LSTC’s Project Starling: Embracing Asynchronous Learning for a Global Audience

Three online learners share a screen for class.

In November, the staff and faculty of the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (LSTC) proposed an innovative approach to the Board of Directors: a strategic plan to extend the seminary’s educational reach through asynchronous learning. This initiative, known as Project Starling, aims to address a crucial question: how can LSTC connect with the myriad potential learners who are currently beyond its reach?

The need for such an initiative stems from the recognition that traditional learning models—expensive graduate programs requiring relocation or rigidly scheduled online courses—pose significant barriers while also identifying the diverse range of learners, both domestically and globally, that LSTC has yet to fully support. 

These barriers are particularly pronounced for those living across different time zones or those unable to afford tuition fees. Many prospective learners desire access to LSTC’s wide-ranging educational offerings but are hindered by these constraints.

Some of these learners are preparing for programs like Theological Education for Emerging Ministries, known as TEEM, or are Synodically Authorized Ministers called SAM, and they seek the necessary resources to be adequately prepared. However, not all learners are interested in church service roles. Instead, they may simply desire to be better leaders within their congregations or to become more faithful disciples. Project Starling aims to provide the educational opportunities these individuals need to fulfill their spiritual and leadership goals, regardless of their specific ministry interests.

Project Starling seeks to dismantle these barriers by providing a diverse array of asynchronous learning resources. Unlike conventional courses, asynchronous learning allows students to access materials and engage in learning activities at their convenience. This model is akin to consuming podcasts, recorded webinars, or online courses in various subjects—flexible, on-demand learning tailored to individual schedules.

The project promises more than simple recorded lectures. It incorporates pedagogically designed interactive elements such as quizzes, reflective exercises, group discussions, and journaling to create a rich, engaging educational experience. By leveraging these tools, LSTC aims to replicate the depth and engagement of traditional classroom settings in an asynchronous format.

Named after the murmuration of starlings, where thousands of birds move in a synchronized, fluid cloud, Project Starling embodies the rapid, cohesive effort required to launch this initiative. Just as starlings align closely with one another, the LSTC leadership and community must work in concert to bring this project to fruition.

Most importantly, Project Starling will expand, not replace, LSTC’s existing degree programs and courses. It is designed to provide continuing education opportunities for those unable to commit to a full-time degree, thereby broadening the institution’s overall impact and accessibility.

In the coming months, LSTC will begin developing these asynchronous offerings, marking a significant step forward in its mission to provide inclusive, flexible theological education to a global audience.

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