Lifelong Learning & Technology: Implications for Faith Formation

The Pew Research Center recently published an interesting new study on how Americans utilize technology as a part of lifelong learning. While the study looked at all subjects of interest (i.e. from hobbies, to work, to new skills), we in ministry can apply many of the findings to our own design, planning, and conduct of lifelong faith formation opportunities for adults in our parishes.

Some key lessons for ministry:

The harvest is plenty! Almost 3/4 of adults consider themselves “lifelong learners.” Thus, if the adults in our midst care about their relationship with Jesus (this foundation has to come first–all too often we push learning before conversion), the vast majority will want to learn more.

Multiple [and virtual] locations matter. “By an 81% to 52% margin” adult learners are “more likely to cite a locale such as a high school, place of worship or library as the site at which personal learning takes place than they are to cite the internet.” Now, don’t use this as a reason to immediately discount online-learning–52% used the internet. That’s a lot.


Benefits align with parish life. Check out the benefits adults report from lifelong learning (see chart to the right). From a discipleship perspective, I see human formation, community formation for volunteer ministry service, and more all happening here. And, the adult learners consider these benefits, not a burden we’re heaping on them. Consider–are adults participating in lifelong faith formation experiencing these broad benefits?

Margins exist. The study found that, “As a rule, those adults with more education, household incomes and internet-connecting technologies are more likely to be participants in today’s educational ecosystem and to use information technology to navigate the world.” And, the same often goes for faith formation in parish life (or through diocese or regional centers). While faith formation for a life of discipleship certainly has an “educational” component and should use sound pedagogy–an overemphasis on intellectual formation can be a huge turn-off, and even an insurmountable barrier, to those with lower literacy levels and negative associations with “classrooms” and “schools.” Jesus desires that all come to know Him and the eternal life offered to us (starting now) as disciples–we must ensure that adult faith formation can fit the needs of those in our communities, especially those on the educational-margins.

New methods of learning are not widely known. This part mostly applies to deacon and lay ministry formation (facilitated by dioceses or other regional/national agencies). Distance learning, MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses), and Digital Badges are largely unknowns. We don’t leverage them well or in the nuanced ways to enhance formation (rather than merely substitute for F2F (face-to-face) learning). Currently models of formation are based on centralized institutional models, rather than competency models tailored for adult students and ministries with diverse needs. We have a huge opportunity to improve here and ultimately provide better formation for ministry that’s more economical and valuable for the ministries that need it the most.

Your thoughts? Anything else in the study with significant implications for adult faith formation?

One thought on “Lifelong Learning & Technology: Implications for Faith Formation

  1. I wasn’t familiar with digital badges, so I looked it up. Got me thinking about whether something similar to a Passport could be used to encourage a broad spectrum of learning/catechesis or evangelization. I’m thinking of something like the National Parks “Passport” where you get a stamp at each park that you visit. So, a Catechesis Passport could have pages with different topics on it, such as: read a book or attend a lecture about the Mass; Theology of the Body; Scripture; Catholic Social Teaching; etc.
    It could be a way of setting formation goals/expectations for those in your parish.


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