The Importance of Community in Online RN-BSN Courses

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Students who hold an RN and are enrolled in a BSN course encounter many challenges, including the isolation inherent in online learning. As a result, students may feel unsupported or even withdraw from a course.1 Given the possibility that an online student might feel isolated, withdraw, and not complete a required online course, the importance of helping students experience satisfaction with online learning becomes crucial. For some online students, a high priority for satisfaction is being able to interact with other students.1–4 To increase students’ feeling of connectedness, experts encourage the type of interaction that creates of a sense of community in online courses.5
Community in online courses has been defined in a variety of ways. It has been viewed as requiring a social dimension that gives students a feeling of personal involvement with one another. Alternatively, it may include the social dimension—meaning students feel personal involvement with each other—and also a learning dimension or the academic content of the course.2 Other researchers separated social aspects from technology and approached online communities as participants and their interactions within a given learning environment, as opposed to the technologies used to manage the environment.6 Regardless of the definition, a sense of community answers online RN-BSN students’ need to feel connected.
Online learning gives students easy access to degree programs.7 According to Billings and Halstead,3 online courses currently hold a significant place in nursing education with a constantly growing number of programs offered for nurses seeking BSN degrees. A contributing factor in the proliferation of BSN degree programs is the Institute of Medicine (IOM) report8 that recommended 80% of nurses have a baccalaureate degree by 2020. Baccalaureate nursing programs teach content similar to ADN programs, that is, caring for patients and their families when illness occurs and medical treatment is needed. However, baccalaureate programs also focus on evidence-based clinical practice and leadership through courses on research, statistics, population-based care, nursing management, and the humanities.
The need to increase the number of BSN-prepared nurses is supported by the literature on evidence-based practice. A study showed that, when a hospital had a 10% increase in BSN-prepared nurses, there was a 4% decrease in risk of patient deaths.8 Magnet hospitals required a higher proportion of BSN-prepared nurses and, as a result, had 14% lower mortality rates and 12% lower failure-to-rescue rates than non-Magnet hospitals.8 Along with the IOM mandate, it is understandable why a trend has emerged among hospitals to hire BSN-prepared nurses. Similar to the IOM mandate, BSN in 10 is an additional trend in the United States and some states are working on legislation to make this effort law. It would mean that, within 10 years of completing an ADN program, a nurse would need to complete a BSN degree.
Many nurses have responded to the call to be BSN-prepared by seeking an online RN-BSN program to obtain a degree. Nursing students, particularly RN-BSN nursing students, are becoming one of the largest segments of consumers of online education.5 Online courses can accommodate students with busy lives, allowing them to manage work and family demands while attending online classes and learning.9
For online learning to take place, Kearsley10 suggested that learners must be actively engaged in meaningful tasks. Creating a sense of community in the virtual classroom—where the students feel safe and encouraged—enhances this learning process. It is important to determine whether students have achieved that sense of community in an online course, that is, the feeling of being connected to other students and valuing it.
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