I love it when history provides interesting templates for modern phenomena. The idea of multi-access education (as described in my last blog post), can be easily compared with the mobile Jesuit. How so? Read on!

Go Forth and Set the World on Fire

For centuries, monasteries served as centres for education and literacy, thereby preserving the best of western culture (Cahill, 1995). However, in 1541 CE, Ignatius Loyola disrupted the stationary monastery by introducing a mobile order called the Jesuits. This innovation freed monks from the geographic anchor of the monastery and encouraged them to take the discipline, premium on education, and spiritual energy of the monastery into the world. Successful beyond expectation, by the time of Loyola’s death, “the Jesuits were already operating a network of 74 colleges on three continents” (Woodbridge, 2013, p. 208).

See the World as Your Monastery:

In many ways, the Jesuit innovation provides an instructive allegory for considering the transformative power of multi-access education. “Instead of seeing the spiritual life as one that can exist only if it is enclosed by the walls of a monastery, Ignatius asks you to see the world as your monastery” (Martin, 2010, p. 12). Likewise, the vision for multi-access education does not constrain education to the walls of the university but aspires to provide learning opportunities “anytime, anywhere and any way” (Irvine, Code, & Richards, 2013).

At least some students who live within an hour’s distance of their university prefer it to F2F modalities. This confirms that “it is the flexibility rather than the distance that matters to these learners” (Bates, One reason this is true is that students have jobs and families and cannot afford to exit the world to go to university. It is striking how flexibility was also crucial for the Jesuits who have been described as “contemplatives in action” and as those who make the “road their home” (Martin, 2010, 12).

I Can Find God Whenever I Will:

Regardless of their location in the world, the Jesuit monk maintained a posture of study by engaging in the Spiritual Exercises, a daily meditation that Ignatius wrote on Scripture, prayer, and confession. This practice helped the individual monk feel connected to their order, motivated, and spiritually energized. By centring identity in the individual monk’s practice instead of the institution the Jesuit was able to say with Loyola: “I can find God whenever I will” (Dickens, 1968, 78).

Similarly, multi-access education shifts the locus of control away from the institution and places agency squarely in the hands of the learner. By contrast, much modern educational theory focused on instruction and assessment as the key ingredients of education, a move that makes the teacher responsible for learning (Pinar, 2006, 120). However, both ancient wisdom and postmodern theory focus on an individual’s “study as the site of education” (Pinar, 2006, 112). Study, by its very nature, must be self-motivated, and although a teacher can guide it, study is always the learner’s responsibility. 

For this reason, the “site of study” lies at the intersection between content and an individual student’s effort to make meaning out of their experience. Consequently, “[s]tudy arises not from compliance with instructions but from an aspiration to understand the shifting vicissitudes between self and circumstances” (Grimmett, 2014, 22). In other words, study is what produces genuine learning, because authentic learning happens when a student changes their life as a result of their study (Barrow and Woods, 2006, cited in LDRS 663, unit 2, topic 2). Likewise, because the Jesuits seek “to ‘find God in all things,’ the pedagogical approach of Jesuit schools emphasizes an individual’s agency while contextualizing it within a broader search for the common good” (Georgetown University, https://www.georgetown.edu/news/the-jesuit-mission-seeking-god-in-all-things/). 

Prioritizing Individuals, not the Institution:

The success of the Jesuit movement is mainly attributable to how it prioritized the success of individuals, not the success of the institution. “The Latin phrase associated with this Jesuit focus on the individual is cura personalis or ‘care of the whole person’” (Georgetown University). This motto describes well the teacher’s changing role according to the philosophical underpinnings of multi-access education. Instead of dictating the student’s learning experience, the teacher’s purpose is to encourage students to keep engaging the challenging task of study. In this light, the greatest challenge facing educational institutions (and the teachers within them) is whether they are capable of recasting their responsibility as those who care for the lives and needs of individual students instead of as experts who instruct and assess.


Bates, A. W. (2019). Teaching in a Digital Age – Second Edition. Tony Bates Associates Ltd. Retrieved from https://pressbooks.bccampus.ca/teachinginadigitalagev2/ 

Cahill, T. (1995). How the Irish Saved Civilization. Hodder and Stoughton.

Dickens, A. G. (1969). The Counter Reformation. Harcourt, Brace & World.

Georgetown University, The Jesuit Mission: Seeking God in All Things. (2019, September 26). Retrieved July 07, 2020, from https://www.georgetown.edu/news/the-jesuit-mission-seeking-god-in-all-things/

Grimmett, Peter P. 2014. Mayday! Mayday! Help me if you can, I’m feeling down: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education 13(2): 5–29. act.maydaygroup.or 

Irvine, V., Code, J., & Richards, L. (2013, June). Realigning higher education for the 21st century learner through multi-access learning. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9. Retrieved from http://jolt.merlot.org/vol9no2/irvine_0613.htm 

Martin, J. (2010). The Jesuit guide to (almost) everything : a spirituality for real life. HarperCollins Publishers. 

Pinar, W. (2006). The synoptic text today and other essays: curriculum development after the reconceptualization. Peter Lang. Table of contents http://www.loc.gov/catdir/toc/ecip0517/2005022562.html 

Trinity Western University. (2020, July). Topic 3: Study as the Site of Education. Retrieved July 7, 2020, from LDRS 663 OL: Transformational Blended Learning:  https://far.twu.ca/ldrs/663/multi-access-learning/topic-3

Woodbridge, J. D. (2013). Church History: The Rise and Growth of the Church in its Cultural, Intellectual, and Political Context.

Multi-Access Education and an Unexpected Allegory

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