Catechesis has always been a dynamic field. While the core content remains the same, our methodology evolves as technology advances and events and circumstances shape the needs of our church. If we consider what we are hearing today about the hopes, challenges, and frustrations of catechetical leaders and reflect upon this in light of current trends in general education, several key themes emerge. Here are four trends that I believe will change catechesis in 2017 and beyond.
1. Differentiated instruction/multisensory methodology. In general education over the past 20 years, there has been an increasing recognition that not everyone learns in the same way. Advances in neurocognitive research have helped us understand this better and to adopt a prescriptive approach to different learning styles. Consequently, in a modern classroom, we see various multisensory strategies at work. Learning activities and materials incorporate various senses – there are auditory and visual stimuli as well as hands-on approaches for kinesthetic learners. Learners are working not only individually, but also in pairs and small groups to complete learning tasks. The days of lectures and discussions are largely gone, and texts are increasingly replaced by audiovisual technology. These approaches help to keep learners engaged, they speak to the unique learning style of each individual, and they help to meet special learning needs.
2. Enhanced reality. The ubiquity of smartphones, tablets and other devices and the development of enhanced reality technologies (e.g. “Pokémon Go”) have tremendous implications for catechesis. Imagine a church in which point-of-use catechesis was available through enhanced reality. For example, when aiming the camera on their device at the holy water font, a learner could see video- or text-based catechesis on holy water and why Catholics bless themselves when entering a church. Churches could also customize the enhanced reality experience to use their own stained glass windows, icons, and other objects as teaching tools.
3. Virtual reality. Virtual reality technology has become inexpensive and portable. This will mean that in the very near future, nearly everyone will have access to virtual reality technology in the same way the majority of the population has access to smartphone technology today. The implications here for religious education are enormous. Just to cite one example: Imagine that instead of hearing or reading a Scripture account, we could step inside a portrayal of that account – actually being present as Jesus calls his disciples or preaches the Sermon on the Mount.
4. Virtual classrooms and social media integration. For good or for ill, people are meeting less in person and more virtually. Educational technology companies have revolutionized university classes and created virtual classrooms that integrate with social media so people can “gather” for learning sessions in a more natural way and continue the discussion on social media. This has great implications for catechist and catechetical leader training and perhaps eventually for younger learners or their families in catechetical sessions.
We share a timeless message, but in a changing word, we must be willing to constantly re-envision our methodology. Here’s to an exciting future in catechesis!