What Theory Of Learning Are Online Nursing Programs Based On

Most online health programs for nurses are based on a theory of learning that has changed dramatically in the past five years. Read on to find out.

This past week, a Loma Linda University nursing program made headlines when a patient advocate was denied admission due to her gender identity. It’s not the first time there’s been controversy surrounding someone’s appearance. Loma Linda University (LLU) is as infamous for the unconventional rigors of its degree program as it is for an iconic mascot named Little, the legendary trainer of the Loma Linda University’s dorm cat, Whiskers. Perhaps the most exciting part of her role, however, is her ability to accompany LLU students to shelters and healthcare facilities across Southern California.

“One of the core values of Loma Linda is diversity,” says Loma Linda Care founder and Chairman of the Board Richard Alderman. “To be able to help those who can’t help themselves, be a part of that,” he continued. That’s why its rare that an applicant’s gender identity is a question when it comes to a physical diagnosis.

Many online programs that train the nurses of tomorrow often ask the same questions. And the answers are usually the same.

Across the country, nurse job postings are often open to all prospective students. This includes people with different medical backgrounds, visible medical conditions, or even gender identities that don’t fit. For example, Dixie (the school spirit mascot of the University of San Diego’s Nursing Program) is deaf. The kids adore her. Students there also have the option to lie on a psychometric scale to qualify for the program.

To illustrate the wide variation across the board, a 2009 study published in the Journal of Advanced Nursing took an admission question about the program’s specific education goals. Half the participants were told that they had an entrance exam to fill out to enter the program; the other half were told that they needed to take the graduate level certification in a field as required by the program itself.

Admissions counselors found that people with a presence of some kind were more likely to pass the test. Twenty percent of the students who were blind or visually impaired passed the test, for example, while only 7 percent of the people who were deaf and 12 percent of people who were hearing impaired passed.

Coincidentally, the same issues that would cause a psychometric screen for hearing impaired students can also be used to screen people who are deaf or blind to get into nursing programs. Learning organizations, including the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, have adopted common ethical policies addressing accommodating those with visual impairments and hearing limitations.

There are two ways these issues can be addressed. There’s a simple technical answer. Teaching materials can be adjusted so that anyone can read the educational materials. Then there’s a more thoughtful and humane one.

A few years ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report about proper handling of the accommodations that are needed in nursing programs. The GAO said that it was “unclear” how many programs were still not adequately accommodating individuals with those physical and sensory impairments. “It may be harder for learners with special needs to obtain physical accommodations from the health programs they are considering in addition to the accommodations in the nursing program,” the report said. “Although some nursing programs are making efforts to recruit more disabled learners, most programs lack clinical training or experience that would give learners with special needs access to clinicals and mentors.”

As a result, many institutions are now in the process of changing or updating their “opt-in” policies. Training materials have been revised and revised again so that everything from residential education to staff training to the assignment of course materials to blind and visually impaired students is geared towards a correct reading and interaction with the curriculum.

There’s also been legislation passed in the U.S. regarding accommodations that may be made in nursing programs. In 2014, the Nursing Education Quality Improvement Act was passed that created a formal process by which all nursing schools can ensure the ability of their students to receive and enroll in RN programs. It’s not a perfect fix, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll see a dramatic change to nursing hiring practices, especially at the undergraduate level. But it’s an important step forward that acknowledges that students with disabilities—regardless of whether or not they’re looking for a nursing job—are entitled to the same opportunities as everyone else.

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