Although online degree programs have distinct advantages, such as no commute and the flexibility to complete schoolwork from virtually anywhere, returning adult students can initially experience some difficulties adapting. With approximately one-third of all currently enrolled students taking an online class, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, finding success in your online studies is critical — and possible — with these helpful tips.

What Are the Challenges of Online Learning?

If you are used to traditional classes, the online experience can look and feel a bit different. Some common challenges experienced by students relate to the following items:

Technology. Online programs rely heavily on technology and require students to have a certain level of computer literacy and proficiency. Students who have not been exposed to this technology may have more of a learning curve in understanding online communication etiquette and navigating interfaces. To help students adapt more quickly, schools often have technical support readily available and resources to help familiarize them with the platform.

Time management. While all students must effectively manage their time, it is a skill absolutely necessary for those enrolled in an online RN to BSN program. Adult learners are typically balancing school alongside work, family and other obligations, so remaining mindful of how you structure your time makes a significant difference. Implementing a time-blocking schedule can be an effective way to improve productivity and efficiency.

Fewer in-person interactions. Without the need to regularly attend class, there are fewer in-person interactions. Some students prefer this setup and quickly acclimate. Others need more time to adjust. Email, chat rooms and forums offered through the virtual learning platform will encompass the majority of your communication in an online program. Phone calls and video chats are another option for students who exchange contact information and seek more ways to connect.

What Are Some Tips for Online Success?

With a bit of preparation and planning, many students make a smooth transition to an online RN to BSN program. Consider trying these tips:

Read through the syllabus ASAP. The syllabus is your one-stop shop to the most vital course information. It tells you:

  • Your professor’s contact information and availability of office hours
  • Course description and any prerequisites or co-requisites
  • Required textbooks and resources
  • Policies and rules, including communication guidelines, assignment submission and grading
  • Course calendar with assignment deadlines and exam dates

Take the time to read through it thoroughly right away, mark down key dates and ask for clarifications if needed.

Find your own rhythm. Now that you know the general timeline for the course, you can begin to find ways to incorporate it into your existing schedule. If you are a morning person, then starting your day reading or studying when you are most alert and refreshed makes sense. If you always have Fridays off of work, then that may be a better time to settle into in-depth studies. Keep tweaking your schedule until you find a rhythm that works for you.

Tune out. When it is time to study, you want to make sure every minute counts. Turn off all other unnecessary screens to minimize distractions. Although streaming your favorite show or podcast seems innocent enough, it frequently hampers your concentration and comprehension. White noise in the background is a reasonable alternative as it has been proven to increase cognitive performance and memory recall.

Connect with classmates. Even in the absence of face-to-face encounters, there is a tremendous amount of support your classmates can provide. After all, many of them will be in similar life phases and understand the challenges of pursuing a degree while balancing other responsibilities. Participate in live chats and forum discussions to get some conversations started. Consider forming study groups, either in-person or virtual, if the opportunity arises.

Speak up. If you have any problems or questions, speak up right away. The accelerated format of an online RN to BSN program leaves no room for delay, so ask early and often for clarification or further explanation. It will likely become second nature once you have a few courses under your belt.

On Your Way

An online RN to BSN program is an excellent option for adult learners interested in advancing their careers. Breaking away from the traditional degree pathway comes with its own set of challenges, though it is generally nothing you can’t overcome with a bit of planning. By committing to your goal and following these tips, you will be well on your way to successfully earning your degree.

Learn more about the University of Maine at Fort Kent online RN to BSN program.


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National Center for Education Statistics: Enrollment and Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2017; and Financial Statistics and Academic Libraries, Fiscal Year 2017: First Look (Provisional Data)

Scientific Reports: White Noise Enhances New-Word Learning in Healthy Adults