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The Difference Between Online and Traditional Nursing Programs

One can earn a nursing education in many different settings and at varying degree levels. Many healthcare facilities, community colleges, and undergraduate colleges and universities offer their own nursing programs. Traditionally, these programs are taught on-site in a classroom and clinical environment. Though it is still common for students to participate in these traditional programs, there is increasing interest in online education. Accredited online nursing programs are becoming more and more common, but along with the advantages, there are some limitations to these programs.

Educational Pathways

Nursing programs range from certificate and diploma programs to doctoral degrees. Of these types of nursing education, it is more common for some to be offered online than others. Basic level nursing programs designed to prepare LPNs and RNs place a great amount of emphasis on clinical experience and skill demonstration. For this reason, there is a limit to how much learning can take place online in these programs. Students may have the option to take some courses online, but they will be required to take others on-site. An exception to this is certain bridge programs, such as LPN to RN or RN to BSN. These programs can be found entirely online, as students have already learned many necessary nursing skills and already have clinical experience.

In addition, some schools offer advanced-level nursing programs online, such as MSN and DNP programs. This is especially true for nursing programs focused on education, informatics, and administration, as these are not direct practice specializations.

The Pros and Cons of Online Programs

There are advantages and disadvantages to completing a nursing education online. The main advantage of online programs is the increased flexibility they provide. Students of online programs, whether they are RN or BSN bridge programs or advanced degree programs, have greater control over when lectures and coursework are completed, as they are able to attend school from their personal computer from any location with internet connectivity. This flexibility allows nurses to balance work, school, and personal life more easily. In addition to the overall flexibility, many of these programs also have flexible start dates.

In addition to flexibility, another benefit of an online nursing education is greater program choice. While traditional programs require students to travel to campus for classes, the school's geographic location does not limit students enrolling in online programs. Those who complete these programs can attend schools located across the country without moving or commuting, creating a greater number of programs to choose from.

A disadvantage of online nursing programs is that they do not provide the face-to-face contact and networking opportunities that students have in the classroom. This may cause some students to feel cut-off from instructors and fellow students and make it more difficult to get clarification on challenging subjects, but online programs are designed to prevent this. In addition, online programs may only be available for nurses who are continuing education. This means that those who have not yet completed an LPN or RN nursing education, a traditional program must first be completed.

The Pros and Cons of Traditional Programs

Traditional nursing programs are taught on-campus in a classroom and clinical setting. Students enrolled in these programs are required to physically attend classes at their scheduled times. The main advantage of these programs is that they allow for face-to-face interaction with instructors. In addition, students can network with their peers, allowing them to make friends and form study groups. Some students have a strong preference for this type of environment.

The main disadvantage of traditional nursing programs is the fact that students must attend classes on campus. Some students may find it difficult to arrange work and social activities around their class schedules. Students are also somewhat limited in choice of programs by geographic location, as they must attend school nearby, commute to class, or move in order to be near their school.

As mentioned previously, individuals who are not yet nurses must complete at least part of their education through a traditional program. It may be possible to complete some courses online, but clinical experience and some other skill-centered courses must be completed on-site.

Choosing a Program

Those who are looking to become nurses or continue education as nurses should research nursing programs thoroughly. Many online nursing programs are accredited, just like traditional programs, so both are legitimate. It is important to choose a program that fits one's individual needs.

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