps of online courses, which rests on Newmanian understanding of the human person.

Blum reminds me of Thomas Aquinas’ objections found in the Summa Theologiae. Aquinas, in presenting his proofs, would begin with objections of his interlocutors. He would frame the objections succinctly, strongly, with charity better than his opponents could muster. So too Blum, who rightly considers the limitations of online education, and then offers practical solutions. [My blog post does much the same.]

Recently, I asked the new admission’s director of the same institute again about the opinion of online courses. Again, the stock response of, “That is not our understanding of the human person” was given. I did not argue, but as a seasoned online student, with on-campus instruction during the summer, I found the retort less satisfying than I had previously.

I had experienced Newman’s approach to education, in an online format, and had been greatly enriched by it. The fruits of this rich education were immediate and far-reaching. Though I trimmed my activities to facilitate my education pursuits, I nonetheless was involved in the community. If I had not been exposed to the great philosophers and theologians, my ability to serve would have suffered.

Insights gained enriched my family life as well. I have a wide range of ages with my children, so a wide range of approaches and answers are needed. A foundational approach to sapiential learning facilitates this ability. Articulating a proof from Aquinas for the existence of God is still satisfying. How to do this for both a 36 year old and 16 year old requires prior education from a gifted professor.

Gratitude is the word that immediately comes to mind for this professor and education. The opportunity to drink deeply of these minds via an online platform is a gift for many. Augustine Institute faithfully re-images the concept of the human person. Going to the modern day street, which is the Internet, the ‘pearl of great price’. Truly, this is in the pattern of Newman’s concern for all.

I made a vlog of my educational journey. It can be accessed at this link

I have been approved for a video channel on When uploading to my video channel commences, vlogs and photos will be accessed there.

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