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Online learning can help some student nurses feel more confident about asking questions and promotes feelings of security, according to a small “snapshot” study.
However, while it suggested online learning was beneficial for the students involved in the study, there was a consensus that it should run alongside traditional face-to-face learning as well.
“Online learning is a key component of how nursing students are educated across the country”
The findings, which follow national moves this week on online nurse degrees, are part of a qualitative study by the University of Northampton (UON), which sought the detailed views of 12 adult nursing students in their final year.
During a series of focus groups, student nurses were asked about their experience of various online learning methods used by the university, such as collaborative online classrooms, online activities and use of online workbooks.
The research revealed that online learning gave students the confidence to ask questions and develop core skills. It was also found to promote feelings of security for students.
In addition, authors of the study found that some students appreciated the “flexible-to-access” nature of online learning, that also made it easier to review their work and for them to proceed at their own pace.
But among the positives, there was also an agreement that such online methods should be balanced with traditional teaching.
Some of the students involved in the research said they valued the presence of their peers and lecturers in a physical classroom and benefited from the subsequent dialogue between them.
Face-to-face contact also helped the student nurses to build a rapport and develop their communication skills, according to the study, which is published in the British Journal of Nursing.
Meanwhile, some nursing students reported that disruptions at home, a lack of social interaction and feelings of being isolated could impact their virtual learning.
Overall, the study authors found the main advantages of online learning included “time, accessibility and convenience, being able to revisit learning and the variety of approaches”.
While the main disadvantages that occurred were “inadequate communication, support and interaction”.
On the whole, “students preferred an adequate balance of [online learning] with traditional teaching, more communication, synchronous [online learning], preparation and support”, noted the authors in the study article.
Study author Clare Bramer, senior lecturer in adult nursing, added: “Online learning is a key component of how nursing students are educated across the country and something we have spent time developing at UON.
“This research, although only covering a small number of students, gives us a ‘snapshot’ of our students’ opinions about what works, what doesn’t and what we can do to further fine tune the online provision here.”
She highlighted that what came across “loudly and clearly” was that adult nursing students found online learning “beneficial”, but that it should run alongside teaching at the university’s Waterside campus.
Ms Bramer noted that when “current restrictions around the pandemic are eased” the university looked forward to “putting the findings of this research into practice”.
Earlier this week, Health Education England announced that a new “world-leading” online nurse degree programme will launch in England next year, with courses open for applications from this autumn.
The national body, which is leading the initiative, said it hoped the “blended learning nursing degree” option would open the profession up to a wider group of people and help develop a workforce of “digitally expert” nurses.