What to Expect from an Online Nursing Program
You know what to expect in a traditional classroom, and even if you've never attended nursing school before, it's a given that you'll be spending some time in a lab setting to learn hands-on skills. But what can you expect from an online nursing program? And even more importantly, what will be expected of you?
Online Learning Has Evolved
With advancements in technology, educators have made great strides in providing quality teaching in digital form. While many people assume that the online classroom doesn't afford as good an education as the traditional one, this is not the case. Innovations in online learning experiences have allowed teachers to truly engage with their students. Technology allows students to attend "class" anywhere, anytime, making higher education available to more people than ever before. Single mom with no childcare? No problem. Need to work full time and schedule classes around your job? You can do it. With today's online learning capabilities, there's nothing out of reach, including nursing.
New Models of Higher Education
In the past, teachers have taken the primary role in educating students. They provide the information, which the students then absorb and regurgitate back to the teacher. In this model, students take a very passive role in learning. They are not actively seeking any information; they must only take in the information that is given to them. This style of learning is still very much used in education today, both in primary and higher education settings.
However, technology has enabled teachers to take a back seat and for students to take a more active role in their own learning. Teachers become more of a guide than the provider of all pertinent information, and students take responsibility for their education. They utilize technology in new ways to gather information, and in doing so, they shape their learning experience. Students who are more active in their education tend to become emotionally invested in the outcome and subsequently retain more information. Learning spaces are being redesigned at all levels of schools to enable students to take a more active part in how they are educated.
Online learning is often an excellent solution for prospective nursing students with unique needs and different learning styles. However, there are some students that still thrive best in a traditional learning environment. For example, it's difficult for an online classroom to convey nonverbal cues that help visual learners to better absorb information. Other students prefer to have a face-to-face interaction with their instructor. While video chat is often available to create a more concrete connection between teachers and students, this may not be enough for some people. They may want to engage with their instructor in person and may have difficulty having conversations with teachers via email, chat, or over the phone.
Additionally, traditional nursing programs differ significantly from their online counterparts in communication styles. In a traditional learning environment, nursing students are taught to write as little as possible to convey the necessary information. The increased charting requirements for electronic health records often mean that nurses don't have much time for documentation. Often, nurses keep track of things by using checklists, because they can be completed in very little time. Nurses who receive their education and training online may undergo more extensive writing instruction. This is particularly true because the majority of communication in an online classroom occurs in written form. Students for whom writing is challenging may want to consider seeking traditional nursing education. However, students who enjoy writing and who come by the skill easily may thrive in an online classroom. Individuals deciding between traditional or online schooling should consider their own personal communication style and how they learn best in mind when making a final decision.
The Benefits of Online Programs
Although different types of learners function better in different types of learning environments, there are still significant benefits to online nursing programs.
One of the most compelling features of online nursing programs is flexibility. Classwork can be done at any time of day or night, and lab work can usually be done at a local hospital. Online nursing courses allow students to pursue their education without having to change or quit their job, or making personal sacrifices. Although it may be challenging, it's possible to work full time and attend nursing school, allowing students to draw an income and support themselves while they further their education. This is particularly true for higher education. Nurses seeking a master's degree or nurse practitioner's license are often already working in the nursing field and need school to be flexible enough to work around their schedule. Stay-at-home parents can pursue an education while caring for their children, something that many other education fields do not offer.
Access to the Same Top-Notch Faculty as Campus Programs
There's a common misconception that faculty members with more education or higher credentials work in traditional classrooms and faculty members with lesser education and credentials work in online classrooms. This is far from accurate! Both on-campus and online programs employ top-notch faculty members to educate students. Professors often want to teach online for many of the same reasons that students want to learn online. Teachers also enjoy the flexibility of online classes, especially when they have families and personal commitments that make their schedule hectic. There are excellent teachers in both types of classrooms -- traditional and online.
No Back Row
Class participation is very different in an online classroom than a traditional one. In a regular classroom, the teacher gives a lecture while students take notes. Grades are given for papers and exams, and participation typically isn't required. Some teachers will ask more questions of their students than others, however, it's very easy to sit in the back row and avoid participating. In an online classroom, participation is a requirement, although it's in a bit of a different format than a traditional classroom. Students participate in class discussions via online forums, and there's not really a back row.
Many students enjoy being able to formulate their answer before they post it. They can reflect on the question asked by the teacher and points brought up by their classmates before creating a response. Students who are shy about speaking in public often don't raise their hands to ask questions in a traditional classroom, meaning they are less engaged in the content being presented.
How to Choose an Online Program
Selecting an online nursing program can seem overwhelming. It's difficult to know right off hand which program is the right one for you, and there are so many good programs available. The most important things to consider when you're looking for an online nursing program are the quality of the education you'll receive, your professional goals, and your financial needs.
It's important to select a school that has a good reputation. Although this isn't the most important factor, how a school ranks should at least be considered. Although it really boils down to what you think and how you feel about a school, it's good to know what others have said for and against any online program, you're looking at. However, keep in mind that rankings and reviews should be evaluated based solely in comparison to your needs and goals.
