Crossing the Technology Gaps Toward eLearning

Technology provides valuable tools for group preparation and group time.

Applying technology effectively in any situation is challenging, but I find it especially difficult in training because teachers and small group leaders must spend their time understanding the small group content and process. This leaves precious little time to learn new technology. It can be even more difficult in Christian education and discipleship because leaders serve almost exclusively in volunteer, part-time roles, greatly reducing group preparation time.

I recently transitioned out of my full-time ministry job with the Amy Foundation to take a project management position with Michigan State University, leading a project (PROM/SE) to improve K-12 mathematics and science education. The thrust of the 5-year project is to equip teacher leaders to lead change in the 65 school districts and 600+ buildings in which they teach. I think a major qualifier for me in the new position was the five years of experience I have managing the operations of an internet development company that specialized in online training and performance improvement. Online assessment, courseware, and courseware management systems was our "bread and butter." The K-12 project will rely heavily in transferring knowledge from the University through 1,400 teacher-leaders to their 6,000+ teacher peers of mathematics and science education.

It is also because of this experience that asked me to share insight in using technology-based training for small groups and their leaders. I believe most of what I have learned is transferable into a small group setting, and Gina (my wife) and I will be exploring ways to use technology more expansively in our personal ministry, the Coffee Shop Church.

Crossing the Gaps
There are at least two gaps that will make using online learning technology challenging in your small group and leadership development effort. The most helpful advice I can give you is to help you understand the two gaps in technology adoption that I have identified as it applies to education and training. Picture these gaps as chasms that stand between the promises made by technology and the realization of those promises. Allow me to take the perspective of a small group pastor or small group coach in explaining these challenges.

Gap #1 - Adoption of technology in group preparation time

As an example, the Bible Gateway on is a quick, easy way for group leaders to search for scriptures to include in their next group discussion. As a small group coach, you could reduce your leaders' preparation time by teaching them how to use this simple tool, but you have to cross the first chasm.

Standing in your way is your leaders' average technology capability, which can be broken down into the follow questions:

a) Access questions (e.g., Do they have access and sufficient bandwidth to the web?)
b) Comfort questions (e.g., Are they comfortable with using a web browser?)
c) Usability questions (e.g., Will they use the new tool after they understand how to use it?)

To cross the gap, you need to come to a consensus "yes" or "no" on all three questions before introducing the new tool.

The search tool is another basic example, but a good one. Let us assume all your leaders have access to the web. The search tool is straightforward and easy to use at a low bandwidth. Users quickly learn how to use it through explanations on the website and through trial and error.

So why not just type a quick email, notifying your leaders of the tool's existence and how it works? As a coach, you know that not every leader will cross the gap and adopt this learning technology just because you recommended it. Instead, at your next meeting, you will need to show them how easy the search tool is to access and use. You will want to point out the most convenient features, like the "cut-and-paste" feature into MS Word that maintains the existing formatting. Your leaders may not be familiar with this simple operation which, in itself, eliminates the need to retype scripture. You can also show them how to search for the same passage in 16 different versions at once.

I would also suggest coming up with a simple list of exercises or operations for the group leaders to do after the training meeting to practice using the tool. Offer a simple prize for anyone who completes the activity. In this way, you have addressed the comfort usability issues, paving the way to increased productivity in your leaders' group preparation.

Gap #2 - Adoption of technology into group time

Consider this example--the power of short, well-made video clips to transform a small group meeting, church service, or presentation is incredible at stimulating conversation, but just turning a video clip on can be a challenge for small group leaders. It would be for me.

Websites like and have awesome Christian-themed video clips that can bring numerous Biblical topics alive for your audience, regardless of size, but there are problems faced by every small group leader:

a) Access questions (e.g., Do I have the bandwidth, right browser, and "plug-in" to view and download the clips?)
b) Comfort questions (e.g., Do I understand how to download the clips?; How do I pay for them?; What are the use restrictions?; How do I play them so my entire group can see it?)
c) Usability questions (e.g., OK, so I downloaded them, how do I effectively weave it into our discussion?)

As a coach, to cross this gap and provide entry for your group leaders into the powerful world of video clips, you need to train them to use these tools. I would start with demonstrating the power of video in group discussion. Hold a simulated small group meeting and use a couple of the very good video clips to start a discussion. The goal is to achieve buy-in from your leaders for using video clips. Buy-in is very important.

Once everyone is excited, take a survey to determine how many of your leaders 1) have ever downloaded a video clip, and 2) have the bandwidth to do it. Partner the inexperienced with the experienced and the dial-up leaders with those with broadband. Then, using the same hands-on method for bridging the gap, show them how to use one or both websites I mentioned and give them an exercise or two to try it on their own. Do not forget to anticipate their questions and have answers ready.

These exercises are invaluable, and the partnering will create accountability and camaraderie. (Many times leaders have to burn CDs or DVDs in order to play the video shorts for their groups, and this adds another layer of technology capacity. Perhaps you can develop a strategy to share downloaded clips or centralize the downloads.)

While technology adoption can be a frustrating activity for any organization, it does not have to be. By understanding the gaps I have discussed, one can develop the requisite empathy and patience to help others cope with change and to learn—two essential discipleship character qualities.

The Apostle Paul admonished Timothy to practice empathy and patience in 1Timothy 5:1-2: "Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity." Armed with this perspective, you can apply my suggested techniques for closing the gaps and help your leaders to cross the chasms. Better yet, you can devise your own techniques. It is simple once you see the challenges from the other person's perspective.

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