In September 2011 when Karyn Holt, Ph.D., became the first Director of Faculty Development and Online Quality within the College of Nursing and Health Professions at Drexel University, based in Philadelphia, she herself had been the beneficiary of positive online learning experiences. She says, “I realized that as an online learner, I learned faster and was able to go deeper. I felt that I was able to go beyond what I was learning in the classroom, though I have learned a lot in traditional face-to-face programs as well. 

In her current position, Dr. Holt, who has a Master’s of Nursing from Georgetown University and 30 years of clinical experience, does many things. Her bottom-line focus, however, is on delivering quality education through a variety of bachelor’s, master’s and advanced practice nursing degree programs, as well as certificate programs.  

Quality matters

As a certified Quality Matters Master Reviewer, Dr. Holt regularly conducts quality reviews of her institution’s online programs. “Our goal is that all of our programs will have the features found in the Quality Matters criteria. It is a very rigorous metric that puts a microscope to online learning at Drexel. We hold ourselves to a standard.” 

“It really doesn’t matter where you’re physically located. It matters where you’re mentally located.” 

No significant difference 

Regardless of whether a student is pursuing a degree as a registered nurse anesthetist, nurse educator, clinical nurse leader or any other degree program, online programs offer the same level of education and interaction as any traditional program would. According to Dr. Holt, “It really doesn’t matter where you’re physically located. It matters where you’re mentally located.” 

In her online courses, students gather from around the U.S. and the world, from as far as Dubai and Turkey. Dr. Holt says, “Online classes are not passive. Online learners are active learners.” In fact, because of dramatic advances in technology in the last several years, students are able to watch online videos, talk to each other Karyn Holt, Ph. D., CNM, NCC Associate Clinical Professor, Division of Graduate Nursing, Advanced Role M.S.N. Department, Drexel University INSIGHT and even do physical assessments of patients using animations and a digital stethoscope-like device. 

One well respected litmus test for online learning is the ‘no significant difference phenomenon,’ a theory championed by education researcher Thomas Russell. For Dr. Holt and the students at her institution, there is ‘no significant difference’ between the rigor and utility of the education they receive online and in a traditional setting. These students become well educated and sought out by employers, because as Dr. Holt explains, “We close the gap between the knowledge that students have and the knowledge they need.”