Online Education and The Nursing Student: Teaching Nursing to Online Students

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Smiling nurse using laptop

Online nursing school enrollment has surged in recent years as healthcare professionals take to their computers for flexible learning environments and convenient access to professional growth.

But even with the progress, nursing shortages persist. There are not enough nurse educators to fill the need. Nurse education professionals say online nursing programs that prepare students for faculty roles are critical for the future of the profession. They provide unparalleled learning opportunities, rigorous educational experiences, and allow students from around the world to connect and share information about healthcare challenges and advances.

As the need for nurses and nurse educators continue, students are turning to online Master of Nursing Science (MSN) degree programs that prepare advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) for faculty positions.

Rick ZouchaPh.D., chair of advanced role and Ph.D. programs and a longtime professor at top-ranked Duquesne University, said online education has improved nursing education because it provides opportunities for everyone, not just students who live close to city centers and large universities.

“This isn’t some chore. This isn’t something that you have to get through. This is something that will enliven and enrich your own life and your professional life as well,” Zoucha said of online education.

Zoucha, who was among the group of educators who started Duquesne University’s online nursing program, said teaching nursing to online students is an ever-evolving process that requires a commitment by the educational institution, the nurse educator, and the student.

Evolution Of Online Nursing Programs And Student Success

Early in the development of online education, universities worked to balance student needs with the limitations of technology and the demands of degree programs. Advances in technology, including faster Internet download speeds, wireless connections, and real-time collaboration opportunities, have provided a path for universities to overcome the early challenges

A 2015 survey by Aslanian Market Research and Learning House found nursing as the second most popular online major for both undergraduate and graduate levels, following business administration.

Zoucha said the leading online programs provide a direct link between students and faculty to facilitate an exchange of ideas. Other ways online programs lead to student success include the following:

  • Greater student collaboration – Multiple studies show that students interacting with other students and faculty members improve success rates. For example, discussion boards allow students to reflect on their classwork to thoroughly and thoughtfully reflect on nursing topics.
  • Easier face-to-face interactions – Online learning no longer needs to be a solitary endeavor. Video conferencing tools such as GoToMeeting and VoiceThread allow for real-time collaboration.
  • Access to superior faculty – It’s not enough to have faculty members with advanced degrees. The leading nursing programs have highly educated faculty members who have embraced online learning and the technology that comes with it.

Zoucha also said nursing educators should view themselves as “facilitators of learning” who create learning roadmaps and ways to connect and communicate.

Roles Of Nurse Educators

Nurse educators are more than just teachers, experts say. As role models for the next generation of healthcare professionals, they are expected to go beyond classroom and clinical preparation. Some are required to serve on boards, secure research funding and maintain clinical scholarship, or peer-reviewed academic and practice-based research.

Barbara K. Penn, Ph.D., in a study published titled “Transitioning From Nursing Practice to a Teaching Role,” said other responsibilities could include:

  • Advising and mentoring students
  • Grading assignments
  • Attending faculty meetings
  • Participating in professional organizations
  • Presenting at professional conferences
  • Maintaining nursing certification
  • Volunteering in the community

Experts say successful nurse educators should not only have superior teaching skills (such as understanding the needs of adult learners), they should also have clinical expertise and subject mastery.

In addition, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) found nurse educators should also have the following qualities:

  • Curriculum and course development skills – This includes developing a syllabus that can provide a broad spectrum of information that ties into the topic.
  • Evaluation and testing skills – Including student testing, feedback measures, and assessment procedures.
  • Personal attributes – Including strong communication and interpersonal skills that create accessible and approachable learning environments.

In preparing for a role as a nurse educator, MSN students who pursue a concentration in teaching and instruction must learn how to utilize clinical education theory for real-world applications.

Duquesne University’s Online MSN In Nursing Education And Faculty Roles

At Duquesne University, students learn alongside the leading nurse professionals to prepare for careers as faculty members at trade schools, universities, and colleges nationwide. The nurse education program includes classes in curriculum design, educational theory, and trends in nursing education. Duquesne University MSN graduates have gone on to be successful online teachers and clinical faculty members.

The university has been lauded as a leader in online nursing education and recognized as a Center of Excellence by the National League for Nursing. U.S. News & World Report has repeatedly rated Duquesne University among the best in the nation.


National League for Nursing, NLN Nurse Educator Shortage Fact Sheet
Learning House, 2015 Online Students
EdSurge, Online Classes Get a Missing Piece: Teamwork
Nursing World, Transitioning From Nursing Practice to a Teaching Role