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Q & A: The world of online education

We asked Joyce M. Knestrick, RN, PhD, APRN, FNP-BC, FAANP, director of distance education and associate professor of nursing at the Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies in Washington, D.C., ( about online learning myths, what to consider and preparation students need before taking an online course.

Q: How is online learning different from being a student in a traditional classroom setting?

A: Online learning has the convenience of not being place-bound. Therefore, students can have access to a quality online program from an institution that is not otherwise geographically accessible. In addition, the flexibility of taking a class online is often necessary in today’s fast-paced world. Depending on the program and its delivery, the classes may be just as or more rigorous than a traditional classroom. Students cannot simply show up for classes, but must develop time-management skills, organizational tools and self-motivation strategies.

In Georgetown’s master of science degree in nursing program (, several techniques are used to engage students in learning online, including a flipped classroom approach where the students learn new content by lectures, videos and other assignments asynchronously (not time- and place-bound) and then meet in a synchronous (students in a class meet at the same time) session. During these sessions, students interact with the instructor and each other using case studies and other activities while faculty members provide guidance and interaction. This replaces the lecture-style teaching found in many traditional classrooms. Students in Georgetown’s program also take part in on-site intensives where their clinical skills are tested.

Q: How should a student prepare for taking an online course?

A: Students should prepare for an online course the same as they would with a traditional course. The student should have the time to devote to the course, course readings and preparation. Students should have the skill to work in a course-management platform and should have the proper computer, monitor, Internet connection and other required items such as headsets and perhaps telephone access. Students also need to make sure they have both physical and emotional support, and a quiet space for studying or synchronous sessions.

Q: What attributes do you recommend students consider when evaluating online programs?

A: Students should investigate the reputation of the program. and ask about the program’s academic quality and rigor. They should search for alumni comments, or if they know graduates of a program, talk to them. Besides examining the program and course offerings, including asynchronous and synchronous capabilities, students should determine which services are offered such as technical support, clinical placement, writing labs and counseling. They should note any on-campus experiences required to plan ahead. [Students also should] consider joining a student council or becoming a representative to committees for online students. They should evaluate programs based on their needs, expectations and learning styles.

Q: How big a learning curve might a nurse anticipate when diving into an online learning experience?

A: The biggest learning curve is budgeting enough time to devote to studies. That is the same for both online and traditional classes. As nurses, we often try to take on more than we can handle. Students should make sure the timing for further education and the modality is right for them. Juggling work, family and school is often the most difficult part of returning to school, so setting realistic expectations is important.

Q: What are the benefits and the drawbacks of online coursework?

A: The benefits are many. Flexibility and convenience are often the most commonly cited benefits. But I think the blend of different methods to present, analyze and discuss information to facilitate learning meets the needs of individuals with various learning styles. This is a great benefit of online learning. When students are active participants in the learning process, deeper learning and synthesis of the knowledge begins. As a lifelong learner who has used various types of distance education, I see few drawbacks. However, if a student needs to be involved with in-person social activities, such as sports; wants to live near campus or prefers one-on-one interaction, online courses may not be a good fit.

Q: What are some myths or misconceptions about online learning?

A: The biggest misconception about online learning is that it is not engaging nor as rigorous as campus-based programs. From my experience with Georgetown’s program, I can tell you that is not the case. Our faculty members work hard to ensure the online classroom experience and course materials are dynamic, while upholding the university’s strong academic standards. Of course, approaches vary. Prospective students should really take time to evaluate what the learning environment will be like before applying.

Q: What technology skills and/or equipment are necessary to make an online learning experience successful?

A: Students should know how to use the Internet and email, and how to post on a discussion board or wall. In addition, students need to know how to use products such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, and have access to reliable Internet services, such as cable or broadband as specified by the program. Each program will have specific computer specifications.

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

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