5 Top Challenges Facing Online Nursing Students

Thanks to the COVID pandemic, education as a whole experienced a massive shift, transitioning to an online format. This included nursing school, which until then, was traditionally taught on-site in a classroom setting.

Now, you and other nursing students can take advantage of the convenience and flexibility of online courses that make continued education more accessible to people with full-time jobs and families.

That said, online nursing programs are not without their own difficulties. It’s important to consider them to avoid feeling blindsided while heading toward the career of your dreams.

Below, we take a closer look at five of the top challenges facing online nursing students and ways to navigate them.

Difficulty Learning Hands-On Skills

Nursing involves many practical, hands-on skills that are usually taught in person, such as checkups, vaccinations, and minor medical procedures. In a classroom, you watch, try the procedure yourself, and then ask questions to make sure you’re using the proper technique. Then, you practice these skills during clinicals to get the required experience.

Online learning doesn’t allow for such a personal, interactive approach. You must watch things done on a two-dimensional screen that doesn’t allow you to look from different angles at critical points. You may or may not get to ask questions in real time, depending on whether the class is live or prerecorded.

This format may limit your ability to effectively learn the necessary skills and could result in you feeling unprepared when heading into clinicals.

As technology has improved, universities have attempted to bridge this gap by using virtual simulations and virtual labs. Clinical rotations are still done onsite under the supervision of licensed professionals to ensure you can adequately perform the skills.

Lack of Daily Structure

The flexibility of online learning also means it lacks the structure of traditional campus education. With no set class schedule, students must develop and maintain their own study schedule. This may be more challenging than anticipated when work, family, friends, and other things demand your attention. It’s easier to get distracted, put things off, and miss deadlines.

Sticking to a self-imposed schedule requires more willpower than when you know a teacher is expecting you to show up for class. Although convenient, it adds its own burden and responsibility that some students may underestimate when embarking on their online journey.

To avoid falling prey to these pitfalls, it can be helpful to determine when you have spare time, when you’re most productive, and what environments are most conducive for studying. Establish a schedule that maximizes all of these factors (and includes adequate sleep), and then make that your top priority. Doing this should help you deal with stress and increase productivity.

Lack of Computer Literacy

Completing an online nursing program requires certain computer skills, such as data entry, the ability to do online research, and social media knowledge. You should be comfortable with Windows, email, Microsoft Word, Google Docs, Excel, and PowerPoint. In addition to that, you’ll need to learn how to use your school’s software and platforms.

Students who don’t already have a foundation in computer skills will find an online nursing program more difficult than a traditional classroom setting. Although many universities have 24/7 tech support for online students, that is by no means a substitute for knowing your way around a computer.

Before enrolling, it is helpful to find out what computer skills are needed to complete the course. If you are lacking in an area, you may be able to learn what you need from YouTube, a friend, or courses at your local library.

Physical Barriers

Staring at a screen for hours on end can result in strained, tired eyes or worse, computer vision syndrome. You may experience this if you try to cram a lot of classwork and research into a weekend or schedule a marathon study session.

Not only is this frustrating, it can be detrimental to your overall health if you don’t take steps to counteract the effects of extended screen time. One such step is employing the 20/20/20 rule, which involves taking a 20-second break every 20 minutes to look at something 20 feet away.

Another possible barrier is a lack of language clarity. If the teacher speaks in a low voice, or if English is your second language, you may have difficulty understanding what’s being said. As a result, it’ll be much harder to follow along with what’s being taught.


Sitting at home with a computer can get lonely at times. And as research has shown, education is about more than just the dissemination of knowledge. It has a crucial social component that is lacking in the online format. If you have a question, you can’t just lean over to the person next to you to ask them for help. You aren’t surrounded by other people in the same boat who can sympathize with what you’re going through. There’s no free-flowing classroom discussion with people tossing out ideas and sharing perspectives.

As a result, online learning can lead to a sense of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection. That in itself can dampen enthusiasm and kill motivation, both of which are necessary to successfully complete a nursing program.

To mitigate these effects, it may be helpful to connect with fellow classmates in chat sessions and forums, interact regularly with your professors, and take advantage of live classes. If you have any close friends or family members, sharing your progress with them can make you feel like you’re not going it alone.


In addition to its many benefits, online learning also presents real challenges for nursing students that don’t typically occur in a classroom setting. A lack of social interaction, the need for computer literacy, and the absence of structure are just a few things that could prove to be your undoing if not considered and addressed.

However, for every problem there is a solution. By coming up with a plan beforehand, you’ll be able to face and overcome each of these obstacles, smoothing out the path to your nursing career.