Although school ranks and reviews don't play a significant role in the decision-making process, accreditation does. State Boards of Nursing typically only accept credits from accredited schools and online nursing programs. Credits obtained from a non-accredited program or school are not likely going to be accepted by the Board of Nursing, which often results in the denial of licensure. The classes end up being a waste of time and money, and the hopeful nurse walks away with nothing. It is in your best interest to explore only nursing programs that are accredited. The school or online program you're interested in should be accredited by either of the following accrediting bodies:
- Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
- National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC)
Clinical Training - Who Are the Cooperating Healthcare Providers?
A significant part of BSN and MSN programs is clinical or lab work. At a traditional nursing school, clinicals are usually completed on-site or at a nearby medical facility, usually a hospital. Online nursing programs still require hands-on training and experience, however, clinicals can be done at a medical facility in the area that you live in, or somewhere nearby. Lab work is crucial to nursing education experience. Nurses must be able to correctly apply theories of nursing to real-life situations. Clinicals are done under the supervision and guidance of a qualified registered nurse preceptor. The preceptor and practicum arrangements are typically arranged by the school for undergraduate programs, however, graduate programs often allow students to select their preceptor and practicum arrangements.
Length of Time to Degree Completion
Consider each program's length of time to degree completion before you make your choice. Determine what fits best with your professional goals, your finances, and your personal life. You should also consider that accelerated programs often require more time commitment than other types of programs. While the 12-month program may look enticing, it may require several more hours a day than the 18-month or 24-month program. Weigh the time to degree completion against the workload you think you will be able to take on. If you have a full-time job, it may not be wise to enroll in an accelerated online nursing program. However, if you have the means, an accelerated program can help you get your degree faster and get you out into the field sooner.
Does the Online Program Offer Support Services?
Another important consideration is whether or not the online nursing program offers support services. Find out how you can get in touch with someone if you come up against challenges during the program. Is there a phone number to call? Does the program have staff members who are easily reachable? It's good to have several ways of communicating with the faculty of the program you plan on attending. A school or program that only offers email as a way to get in touch is highly suspect. Make sure you are able to contact a person with the program before signing on the dotted line.
Types of Online Nursing Degree Programs
There are several different online nursing degree programs. What you choose depends largely on whether or not you have any previous nursing education and what your professional goals are.
Online Associate Nursing Programs
An online associate nursing program is a shorter nursing program and it allows individuals with no experience in nursing to start their careers. Upon graduating an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), an individual becomes a Registered Nurse (RN). However, ADN-holding RN's do not have as much responsibility as a BSN-holding RN, nor are they as involved in patient care. However, many nurses choose to get their ADN first so they can become employed in the nursing field while obtaining the rest of their education.
Online LPN to BSN Programs
An LPN is a nurse that has obtained a diploma or certificate for Licensed Practical Nursing. In some states, this is called Licensed Vocational Nursing. LPN's typically work in nursing homes or hospitals and responsible for basic care such as checking vitals, bathing, and transporting patients. An LPN can obtain their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), after which they will be able to work in an RN capacity at hospitals, private physicians' offices, and other medical facilities.
Online RN to BSN Programs
An ADN-holding RN can obtain their BSN online, usually in just a year or two. Obtaining a BSN gives nurses more responsibility and autonomy in the workplace, and also prepares them for continued education in the nursing field.
Online BSN Programs
For individuals who want to go straight to a BSN, online BSN programs are available. No prior nursing education or experience is required.
Online Accelerated BSN Programs
Some individuals want to get on the fast track to getting their BSN degree. Accelerated programs are available, which are typically completed in one to two years instead of four.
Online Nursing Masters Programs
Nurses that have their BSN degrees can go on to get their Master's of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree online. Because a nurse with a BSN degree already has a great deal of clinical experience, many BSN to MSN degrees are strictly online and do not require additional hands-on experience.
Online Nurse Practitioner Programs
To become a nurse practitioner, an individual must have an MSN degree. They typically also must complete coursework specific to the specialty they want to go into. Family nursing is the most common nurse practitioner program, however, other programs are available. Nurse practitioners work in all fields of medicine, including neonatal care, pediatrics, family care, and adult-gerontology.
Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs
One of the specialties that a nurse practitioner can choose is psychiatric or mental health. A psychiatric nurse practitioner is responsible for treating patients similar to how a psychologist or psychiatrist would and helps develop treatment plans, medication plans, and more. An MSN is a minimum requirement for becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner, and these types of nurses often work in psychiatric hospitals and private practices.
Pursuing an Online Nursing Program
Choosing to pursue a nursing degree - either online or otherwise - is commendable. It's exciting to embark on a new path to a stable career that can help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Whether your desire is to be on the forefront of medical advancement or to provide financially for your family, pursuing a nursing career can help you do that. Technology has advanced enough to allow nurses to obtain an excellent education, from anywhere at any time. Before choosing an online nursing program, be sure to do your research. Make sure your school or program is accredited and will be a good fit for you personally, financially, and professionally.