Perhaps it’s not well known that nurse educators were pioneers in distance learning, not simply for health care, but for the entire field of higher education. Beginning in the 1990s, long before MOOC became a buzzword, nursing programs began offering online programs that led to certification, degrees and licensure.

Molding the workforce

Among the first in this now burgeoning category were: Indiana University School of Nursing, Kansas University College of Nursing and the University of Colorado College of Nursing. From the early work of these programs and others, best practices of online learning have evolved.

The transformation of nursing education is vital to the preparation of a nursing workforce prepared to tackle the demands of our ever-changing, 21st-century health care system, with its sophisticated technologies, culturally diverse, aging patient population and the shrinking of global borders. What continues to be key is the creation of multiple entry points to the nursing profession and seeding new opportunities for academic progression and life-long learning, encouraging nurses and nurse educators to advance to increasing levels of knowledge and skill through whatever avenues are available.

Logging on

In fact, online education may be thought of as a perfect fit for anyone who wishes to return to school, but particularly so for those in nursing or related health care professions. Online programs offer accessibility, flexibility and convenience, features that are especially compatible with the vagaries of shift work and for the many who live in rural areas without access to a brick-and-mortar college or university.

"The best advice I can offer potential online degree candidates is: make sure to seek an accredited program with a documented track record of excellence in instruction and job placement."

In promoting distance learning, along with traditional degree programs, the League has stressed the importance of enrolling in quality programs that meet rigorous standards for accreditation. When they do, distance education can and should be as effective as face-to-face learning that takes place in traditional learning environments.  

Internet immersion

Moreover, distance learning should not mean isolation; a well-designed program fosters a community of learners. Interactive message boards; real-time chats, one-to-one or group projects; conference calls; resource sharing; and student-teacher “office hours” are all techniques that have come into vogue to make the experience of a virtual classroom and community come alive for instructors as well as for learners. Of course, making it work requires students who are self-motivated and self-disciplined, as well as faculty who are familiar with online teaching and the importance of student-teacher interaction.

The best advice I can offer potential online degree candidates is: make sure to seek an accredited program with a documented track record of excellence in instruction and job placement. Both are key to helping you meet your educational goals for a fulfilling career of a lifetime. What a great opportunity online learning provides.