Distance education is well recognized across the board as both flexible and cost effective. Due to the flexible nature of distance learning, it has come to be accepted as one of the ways in which the shortage of nursing education in faculties as well as in practice can be addressed. To effectively use distance learning in the nursing education context, faculties have had to develop programs that are all inclusive as well as manageable, a concept which has made distance education students to be enthralled due to the availability of learning resources throughout the world (Lloyd et al., 2012). However, it is also widely agreed that distance education poses challenges, to practice, the faculties involved as well as to the learners.
For the faculties, the key challenges faced include faculty time commitments and demanding workloads. For the students, the key challenge is the inability to collaborate with other students during studies. Practice challenge is mainly the inability to provide sufficient and effective practicum through online processes. It is believed that one of the key challenges that cut across all the players of distance education in nursing is the challenge of communication (Mitchel & Delgado, 2014). The present paper discusses the limits imposed by this challenge on distance nursing education and how this challenge can be addressed at the administrative level to reduce its impacts.
Communication and Distance Education Learning
While communication itself may not be a challenge to distance learning education, the implications of communication challenges in the context are multiple and communication is identified by Mitchel and Delgado as the predecessor of the resolution of all other key issues in the management of distance education. One of the reasons for the concern about communication is the challenge involved in coordination between the education facilitators and the students. As discussed by Moodley (2002), communication between the education facilitators and the students is challenging due to the flexible nature of distance education. The learning process takes place in a different setting and during different times from the teaching process. This implies that for there to be fruitful communication between the students and the teachers, communication must be corroborated such that correspondence occurs in a timely manner. This makes the process demanding for both the facilitator and the student who may have opted for the process due to its flexibility without awareness of the need for collaborative organization (Moodley, 2002).
In another context, Mitchel and Delgado (2014) also recognize the challenge of communication in distance education through the lack of social interactions between class members. Although the teacher and the student may get to communicate more frequently in the set up due to need for correspondence, the interactions between students have to be facilitated by the teachers since the students do not meet and cannot know each other without the teacher’s intervention. This lack of communication between students has been cited by Mitchel and Delgado as having the possibility of increasing the teachers’ commitment as well as reducing the learning efficiencies since the students are not in a position to share their learning experiences.
In addition to these, Moodley also mentions that communication also proves to be problematic especially due to technological changes. This could be explained through the findings of Mitchel and Delgado in their survey based study in which they recognized the rapidity of change in the delivery systems as an impediment to distance education. This implies that changing technologies hamper communication due to the dissimilarity in the rate of advancement that may be prevalent between the students and the teachers. Since communication is the backbone of online education in nursing as in all other disciplines, the inability to communicate makes the education process immensely hampered.
Furthermore, Mitchel and Delgado also found out through their survey that communication challenges persist in distance education due to the inability of the facilitators to observe students and to register their non-verbal cues directly. While these authors focused on the impacts of this aspect on the facilitators, it is also clear that the same challenge is faced by students in the distance learning set up. The same way teachers cannot read non-verbal cues; the students also participate in the learning process without the ability to use this critical learning technique. This makes it challenging to participate in practicum as well as to effectively achieve the desired learning outcomes (Moodley, 2002).
Addressing the challenges
The issues that can arise due to the communication challenge in distance nursing education are more than already identified. However, to achieve the desirable learning outcomes, various recommendations can be made to facilitators as well as administrative personnel in managing distance learning through the use of communication as an improvement factor rather than impediment. From the research carried out by Mitchel and Delgado, technological issues can be addressed through reduced rate of technology failures which hamper communication. Through optimum use of the available technologies such as teleconferencing, online chatting and other forms of correspondence, it is possible to maintain frequent and valuable communication between the facilitators and students. This is because technologies do not advance at the same rate and while one of the education parties may not keep up with the rapid advancements, diversifying technological use will always make it possible to communicate through at least one of the technological forums.
Communicating to enhance social interactions can also be achieved through encouraging group discussions among students despite their being apart. One way in which this could be achieved is through the organization of students into grouped online forums (Moodley, 2002). For instance, the teacher may decide to hold the lecture online at a time when most of the students are online as well as to initiate discussions through introduction of the students via the online forums. This can enhance learning through more aggressive communication between students.
As an administrator, the use of policies outlining the appropriate mode of evaluation which includes the consideration of the level of interactions between students and teachers would also be recommended. This is to ensure that students access their course facilitators through the online means to avoid instances where students learn over long distances and eventually graduate without actually interacting with their teachers (Lloyd et al., 2012). Moreover, since nursing education can only be confirmed to be of quality based on the experiences in practicum, this would also be included as a mode of testing student preparedness prior to graduation. Evidence of physical engagement in nursing practice must be provided by every distance nursing education student as a mandatory requirement for graduation.
Communication is the driver of distance education in nursing. Consequently, it is essential that every means be found for maintaining effective communication between all the participants of nursing education. An all-inclusive approach to distance learning is that which incorporates all the stakeholders of education while at the same time offering flexibility and cost effectiveness.
Lloyd, S., Byrne, M. and McCoy, T. (2012). ‘Faculty Perceived Barriers to Online Education.’ MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8, 1.
Mitchel, M.M. and Delgado, C. (2014). ‘Online Learning: Advantages and Disadvantages in Implementing an Effective Practicum Experience.’ Open Journal of Nursing, 4, 379-384.
Moodley, S. (2002). ‘Inclusive Education: Challenges to Distance Learning, Policy and Practice.’ Pathways 6 Conference.