Distance learning isn’t a trend that can be ignored. Around 13 percent of undergraduate students were enrolled in distance learning courses in 2012, with the number at 22 percent for graduate students. Nursing programs are seeing a similar increase in interest, with enrollment growth across the board for all types of nursing programs in 2014.
Many of the people most interested in distance learning are non-traditional students who want to balance earning a higher education degree with jobs, childcare, or other pressing life obligations. Many students interested in pursuing nursing degrees fall into the same category. As such, nursing programs can safely assume that the popularity of online nursing courses is likely to grow in years to come.
That’s mostly a positive, since providing a distance learning option is a good way for colleges to increase diversity and provide greater accessibility to the types of students most likely to benefit from entering the nursing profession or advancing their career further within it. Even so, the shift from face-to-face education to online courses does pose many unique challenges for institutions.
Challenges of Nursing Distance Education
The goal of online learning is to provide students with the same level of instruction they receive in class. When you don’t have the face-to-face component in a course, you have to make an extra effort to gauge students’ progress and make sure they’re getting the level of help and faculty interaction they need.
Most professors who try distance learning for the first time face some of the same questions:
- How do we properly evaluate students if we can’t physically see their progress throughout the semester?
- How can we ensure students are retaining the information we teach?
- How can we stay aware of the level of learning of our distance students?
Many of these questions can be answered with the help of good assessment software.
How Assessment Reporting Helps
Software with thorough assessment reporting features can help your faculty, students, and administration better navigate the challenges of distance learning for nursing students.
For Distance Learning Nursing Faculty
One of the big benefits that nursing faculty can take advantage of is the ExamSoft category tool. Professors can categorize each question on an exam or assignment at a detailed level. From larger categories like the main competency areas you need students to master, to smaller subcategories such as the specific lecture or lesson in which a question was covered, making full use of categories results in a large amount of useful assessment data.
By employing the category tool, distance learning professors can view reports throughout the semester that show student progress. You can identify the areas students need more direction in and provide materials such as clinicals or live scenarios that help fill in the gaps.
Additionally, detailed assessment data makes it possible to compare the progress of your in-class students against that of your online students. If there’s a significant discrepancy, you can catch it early and work to figure out what’s causing the problem and how to fix it before students get discouraged and give up.
For Distance Nursing Students
The biggest benefit to students is that they get detailed feedback on how they’re doing. Professors can release exam results to students immediately once the exam is complete, and students can use the detailed reports to self-analyze and create a plan for better performance on the next exam.
Students who are struggling get a clear snapshot of the areas they’re struggling in and what they need to work on the most to be prepared for their licensure exam.
For the Administration
At many schools, distance learning is still in its early days, and there’s a lot of room for improving it as you go—if you can identify the areas for improvement and gauge what works. Assessment data is one of the best tools you have for doing so. You can see not only how the progress and learning outcomes for distance students compare with those of students on campus, but you can drill down into the data to gain a better picture of why.
Real-time assessment also provides you and your faculty with a real-time view of which students are struggling. Knowing when to step in and provide extra help is one of the key components to avoiding high dropout rates.
Anything new you try with your nursing students comes with a certain amount of risk, but you can always reduce that risk by carefully tracking progress as you go so you know how to improve. Distance learning may still be in the early stages at some nursing schools, but it’s likely here to stay.
Successful distance learning nursing programs are definitely possible. Michelle Cruz of the Oregon Health & Science University School of Nursing recently hosted a webinar on the school’s experiences with online education for nursing students. For a success story packed with tips on what works, give it a look. For more details on the technology that helps make successful distance learning possible, get in touch for a demo.