Are Online Courses on Par with Classroom Courses?

We have a shortage of nurses that is just going to get worse, not just in North America but pretty well everywhere.

Learning styles are being discussed in the nursing field as the online universities grow and as more nursing courses are being offered online, reaching far beyond the traditional potential student bodies.

I’m a fan of online universities — ones that are properly accredited, of course – and I think that this is a great way to reach people who may not normally be able to go to school. Although, I do have to admit the thought of taking nursing courses on the computer did make me stop and think for a while and I wasn’t sure at first how I felt about it. Now, though, I think it’s great.

Obviously, the clinical work has to be done in person, but if you think about all the courses we took (or are taking), so many of them can be done online. You don’t need to be in a classroom to learn about the theory of nutrition or pharmacology. You can learn biochemistry and microbiology online too. Many courses are non-nursing related, such as the complementary ones, so why can’t most of those, if not all, be done online?

I know there are nurses who have the attitude that online universities and the online education are inferior to brick-and-mortar universities and real life classes. What many of them don’t understand is that online classes are *hard*. They’re demanding and they’re just as thorough as real-life classes. In some ways, they may be more difficult than in-person classes because you don’t have classmates to sit down with and discuss thing; you can’t blow off steam about the class or the prof at break time; the equivalent of a chatting with your classmates in the hallway is using MSN or some other instant messaging service. It’s still not the same thing though.

The reality is, we have a shortage of nurses that is just going to get worse, not just in North America but pretty well everywhere. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has developed a fact sheet to address this shortage, updated this month. Among the findings:

  • The shortage of registered nurses (RNs) in the US could reach as high as 500,000 by 2025 according to a report released by Dr. Peter Buerhaus and colleagues in March 2008. The report, titled The Future of the Nursing Workforce in the United States: Data, Trends and Implications, found that the demand for RNs is expected to grow by 2% to 3% each year.
  • In a statement released in March 2008, The Council on Physician and Nurse Supply, an independent group of health care leaders based at the University of Pennsylvania, has determined that 30,000 additional nurses should be graduated annually to meet the nation's healthcare needs, an expansion of 30% over the current number of annual nurse graduates.
  • According to the latest projections from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics published in the November 2007 Monthly Labor Review, more than one million new and replacement nurses will be needed by 2016. Government analysts project that more than 587,000 new nursing positions will be created through 2016 (a 23.5% increase), making nursing the nation’s top profession in terms of projected job growth.

And we have people who would love to be nurses but are not in a position to physically attend a college or university for two or three years. To them, online universities are the answer. They may or may not enjoy taking the courses online, but the point is that they can do it if they choose to.

Who can benefit from online universities?

  • The stay-at-home mom who wants to be a nurse when her kids are old enough to be in school all day. She can take all her theory and prep courses, leaving only clinical stuff to be done.
  • The shift worker who can’t schedule college classes but can study at home when he isn’t at work.
  • The traveler who is away for weeks at a time, but can access the Internet and has time to work from her hotel room.
  • The woman who is recovering from an illness and wants to be a nurse when she’s back on her feet, however long that takes.
  • The couple who live in a rural area without a close enough educational institution.
  • The young woman who wants to go away to college but can’t afford it or is staying home to take care of her parents.

My list can go on, but I think that’s a good representation of people who would want to take online courses. Who’s to say that they wouldn’t make absolutely fabulous nurses — if they just had the chance to try.

For those of you who don’t think online universities are good enough to provide a good education for future nurses, what are your objections? If there is anyone reading this who has gone through many of their courses online, I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Personally, although I do enjoy taking online courses, I wouldn’t want to do a whole program that way. I would like to meet my fellow students at some point, even if it’s just to take one or two classes together. But, as someone who works from home every single day, I can also understand the use of online universities. What do you think?