Abstract This article describes the implementation and evaluation of an eight-hour, comprehensive, face-to-face orientation program designed to improve student retention in a newly developed online RN to BSN program. A total of 179 newly enrolled RN to BSN students participated in the orientation program and evaluated the process. Student attrition decreased from 20 percent to less than i percent after the orientation program was extended and improved to include a technology assessment and an online practice course. A quality online program requires a well-designed orientation that includes technological assessments and hands-on, active participation by the learner. The newly improved and designed course has become effective in student retention and transition into the online learning environment.
Key Words RN-BSN Nursing Education--Online Learning--Distance Education--Orientation
FOR REGISTERED NURSES WHO ASPIRE TO HOLD BACCALAUREATE DEGREES, ONLINE EDUCATION CAN BE AN EFFECTIVE MEANS TO MEET THEIR EDUCATIONAL NEEDS. Today's working RNs require the flexibility provided by online learning environments. However, retention rates for online programs are low when compared to the traditional classroom setting (Simpson, 2004).
With attrition a major obstacle in many online programs, a well-organized, face-to-face orientation program may help improve student retention rates and success in online nursing programs. Research has shown that the combination of an effective orientation program and sufficient technological support increases student retention in online programs (Yorke, 2004). In addition to effective orientation, quality online education programs require well-designed curricula and student support services. However, there are few empirical studies linking comprehensive face-to-face orientation programs and retention in online nursing programs.
This article describes the implementation and evaluation of an eight-hour, comprehensive, face-to-face orientation program designed for a newly developed RN to BSN program in the southeastern United States. After the university converted a 30-year-old, traditional, face-to-face weekend program to an online format in fall 2007, the attrition rate was 20 percent for the first class admitted to the program. The rate fell to 2 percent for the second class admitted to the program and decreased to less than I percent for the third class admitted in fall 2009. The article summarizes how the program was implemented and pre-sents the results of the orientation evaluation for the first three groups. For the purposes of this article, student attrition and retention refers to students remaining enrolled in the program during the first semester.
Background Since retention is an important outcome of any academic program of study, identifying and targeting at-risk learners early in their program of study, and offering additional support, may contribute to improved retention. Distance learners require additional support that may not be required of students in face-to-face classrooms.
The literature is replete with advice on how to improve retention rates in online courses. For example, Miller (2008) offers a list of critical guidelines for instruction in online courses. The list includes having students practice using technologies before critical assignments are due; allowing time for social communication within the technological environment; and offering a required activity, with a low point value, early in the course to ensure participation.
The value of offering orientation courses for mature students entering into new programs is addressed by Collett, Kanuka, Blanchette, and Goodale (1999) and Kanuka (2001). A number of researchers have examined the effects of orientation in distance learning on student retention. Remote orientations, face-to-face orientations, and combined face-to-face with remote orientations (Kanuka & Jugdev, 2006; Lotkowski, Robbins, & Noeth, 2004; Scagnoli, 2001; Tallman & Fitzgerald, 2005) and defining technology needs of students (Tallman & Fitzgerald) may improve retention of novice distance education students. …