Online Continuing Education


Online Continuing Education

The ABCs of webinars and online learning

By Daria Waszak, RN, MSN, CEN, COHN-S
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Attending seminars and nursing conferences is really important. While fulfilling continuing education requirements, nurses can share camaraderie with others and gain further expertise in our chosen profession. However, sometimes schedules get crazed and deadlines are looming. So, working nurses should know there’s another way to earn CEUs without even leaving home. Welcome to online learning. Fast and effective, it allows nurses to fit CE into their hectic schedules — and maybe with a cozier chair. 

“I think that it’s a great idea,” states Lisa Luis, RN, MSN, Nursing Quality & Informatics Manager at Kaiser Permanente in Los Angeles. “It gives nurses with busy schedules an option to do classes based on their time, availability and convenience as opposed to being locked into a set schedule and driving time.”     

Sure, online learning can be found at the tap of a button, but can the CEUs be used to fulfill the requirements for RN license renewal? The CA Board of Registered Nursing requires 30 hours of continuing education every two years.

“There is no problem with that as long as it provides acceptable course content,” explained Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the CA Department of Consumer Affairs, Board of Registered Nursing. “There is no limit to the number of contact hours that can be completed online.”

Webinars vs. Online Courses

There are two main types of online learning: webinars and online courses. Webinars are live conferences that can be connected to remotely. In this session, the student can sit at their computer, view slides and listen to the presenter either through the phone or through voice technology on the internet.

Online courses are a virtual version of a more traditional class. They may be done completely through the internet, or enhanced or hybrid courses may use the Internet only for specific activities or to distribute materials. Other courses may be labeled as “distance learning,” but actually do require some face-to-face sessions.

With true distance learning, instead of hearing your professor speak in person, the lectures or didactic material may be available by read-only, audio or both. Also, the assignments and examinations are completed or submitted virtually instead of on paper. Although there may be no need to sit in a classroom, they both should have an instructor, a syllabus, assignments and/or examinations, and grades or proof of completion.

Is It Right For Everyone?

Nurses who have fundamental computer skills and can use basic programs like email, are candidates for online learning. Also, it is important to have good Internet access. The technology featured in online courses, like that provided by Blackboard Inc., is simple and straightforward for the student.

“Our technology is designed to be user-friendly and intuitive so learners with a very basic understanding of computers can get the most out of online learning,” explained Kevin Alansky, Senior Director, Professional Education at Blackboard, Inc. “We have kids as young as first grade using online courses on up through professionals using the technology as part of their career development.”

Online learning isn’t necessarily just for visual learners, either. Nowadays, online students have the potential to do much more than just read information off a screen. Depending on the technologies used, students with any type of learning style, including kinesthetic or auditory, can feel comfortable and flourish.

The Internet offers a diverse and appealing selection of CE topics. However, online learning does not necessarily work for every topic, particularly clinical skills like those demonstrated for CPR renewal, which require some in-person supervision.

Webinars or online courses can be offered through independent CE providers or academic institutions. Many major universities have extension programs that offer distance learning courses; the credits can be converted to contact hours for purposes of RN license renewal. There are also many websites that compile listings of links to various online CEU courses for nurses. Another good place to check is professional organization websites. Some employers may have discounts with certain providers.

Do Your Research

Once a webinar or course is found, the provider should be checked. The continuing education provider (CEP) number can be entered on the CA Board of Registered Nursing’s online verification page to verify the course’s CEP status. Although the Board of Nursing approves the provider, Heimerich explained they do not approve specific courses. Therefore, the course content should be reviewed to ensure it is acceptable. These requirements are posted on the webpage listed above.

If the CEP is expired or if the course doesn’t have one, then it is still possible the course may be satisfactory if it is a CME Category 1 course, a college or university course, or has American Nurses Credentialing Center or another acceptable accreditation. Even if the CEP number is valid, it is important for the course to be accredited by either a local, regional or state association as this is another indication of the quality of the program. Also certain accreditation may be required by some employer reimbursement programs.

Online learning is not all created equal. Finding a webinar or course that allows conversation and debate with the instructor and fellow students allows learning to occur at a deeper level.

John Barnes, RN, MSN, CPEHR, is a lecturer at UCLA School of Nursing and a former Informatics Director. He has participated in several webinar sessions and values meaningful interaction with presenters. “I found it invaluable to hear the questions posed by other participants and the related answers,” he said. “It also brought the experts to my fingertips. In situations when meaningful interaction is not available, learning is restricted or even possibly misdirected. Application of information technology is decreasing this gap.”

Dynamic Technology

With technology constantly evolving and changing, learners want to stay connected on their mobile phones and iPads, and share ideas using new technology. “Instructors and learners are leveraging the informal learning tools — wikis, blogs, discussion boards, etc. — built into the Blackboard Learn platform to facilitate communication and engagement,” Alansky explained. “Additionally, our collaboration solution gives students and teachers ways to engage and interact through tools like virtual classrooms, instant messaging and video and web conferencing.”

And just when you think technology can’t get any more dynamic, sure enough something new comes along.

“Our two-way mobile solution includes a teaching and learning application that provides students and instructors access to each other, as well as their courses and content, right on their mobile devices,” Alansky added. 


Online Continuing Education











Online Learning Checklist – What to Consider

•    What are you looking for?
•    What are your expectations?
•    What would you like to get out of the session? Are there specific things you want to take away?

The Course and Provider

•        Evaluate the description and objectives of the webinar or course. Does it match your personal objectives and expectations?
•        Is the course content and provider acceptable to the CA Board of Nursing?
•        Check to ensure the course is, in fact, 100 percent distance learning. Some “online” classes actually require some face-to-face sessions.
•        Check out the registration or tuition and also consider the costs of books, equipment, and other fees.
•        Is the course synchronous or asynchronous? If synchronous, then some of the course work must be completed on certain days and times. If asynchronous, then the course work can be completed anytime, even 3 AM, if that suits your schedule.
•     If the course is offered by an academic institution, can credits be transferred toward a degree down the line?

Quality of Learning

•        Who are the presenters/instructors and what are their credentials, teaching experience and qualifications?
•        Are there interactive technologies available?
•        Is the session new or has it been offered for awhile; are student testimonials available?
•        How much does the instructor get involved? Does he or she actively engage in the course or just “pop in” on weekends?
•        How many other students can be accepted in the course? Will you receive one-on-one feedback from the instructor?
•        How will lectures be presented? Are they recorded videos of the instructor lecturing, recorded lectures (audio only), or simple PowerPoints of the lectures for printing out and reading.


•        What operating system and browser is compatible with their course management system?
•        Should your computer display settings be changed to a certain resolution?
•        What other equipment is required (will a headset or microphone need to be purchased?)
•        Is 24-hour technical support available by phone or online chat?
•        Is there a pre-course orientation? Can you check out the look and feel of the course before registering?
•        If the course is self-paced, is there a time limit to complete it?

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