Dean Holzemer

The Dean’s Desk | Thoughts from Rutgers Nursing Leadership

On-Line Education's Value Questionable – Particularly for Nursing

Friday, October 16, 2015

William L. Holzemer, RN, PhD, FAAN
Rutgers University School of Nursing

Several colleagues have suggested that I should be blogging.  I am not convinced.  Still, in the spirit of adventure, I will try this for six months and see how it goes.

Among the first things coming to my mind for such a forum is on-Line Education. To be blunt – I believe on-line education has had an extremely negative impact on higher education, with nursing education perhaps the foremost example. 

Certainly, some topics lend themselves to on-line delivery models.  For someone already in the workforce, on-line venues are convenient, affordable, and efficient for “brushing up” on limited aspects of the profession. The complications of getting to a conventional classroom might otherwise discourage them from gaining new knowledge and advancing their careers

But with facts changing so quickly and their web-based availability, I am not convinced that there are stable concepts appropriate for on-line education in most circumstances –certainly not for someone seeking a basic degree to launch a career, and for nurses and other professionals for whom effective human interaction will be vital to doing the job as it must be done.

Hybrid courses combine in-person and on-line activities and sometimes may have advantages.  Again, a major premise of on-line education is that it “fits your schedule,” that you can keep doing everything you are currently doing and just add this degree program to your life.  Some programs even give you credits for your life experiences.

I’m not buying that, based on the data I’ve seen and my own experience through four decades in the field of nursing.

Education is about changing us – faculty and students.  Education is about helping us to think differently – to learn how to grieve together, to be joyous together, and to plan, implement, and change things together.  I am not convinced that most on-line education works.

On-line classes tend to involve posting canned slides and posing a series of questions that a student may or may not choose to answer in view of the teacher and/or their classmates as they would in a conventional classroom.  To learn effectively, we all need to be ready to express and defend our views and to accept live feedback.  I also see a significant negative impact on the culture or environment of the school itself as faculty teach classes from home, coming together with colleagues only for formal meetings and occasions.  

Patient-centered nursing is not about posting discussion notes on-line.  It is absolutely dependent on eye-to-eye contact with the patient or client.  It is about discussing facts, hope, and opportunities with family members and patients and about supporting your inter-professional colleagues as teams struggle to deliver quality, safe, coordinated patient care. 

Here at the Rutgers School of Nursing, we are reassessing our on-line offerings.  We are asking difficult questions about how this mode of delivery has enhanced or detracted from our capacity to educate professional nurses at the baccalaureate, advanced practice, and research degree levels.


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