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Online learning has evolved into a process that provides flexibility, consistency, and adaptability to students' social and learning needs and a profitable industry for colleges and universities (Simpson, 2006). The benefit of online learning for students and specifically nursing students is the ability to attend classroom courses without ever leaving their home or work. Online learning has opened new doors to students who otherwise, because of work or family constraints, could not attend a traditional nursing program. Students who live in rural communities with limited access to colleges and universities are provided the opportunity for career development. Online learning is not just for undergraduate students, but it can also incorporate the needs of nurses who want to advance their practice.


The asynchronous learning environment allows the student and the instructor to be in class at different times. A benefit of online learning is the actual commitment of the student to learning. Without the stress and expenses of travel, the student has more time to focus on the course content. Cavanaugh ("Online Students Can Improve Overall Student Quality," 2006) found that the overall quality of students and their academic profiles provide evidence that online students performed better than did most traditional students. Most (75%) of the students online are women. The evidence provided indicates that women with additional responsibilities such as family and work need to have an avenue that provides an opportunity for career advancement without the worry of going to a traditional classroom setting.


Online learning is appropriate for associate, baccalaureate, master's, and doctoral degrees in nursing and other disciplines. Lack of knowledge about the rigors of these programs often results in negative comments about their validity and efficacy.



Lack of knowledge about the standards met, the qualifications of faculty, and the accuracy of content are not the only challenges met in an online course, there are also technological, environmental, and self-management challenges with which the learner may require assistance.


Technological challenges:


1. The ability to perform adequately in the online environment requires that students and instructors have reliable computers, fast Internet access, compatible software and software versions, and necessary peripheral devices. The temporary or permanent lack of any of these can compromise effective online learning.


2. Students and instructors need to have computer proficiency so that lack of computer knowledge does not lead to frustration, which compromises the online learning. The use of a computer test prior to enrolling in online courses can help ascertain an individual's comfort level with the technology required. Orientation sessions might be needed to help individuals lacking certain technological skills.



Environmental challenges:


1. Students and instructors must understand that the online environment is different from the traditional face-to-face classroom. Communication is generally only through words on a screen, so immediate feedback from the receiver is not relayed. It is important for all individuals to understand e-mail communication etiquette.


2. Because total online learning can often require a blended approach, some schools offersome "face time" classes, where students and instructors physically meet periodically. Although useful, this requirement can pose logistical challenges depending on where individuals reside.


3. Even with a blended approach, not all information is appropriate to the online learning environment. Courses need to be adequately assessed to evaluate this appropriateness.



Self-management challenges:


1. Students and instructors must recognize that the online environment still requires the same amount of time as a traditional classroom course. Often, students will prejudge an online course as being a quicker way to accomplish learning.


2. Group work done online can be an effective means of instructing. Students might find challenges in working with others in different time zones and with different work time habits (e.g., some people prefer to work during the day, whereas others prefer to work at night).




The following are principles to consider when selecting an academic nursing program delivered at a distance:


* The program is accredited (or seeking accreditation) through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education Accredited Programs or the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission Accredited Programs.


* The college/university is accredited by a regional accreditation body.


* If pre-licensure, the program is approved by the state Board of Nursing in the institution's home state and follows the Guidelines of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing-Distance Learning in Nursing Education.


* Students have access to faculty, services, and resources the same as with a traditional program.


* Orientation to the delivery system is provided prior to the beginning of instruction. Technical support is always available to students.


* Learners have ample means of communication with the faculty and staff.



When these principles have been met, the completion of the degree should be acknowledged in the workplace as having the same value as a degree earned in a face-to-face learning environment.




Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education Accredited Programs. (2006). Directory of accredited programs. Available May 30, 2006, from [Context Link]


National Council of State Boards of Nursing-. (2006). Distance learning in nursing education. Retrieved May 30, 2006, from [Context Link]


National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission Accredited Programs. Retrieved May 30, 2006, from [Context Link]


Online students can improve overall student quality. (2006, January). Recruitment & Retention in Higher Education, 20(1):5. [Context Link]


Simpson, R. (2006). See the future of distance education. Nursing Management: 37(2):42-51. Retrieved from [Position Statement Principles of Academic Nursing Education Programs delivered at a Distance]. [Context Link]

Section Description


Editor's Note


Beginning with this issue of the Journal for Nurses in Staff Development, the National Nursing Staff Development Organization (NNSDO) initiates the NNSDO Society Pages of JNSD. A society can be defined as a body of persons associated for a common purpose. The NNSDO advances the specialty practice of staff development for the enhancement of health-care outcomes. Staff development as a specialty of nursing practice is defined by standards, based on research, and critical to quality patient and organizational outcomes. NNSDO is committed to providing research and resources that enhance our practice locally, in each of our organizations. As we integrate staff development best practice in achieving our organizations' goals, we truly enhance health-care outcomes. As we focus on priorities, we enhance collaboration and provide valuable expertise in our organizations. This section will feature information written by staff development leaders on professional issues in nursing and health care as they affect staff development practice. We will share how the specialty organization, that is, NNSDO, has responded or plans to respond to the issue and give information on how individual staff development educators might be affected. As secretary of NNSDO, I serve as Editor of the NNSDO Section. Please feel free to submit articles, suggestions, and questions to me at [email protected] or [email protected].