Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Problem with Distance Education

Can you guess what possibly impacts distance learning more than anything else? 

Here are some hints:

Can I help you with anything? 

Show me what you are struggling with . . .

Let me demonstrate how these devices complement the patient’s needs.

As a team, the four of us could work together and make discoveries!

Did you guess it? That's right, the IRL dilemma.           


Lack of real-life contact plagues potential outcomes of distance learning (DL). Students are not able to access needed resources otherwise available physically at colleges, universities, and hospitals. Additionally, technology, administration, and instructional methods can inhibit learning (Valentine, 2002). Educators likewise are confined to a silicon screen and keyboard less than two feet from their faces. These factors may seem a bit fundamental. Yet, it is these fundamentals that articulate many of the limitations found in DL. For this post, distance education or DL is defined by online teaching and learning. There are other forms of DL (Nasseh, 1997) but today’s distant learning processes are corrugated and weaved through mediums such as notebook computers, iPads, and smartphones.

As a nurse working at my hospital, I function as an interdisciplinary trainer, a nurse-mentor, and an observer of work performance/competencies. Our nurses are confronted daily with a barrage of challenges: changes in policy, documentation requirements, and the slow grinding transition to a statewide electronic medical record. These complexities however important (and they are important) plague the quality and quantity of work nurses perform. Did you notice I did not even mention issues of direct treatment with our patients? That is another subject for another blog. This post is going to focus on the challenges distance learning faces as students and teachers strive to overcome deficits produced by the lack of face-to-face contact in the DL education setting. 

In my opinion, DL is vastly undervalued, especially considering its potential when all the shortcomings have been identified, elucidated, and addressed. Only recently we have faced a nursing shortage that is projected to widen over the next twenty years as the healthcare needs of an aging and growing population expands its wings (AACN, 2012). How do we solve this problem? That is yet to be determined. It is clear however that DL is one component in the equation (ECU, 2012). The educator, student, community, and teaching facilities will all have to adapt to the fluid needs of information exchange and skills development in this off-campus environment. One example demonstrates that teleconferences effectively help post-graduate nurses problem-solve in focus groups (MacIntosh, 2008). Teleconferencing also helps improve communication between the learner and educator as context, inflection, and body language illuminate the process (Adegbola, 2011).

As we learn from our successes and failures, quality of education improves (Jones, 2008). We become more flexible, adaptable, as we grow and enable others. One thing I have learned over the years: The only thing that doesn't change is change itself. One thing we may not realize is the efficacy of DL even in the face of its deficits. Online educated students perform better than those receiving face-to-face instruction (Chaney, Chaney & Eddy, 2010). If we can identify the indicators that denote quality education online as well as those found in face-to-face instruction, we can shape a DL experience that can simulate the benefits of a hybrid learning experience (Chaney et Al., 2009). Some of those indicators address time and location restrictions, increased access to education, allowing students to personalize and "own" their learning experience, and connecting a variety of like-minded professionals otherwise unlikely to network so readily (Chaney et Al., 2009).  

One simulation that I am highly anticipating is online team-based collaboration between two or more disciplines. Pennsylvania State University recently completed a study that included nursing and medical students working together in a series of workshops problem-solving safety, selecting care processes, improving performance and safety (Penn State, 2009). If this method could be formatted to reflect Penn State's outcomes, the potential could be critical to education and professional practice. Other disciplines, i.e., dieticians, rehabilitation therapists, social workers, and psychology could formulate an amalgam of ideas, interventions, and outcomes potentially altering the course of healthcare. This apears to me to be a grandiose idea. But when we consider Ford, Edison, and William Penn, it is from their small seeds of dreams and imaginations that today's innovations have blossomed.

I hesitated to post on my blog since I am concerned that my beliefs which, do not always fall within mainstream expectations (in healthcare and elsewhere) may hinder my career development. Recently, I began to re-appreciate the freedoms still inherent to our country" principles after traveling back east and touring our nation's capital. I have decided to go ahead anyway and express myself (thank you 1st amendment)! I hope this post offers rumination of ideas and actionable considerations for those reading. This blog is one way I connect to the larger community and hopefully offer something useful to others (Yang, 2009). It has been a while since my last update and apologize for that. I am finishing up the last few classes of my nursing master's program and an assignment provided the opportunity and incentive to dust off the blog. 

Please consider how you can improve our world and take some action working through your personal offerings. You never know where it may lead . . . .


 AACN, (2012). Nursing Shortage. American Association of College of Nursing. Retrieved from
 Adegbola, M. (2011). Taking Learning to the Learner: Using Audio Teleconferencing for Postclinical Conferences and More. Creative Nursing, 17(3), 120-125.
Chaney, B., Dorman, S., Eddy, J., Glessner, L., Green, B., & Lara-Alecio, R. (2009). A Primer on Quality Indicators of Distance Education. [Abstract]. Health Promotion Practice. 10(2):222-231. Doi: 10.1177/1524839906298498
 Chaney, D., Chaney, E. & Eddy, J. (2010). The context of distance learning programs in higher education: Five enabling assumptions. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. 8(4). Retrieved from
Jones, L. (2008). Learning from success: the flexibility of distance learning. [Abstract]. British Journal Of Healthcare Assistants. 2(8), 394-397.
MacIntosh, J. A. (2008). Focus groups in distance nursing education. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 18(12), 1981-1985
Nasseh, B. (1997). A Brief History of Distance Education. Ball State University. Retrieved from
Penn State, (2009). Collaborative Program Emphasizes Team-Based Learning Between Nursing and Medical School Students. Pennsylvania University: College of Health and Human Development. Retrieved from
Valentine, D. (2002). Distance Learning: Promises, Problems, and Possibilities. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration. 5(3). Retrieved from
Yang, S. (2009). Using blogs to enhance critical reflection and community of practice. Educational Technology & Society, 12(2), 11-21. Retrieved from