2019 Community Outreach Survey: Preliminary Results are Encouraging

In June, the Wilmette Institute sent a survey invitation to nearly 2,000 learners who had either not taken a course in four or more years, or who had never logged in. The purpose was to help the Institute improve its services to the learning community by finding out what barriers exist that prevent learners from completing and continuing their studies. A full report is being prepared for the benefit of the Institute’s faculty and staff. All responses will be kept confidential/anonymous. Administrative staff have already begun to consult on these results, and to act on a few of several insightful comments and suggestions. The Institute is very grateful for the candor, support, and encouragement it has received.

Overall statistics

Seventy-two persons have completed the online survey, and six sent their surveys by email. The charts below are from the online results only, but they mirror the overall trends very closely.

Course Offerings

About 1/4 of the respondents said there were courses they would like to take that are not offered. However, several of the courses they suggested are in fact now being offered, including:

  • talking about race in the Bahá’í Community
  • courses about government and applying principles of the Faith
  • courses re: the Báb’s Writings, letters of Shoghi Effendi (as single books)
  • The Aqdas
  • Arts . . . from a spiritual perspective
  • courses relating to the Text of the Faith – history, translation, etc

One interesting suggestion for the future was: “Study Arabic or Persian sacred text side-by-side with English, at various levels.”

Course Timing

Since 2018 the Institute has improved on course promotion and coordination so that learners can plan ahead. Students can now register using an online Schedule. The Institute plans to put its 2020 courses online by the end of Fall 2019.

New course catalog. The Institute is putting together a catalog listing all of its courses by Department/Section. If a course you are interested in is not on the schedule, you will be able to put yourself on a waiting list to be notified when the course is scheduled.

Reasons to return

A little more than 1/3 of respondents were unsure about taking another Wilmette Institute course in the future, while about 60% said they would. In fact, a few survey respondents are already registered in a new course, and the Institute is offering a $20 Gift Voucher to anyone who participated in the survey. The survey is still open, so if it has been 4 years or more since you last took a course with us, please add your voice to the survey, then email the Registrar for your Gift Voucher.

Survey Link https://forms.gle/gz6mK9anYSDwFrAw8 
Registrar’s email learn@wilmetteinstitute.org

Removing Obstacles

Perhaps the most important questions in this survey were those about the obstacles that prevent people from taking Wilmette Institute courses. As the pie chart below shows, more than half of the respondents said there were obstacles to overcome, and the major obstacle (for 53% of respondents) was Time.

The second biggest obstacle (38%) was lack of funds, and the third (16%) was difficulties with using Moodle. Let’s look at them one by one.

Lack of funds. The survey asked respondents whether they would apply for tuition support if they needed it. Thirty-one percent said no. Most respondents in this category said they were shy about asking for help because they don’t want to take away the funds of the Faith, or they think other people are needier than they are. The truth is however, that the Wilmette Institute is independent of the Bahá’í Funds. Applying for tuition support has absolutely no impact on the funds of the Faith. Tuition support funds are obtained from generous donors who support the Institute in addition to giving to Bahá’í funds.

An alternative to scholarships: An important but little-known part of the Institute’s tuition support system is the installment plan option. The Institute provides interest-free installment payment plans. After a down payment of $10.00, the tuition fee is split and spread out over a 3 or 4 month period. Installment payments are charged by the Institute directly (and securely) to the learner’s credit card, and an email receipt is generated.

Difficulties using Moodle. Over the years, Moodle has made many improvements to its educational software. The public in general is also becoming more and more educated about using the Internet, and faculty, as well, are better today at assisting and mentoring students. The Institute has published Moodle tutorials to assist learners in navigating the website, and one-on-one assistance can be arranged with the Registrar.

Time—the biggest obstacle

The Wilmette Institute is looking into ways to help its learners overcome this obstacle, and you may be able to help. If you have completed one or more WI courses, despite having a busy life and not much spare time, we’d like to hear how you did it. Please click the link below to take a 12-question survey on time management. It should take 5 or 6 minutes. Your answers will help us determine how we can help others to do the same.

How Do You Manage Your Time?

On the other hand, if you feel you need help with time management, we recommend these resources.

Likes and dislikes

There were more likes than dislikes. Here is a small sample of some of the most typical comments.


  • I especially enjoyed the class where we met occasionally as a group.
  • The teachers and recommended materials were outstanding.
  • The thorough treatment of the material.
  • The course was accessible at various times, i.e. it wasn’t always a set time and day needed for “attendance”.
  • Aided me in developing and applying concrete action plans to subject matter explored.
  • Gave me knowledge and insight from a viewpoint not seen before.

Dislikes (plus Wilmette Institute responses)

  • Sometimes I felt overwhelmed by the amount of work.
    • Consult with your faculty mentor about which readings are most essential. You can skip any reading that seems difficult for you. Time management tips (above) may also be helpful.
  • So much reading. My eyes are not the best. Is it possible to get recordings of materials?
    • There are free software programs that can read your computer screen for you. Ask your local computer whiz kid for help.
  • The pace was too fast for me and my partner to keep up.
    • If it’s truly impossible to set aside time each day, you can try setting your own pace. Your faculty mentor will understand if you need to take two weeks for each unit instead of one. Just keep going. You will still receive your certificate, even if your self-assessment is late.
  • Not being in person. Limitations of my internet.
    • If possible, consider using the Internet at a local library. Many libraries open late at least a few nights a week, and the Internet service is usually good. You can also ask your faculty mentor for a one-on-one Zoom meeting or phone call. Some courses offer live webinars to participants.
  • The website was too confusing. I couldn’t figure out how to keep up.
  • Interaction with other students through the forums is theoretically great but quickly became overwhelming.
    • You can change your Moodle forum settings so that you only receive one email per day, with a digest of the day’s posts. You can also turn off emails completely, and only read the posts you choose to read when you visit the course website.

Additional feedback: extremely encouraging

Again, there are way too many comments to publish them all, but here are a few that we thought worth mentioning. The Institute is very grateful for everyone’s responses, and we look forward to hearing from more of you.

  • Really appreciate the quality of the courses and the devotion and flexibility with which they’re run!
  • I appreciate your dedication and hard work! Keep doing what you are doing. It is an excellent, helpful service.
  • Your courses are excellent. My challenge is finding the time to devote to them.
  • I was awed and proud at your efforts and presence at the last World Congress of Religions! I especially enjoyed your live chats.
  • Thank you so very much for WI. Immeasurably beneficial & essential to my life. I am not exaggerating. Next to prayer, it is my “window” to the Writings.
  • You do a great job. I’m really impressed by what I learned, and the quality of instructors.
  • Thanks for all your service, WI, no doubt you are assisting humanity to progress to that stage ‘Abdu’l-Bahá envisioned, “Whatever other children learn in a year, let Bahá’í children learn in a month.”



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