An estimated 33% of all college students take at least one online class (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Online classes are offered across a wide range of domains, including courses designed for spiritual development. Little research exists examining students' experiences in these types of classes. The purpose of this research is to help address this gap by describing the phenomenon of spiritual growth in an online religious education course. Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYU-Idaho) offers online courses designed to help students grow spiritually. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten students who took one of these classes and who reported positive gains in spirituality as a result of the course on an end-of-course survey. Interviews focused on two major ideas: First, how did students describe the difference between previous face-to-face religious education experiences and their experience in the online course? Second, what elements of the online course encouraged spiritual growth? Ideas from each interview were combined to create some key observations and a potential model for online religious education that reflects these observations. Findings suggest participants took a great deal of ownership of their own spiritual journey. The online course encouraged this through a curriculum that was flexible enough for students to explore, yet at the same time provided a structured environment for growth. Reflection through writing appeared to be important for students' success. Participants felt online instructors played a less prominent role in their spiritual journey than face-to-face instructors. The online course appeared to change the traditional role of the instructor from one who provides direct instruction into one who acts more as a guide and a facilitator. Interactions between students appeared to have minimal impact on spiritual growth as this particular course was designed, but some interviews suggest this is an area for potential impact.



College and Department

David O. McKay School of Education; Instructional Psychology and Technology



Date Submitted


Document Type





online learning, religious education, spirituality, spiritual growth