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Online learning: Will it work for you?

For RNs considering an advanced degree or furthering their educations, taking an online program is one route. However, prospective students should carefully consider whether online studies will be a good match.

Start with self-assessment

Taking the plunge starts with a careful survey of what’s out there and which choice best fits your learning style and lifestyle.

Beth A. Brooks, RN, PhD, FACHE, president of Resurrection University, Chicago, Ill., suggests self assessing via an online survey such as this one:

Brooks recommends RNs consider their lifestyle. “Online learning is not as structured as a traditional classroom setting, so you have to find a way to carve out time for it. With “online [courses], you have more flexibility, but you must have the discipline to set aside time from your family, your job.”

“Ask yourself, what am I willing to give up [to make time for online coursework]?” said Kathy A. Baker, RN, PhD, ACNS-BC, FAAN, associate professor and director, division of nursing graduate studies and scholarship at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

She suggests students look at online learning as if they’re still driving to a school and going to a classroom as a way of making time for school.

“Choose an evening or afternoon as your class day,” she said.

“But don’t expect once or twice a week to be enough.”

Baker said students who take online courses typically must sign on to their program every 24-48 hours, and they need to plan for time to interact with classmates every other day at a minimum.

Online programs may be asynchronous, meaning coursework can be completed at any hour, 24/7.

Some online discussions may meet at a specific time (synchronous).

Other online programs incorporate video content.

Program selection tips

Accreditation – both regional and national – is crucial, Brooks said. Many online schools obtain national accreditation, but students may find their credits are not as easily transferable unless the school also is regionally accredited.

RNs should look for the logos on the school’s website or ask about accreditation during the admissions process. Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and National League of Nursing Accrediting Commission are the standard accrediting bodies. Both list accredited online nursing programs on their websites.

Evaluating the faculty is also wise, said A. Jean Pickus, RN, MSN, online regional director of academic affairs, College of Health Sciences and Nursing at University of Phoenix.

“Faculty should be experts in their field, and be working in their field,” she said.

Baker added it’s very important to know whether the faculty has expertise in online teaching.

She also thinks students should know whether the faculty has worked together to build the curriculum.

“You want the faculty to have a group approach,” Baker said. “Some programs hire faculty just to teach a class here or there, but the faculty at large don’t know each other.” A lack of unified faculty approach could result in courses that aren’t linked to each other and don’t build off of each other, she said.

Brooks said prospective students should make sure library resources, career services, counselors with distance learning experience, and tech support are all there.

What makes a strong online learner?

Many prospective online students don’t grasp how online learning differs from a campus setting.

“Realize that being an online learner is not easier,” Brooks said. “I often hear students say online courses are harder.” Pinkus said online courses are more time-intensive because of requirements for logging in often and interacting with faculty and other students.

“Online learning requires more of you,” Baker said. “You’ll be asked to demonstrate more depth than in a regular classroom, but the payoff is that you learn more.” She advises students to be comfortable with digging deeper on their own.

Baker said students shouldn’t be be shy about asking questions or saying they don’t understand. She encourages students to be OK with being vulnerable, which might mean disagreeing with another student’s perspective.

Students should be transparent and willing to interact, Pinkus said, adding the online environment may make it easier for a shy student to speak up. She advises prospective students to consider how important face-to-face contact is.

“Students must look within themselves and understand if they can fit into this modality,” she said.

Expect to interact abundantly with other students, and participate actively in online discussions, Brooks said. “Engage in the process,” she said. “Don’t just sit back and watch the class go by. Reflect. Synthesize the readings and assignments and bring that to the online discussion. You’ll learn as much from classmates as you will from the faculty.”

Some students thrive in the online learning environment. Baker said students have told her they’ve gotten more out of online courses because they had to be more responsible for their own learning. She said another way to get a feel for the program is to talk to online students. At TCU, she said alumni of online programs are happy to answer questions for inquiring RNs.

“Know what you’re getting into, and have your eyes open,” Baker said.

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By | 2014-08-17T00:00:00-04:00 August 17th, 2014|Categories: National|0 Comments

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