Years ago, students had only one option for advancing their education – a “brick and mortar” school. Today, students also have the option of earning their degree from an online degree program offered by accredited colleges and universities that choose to put their academics in an Internet classroom. Attending classes online is known as distance learning. In her interesting article, The Case for Distance Education in Nursing, Dr. Cheryl Holly “presents the case for increased distance education course offerings in nursing education as a way of addressing the United States shortage of nurses.”
Details on Distance Learning
In a traditional nursing classroom, the teacher and all the students are gathered in one place. With distance learning, everyone may be in a different place over many different time zones. All students may “log on” to do their work at different times, offering the utmost in flexibility. The changing demographics of student nurses have fostered these convenient alternative options. In recent years, older students have begun to outnumber the typical college-aged student. These students tend to be quite busy; they are usually working adults with family responsibilities. A traditional classroom environment is usually out of the question for these students due to other life responsibilities such as carpooling children, maintaining a job and caring for infants or elderly parents.
Per Dr. Holly, online education is the “fastest growing educational endeavor of the last decade,” mostly due to the flexibility and lower costs while offering identical quality. For additional information, reading the article published by the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching can be informative.
Specific Advantages of Distance Learning
- Convenience to work at your own pace
- Flexibility for both location and scheduling
- Access anywhere, 24/7
- Highly qualified instructors, usually the same professors who teach the traditional on-campus nursing classes.
- Cost savings on room, board, dining, clothes, gas and other transportation costs
- Streaming videos that make an online classroom come alive (due to improvements in broadband connections)
- Connecting with fellow students a reality (due to a online chat sessions)
- Real time conversation with a group of students (due to online discussion boards)
These technological improvements open the door to personal and professional fulfillment. Benefits to earning a higher degree in nursing may include (1) qualifying for management or teaching positions, (2) becoming eligible for board certification, and (3) attaining better opportunities at high salaries.
The Future of Nursing
A result of a two-year effort, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), released a landmark report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. It was felt that nurses should be an integral part in shaping the future of our nation’s healthcare; and that transforming the nursing profession was required. They released four key messages and eight recommendations, many which relate to the advancing education of nurses.
The Future of Nursing Key Messages:
- Nurses should practice to the full extent of their education and training.
- Nurses should achieve higher levels of education and training through an improved education system that promotes seamless academic progression.
- Nurses should be full partners, with physicians and other healthcare professionals, in redesigning health care in the United States.
- Effective workforce planning and policy making require better data collection and information infrastructure.
The Future of Nursing Recommendations:
- Remove scope-of-practice barriers.
- Expand opportunities for nurses to lead and diffuse collaborative improvement efforts.
Implement nurse residency programs.
- Increase the proportion of nurses with a baccalaureate degree to 80% by 2020.
- Double the number of nurses with a doctorate by 2020.
- Ensure that nurses engage in lifelong learning.
- Prepare and enable nurses to lead change to advance health.
- Build an infrastructure for the collection and analysis of inter-professional health care workforce data
Implications for Distance Learning
For nurses, the implications are clear: advanced education is integral to the future of nursing. Distance learning is an increasingly viable method to achieve a high-quality and cost-effective higher degree. It may be just what you’ve been looking for.