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Making free continuing education more accessible

Educational institutions are now making more and more health courses available for free online. By providing free online nursing courses with certificates of completion, remote health workers benefit and institutions fulfill their corporate social responsibility. Free continuing education is the future.

Last month, Mohammed Aruf Yasin, Technical Officer for the World Health Organisation (WHO presented at the 12th Biennial Conference of the Global Network of WHO Collaborating Centres for Nursing and Midwifery (#WHOCC2018). His focus was on how to make education free and accessible for remote nurses. When asked why he chose this topic, Yasin said: “educating nurses is a more proactive approach to achieving better health outcomes, rather than monitoring individual facility performance.” For him it is all about “upskilling nurses against all potential issues before they have a chance to translate into real-world problems."

The importance of continuing nursing education

Continuing nursing education (CNE) is vital to the future of contemporary nursing. Many countries have mandatory CNE governed by regulatory bodies, such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Fiji. These professional entities encourage nurses to participate in self-development activities. Regulatory boards see CNE as an opportunity to improve performance, acquire knowledge, and advance the nursing profession. However, they are still not sure how to make nursing education more sustainable and accessible to every nurse. Nurses tend to engage in CNE activities for many reasons: some for self-development opportunities, whereas others do it for specialisation or licensure. While locally accredited CNE providers sees this as a growing business opportunity, nurses in many countries end up spending a substantial portion of their annual income toward maintaining their practicing licence. However, such quick self-prescribed non-accredited courses only provide a band-aid solution without any form of sustainability. Yasin strongly advocates that every nursing education provider share at least five out of ten of their course curricula online. This can happen under common creative licencing , meaning that anyone can access it and make it available to others. Not only would this contribute to the development and maintenance of nursing fraternity, dramatically improving overall health outcomes, but this can also fall under providers’ corporate social responsibility (CSR). The use of web and mobile-based learning is a promising way of facing these challenges. The use of e-learning by registered nurses for CNE reduces travel time, provides flexibility and accessibility, is cost-effective and allows nurses to learn at their own pace and from the location of their choice. It provides a positive impact on nurses’ skills, knowledge, and levels of efficacy and satisfaction. Yasin continues, “When CSR is seen from a business perspective, many institutions can apply for the tax rebate to cover for the cost of providing free access to CNE. This means that the institution creates a better image in this socially driven world, and is able to develop sustainable health commodities for a better nursing future. This not only differentiates profit-driven institutions from those that really care about nursing and patient health, but also creates a brand power and increases media and coverage for the free education providers.”  Providing access to free online nursing courses is a win-win for both the institutions and the students.

Regionalism: the future of online education

The Edx Year 4 report shows that the non-profit platform launched 290 HarvardX and MITx courses in four years. 245,000 certificates were issued and around 4.5 million students participated during this time. This amounted to 28 million participant-hours and 2.3 billion events logged online. While platforms like Edx have been working with universities to bridge the general knowledge gap, another of such platform, Pacific Open Learning Health Net (POLHN) has been doing the same at the regional level. For the last 14 years WHO-funded platform has been working with other regional education providers to promote professional development to bridge knowledge and skill gaps. E-learning is relatively new in the Pacific and many regional institutions see this as a threat to traditional learning. However studies show that e-learning does not displace traditional classrooms but rather supplements traditional teaching. The ultimate goal is to provide free access to CNE to improve quality of care as well as patient health. A Fiji registered nurse, who is also a single mother and sole breadwinner in her family of seven strongly, believes in the power of e-learning. She told Mr Yasin, “It’s difficult to return to hospital on days off to attend face-to-face CNE. Due to the high number of nurses, not all of them get a chance to attend a self-development workshop.” By combining the institutions, universities, and some highly respected nursing individuals, POLHN is able to provide integrated e-learning topics to equip nurses to deliver a broader range of care. A skilled nursing workforce is key to ensuring continued effective nursing care. At the conference, Mr Yasin stressed the importance of platforms of POLHN: “I am thrilled, and I would get more institutions and universities to partner with us so that we can provide e-learning topics that previously did not fit narrow pay slip of remote nurses” he says. “It’s not good enough for institution to say that others are doing it or we don’t have the staff or budget to do it,” he continues. “Show nurses that you care and prove them you can do it.” For the sustainability of universities, fees from the students provide a major source of revenue, however this does not improve their social value. They need to show that they care equally about their graduates. Providing a portion of the curriculum will only enhance their standing in this competitive world, says Mr Yasin. Just by providing free access of continuing nursing education to remote nurses, we will be able to improve patient satisfaction and health outcomes, as well as job satisfaction.   To find out more about POLHN and its free free nursing e-learning courses, visit