Online Education for RNs: FAQs

Article Categories: Nursing Jobs & Nurse On the Job

With the growth of online education, or e-learning, getting your RN license has become easier than ever. There are options for students in every phase of learning:

• Prerequisites and electives needed for admission into a nursing program
• Introductory and entry-level required nursing courses
• LVN/LPN-to-RN programs
• RN-to-BSN and MSN programs
• Refresher courses for inactive RNs

If you’re considering becoming a Registered Nurse, or are returning to the workforce, you may wonder about online (also called “computer based” or “distance”) learning. Here are some common questions and answers:

1. Q: What are the advantages of taking online classes?
A: Convenience! Courses can be taken according to your work and family schedule, rather than at a specific day and time. While each school has deadlines and requirements for completing a course, students have flexibility in when to read material and work on assignments. Whether you’re a morning bird or night owl, as long as you have a computer and access to the Internet, you can join the discussion threads and post your work. A second benefit is the savings: No travel costs, parking fees, or babysitters.

2. Q: What happens in a typical online class?
A: A lot! Once you’ve enrolled, you’ll receive login information for your new “classroom.” The instructor may introduce him/herself either by a personal email or on the class screen. He or she may also ask you to post a short bio, so you can learn about fellow students. Your computer screen will have a variety of icons, folders, and areas for the course. The syllabus and assignments will likely be in folders. Don’t panic...take a minute to click around. There’s also an “Ask question” or “contact the instructor” area; use it as much as you need until you’re comfortable with the set-up. Typically, each week the instructor will release a new assignment and reading material. During the week, the instructor will ask questions, provide feedback on the assignments you upload, and check to see if you’re participating in the discussion threads. You’ll interact with your classmates, more than you would in a traditional classroom. Take advantage of their experience and expertise! Depending on the course, you may have a final individual or group project.

3. Q: Does e-learning really work?
A: Absolutely! Online students report they’re better able to concentrate. Because the instructor doesn’t “spoon feed” the information, students experience deeper learning and retention. Students have more time to absorb the lessons. The U.S. Department of Education, after examining 1,000 empirical studies, reported, "on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction."

4. Q: Are there any disadvantages?
A: Great question! Good study habits are a must. If you aren’t motivated, or don’t have self-discipline, you can fall behind. Online classes can also be fast-paced, depending on the school’s calendar. No matter how busy you are, you’ll need to schedule or find times to do the work. When you have questions, you may wait for up to a day to get a response from the instructor or classmates. Some students miss the structure of a traditional classroom, and can feel isolated, even with the discussions.

5. Q: How can I find an accredited school?
A: Good for you! Depending where you are in the RN degree process, you have a choice of schools and universities. Check your local community college for reasonably-priced courses. State colleges and universities may also have what you need. There are also national online schools, such as Kaplan University and University of Phoenix; these are private schools with more expensive tuition, but also have more courses and options. Always check to see if the school is accredited by one of the six regional agencies of accreditation in the United States. Be suspicious of “diploma mills” that offer quick degrees. You will not be able to sit for the NCLEX examination if your degree is not from an accredited institution.

Online learning is a bonus for busy people who want to advance their careers while keeping their jobs. Taking even one course at a time will move you forward. Why not start today?