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Online Nurse Educator Programs

Online programs for nurse educators provide master’s level training and instruction in the theories and methods of nursing education. These programs are designed for registered nurses (RNs) who intend to advance into teaching positions at universities and college, as well as in hospitals and healthcare organizations. Nurse educators learn about curriculum design, assessment strategies, and strategies for teaching adults in various environments. They also receive instruction in clinical areas like pharmacology, pathophysiology, and patient assessment. While nurse educators with full-time university faculty appointments often require doctorates, RNs with a Master’s in Nursing (MSN) who have completed a nurse educator program are eligible for the Certified Nurse Educator (CNE) credential conferred by the National League for Nursing (NLN), and can be hired to teach nursing in most academic and clinical settings.

What Are Nurse Educators?

Training for nurses requires both clinical and didactic instruction by RNs who have practical experience and grounding in educational theories and methods. Nurse educators are RNs who have been licensed to practice nursing and have received subsequent training at the master’s level in the knowledge necessary to provide formal instruction to aspiring nurses-in-training. Nurse educators serve as mentors, advisors, and instructors at community colleges, in Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs, and in other educational settings, such as hospitals and healthcare organizations that offer nursing diplomas. The NLN formally recognizes nurse education as a distinct specialization, and offers the CNE exam to RNs who have obtained a master’s in nursing degree. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) has also recognized the importance of nurse educators, and has been working to secure funding for nursing faculty development programs in order to address a shortage in qualified nurse educators documented in the AACN’s 2016-2017 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing report.

Online Master of Science in Nursing – Nurse Educator Programs

Online programs in nursing education target the knowledge and skills necessary for RNs to teach nursing in schools, hospitals, and other clinical and education settings. Like their campus-based counterparts, online nurse educator programs typically follow curricular guidelines outlined by the NLN and/or the AACN, both of which maintain competencies and practice standards for nursing and nurse educators. This includes coursework in general advanced nursing practice, coupled with classes that target pedagogical approaches to nursing education, theories of nursing, and curricula design for nursing students.

Master’s in nursing education programs that are offered online utilize learning management platforms for the delivery of lectures and other coursework. Students in these programs typically receive all or most of the classroom instruction online, and submit assignments and other coursework remotely using an online learning platform. Most MSN programs for nurse educators also include a clinical practicum, which requires the completion of a certain number of supervised clinical hours at an approved facility. The number of supervised clinical hours varies by program, but usually does not exceed 300 hours. In addition, some online master’s in nurse education programs require students to attend on-campus intensives or immersion sessions. These campus-based sessions may include opportunities for networking with instructors and fellow students, seminars devoted to nursing practices and educational technologies, and group learning activities. Not all online MSN programs include an on-campus component, and does not include any programs that require more than three campus visits per year.

What Students Learn in Online Master’s in Nursing Education Programs

There are two primary areas of curricular focus in an online master’s in nursing education program: core MSN competencies, and skills and knowledge specific to nurseing education. The AACN maintains MSN core guidelines, which includes courses that cover subjects like healthcare informatics, nursing research, and the theoretical foundations of nursing. The NLN has a more detailed list of competencies for nurse educators. They include instructional strategies for classroom, laboratory, and clinical settings; curriculum design and program outcome assessment; and research in the field of nursing education. Most MSN programs for nurse educators are designed to prepare graduates to sit for the NLN’s Certified Nurse Educator exam.

Common Courses in Online Master’s in Nursing Education Programs

The chart below illustrates some of the more common courses found in MSN programs for nurse educators:

Course TitleCourse Description
Advanced Nursing ConceptsAn overview of conceptual models and theories or nursing.
BiostatisticsThe use of biostatistics and bioinformatics in public health and nursing, including the application of statistical modeling and analysis methods in the health sciences.
PathophysiologyAn advanced exploration of the relationships between normal physiology and system alterations produced by injury and disease across the lifespan.
PharmacologyAdvanced concepts in pharmacologic therapies as applied in primary and acute care settings, including the diagnosis and treatment of specific health care problems.
Curricular Design in NursingStrategies for developing, evaluating, and revising curricula in contemporary nursing, including how to integrate new research into program design.
Nursing Education Theories and StrategiesTheoretical foundation and evidence-based approaches to nursing education.
Technology Applications in Educational LeadershipThe use of information technology in nursing instruction and educational administration.
Information Systems and Technology for Improved HealthcarePatient care technologies, communications systems, and data management tools in today’s healthcare system.

Pathways to Earning an Online Master’s in Nurse Education

Online nurse educator programs are designed for nurses who already hold a valid RN license and want to pursue an MSN degree. This can include RNs who are at different points in their educational and career development. Depending on person’s level of educational attainment, individual MSN programs may or may not provide a pathway to a master’s degree in nursing education. Prospective applicants should research programs carefully in order to find schools that offer an appropriate pathway for their educational background. Common pathways for online programs are detailed below:

  • BSN-to-MSN: RNs who have completed a BSN have the fastest and most direct route to an MSN degree. Most online master’s in nursing education are set up to accommodate these students. Because BSN programs include general education coursework, as well as a specialized nursing curriculum, graduates from these programs are typically able to begin working toward an MSN degree without having to complete additional required coursework, sometime referred to as bridge courses.
  • RN-to-MSN: Nurses who received their training in two-year associates degree hospital-based nursing diploma programs typically have not fulfilled all of the general education requirements necessary to begin working toward a master’s degree. Some MSN programs have a pathway for RNs in this position. The RN-to-MSN pathway is longer than the BSN-to-MSN pathway because it involves completing general education coursework and any additional bridge requirements that are part of a BSN curriculum.
  • BA/BS-to-MSN: Some MSN programs include a pathway for RNs who have completed a non-nursing bachelor’s degree in addition to an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN). RNs in this position typically have to complete bridge courses in order to fill in any gaps in their nursing education. Like the RN-to-MSN pathway, this pathway is typically longer than the BSN-to-MSN pathway.
  • Post-Master’s Certificate: Some master’s in nursing education programs offer an abbreviated pathway for RNs who have already earned an MSN degree. This shortened pathway allows RNs to enroll in specialized nurse educator courses and earn a post-master’s certificate that qualifies them to sit for the CNE exam and move into a career as nurse educator.

Admissions to Online Nurse Educator Programs

In addition to holding a valid RN license, there are several other criteria that online nurse educator programs may weigh as part of the admissions process. This varies by program. Some schools require a BSN degree and may not have a pathway for RNs with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, an ADN, or a nursing diploma. In addition, there are other common requirements and variables that prospective applicants should consider when researching programs. Some programs:

  • require the submission of standardized test scores (usually the GRE).
  • prefer applicants with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • have specific academic prerequisites, typically undergraduate coursework in statistics, biology, and/or healthcare.
  • require applicants to provide letters of recommendation.
  • may take into account an applicant’s prior work experience.

Online Nurse Educator Program Format Considerations

There are several important variables in the format and structure of online nurse educator programs that prospective applicants should be aware of when researching programs. These variations may affect the time to completion for a typical student, the overall cost and convenience of the program, and the amount of flexibility the program affords to students who have significant commitments outside of school.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: There are two primary methods used by online MSN programs to deliver lectures and other course materials. If a program utilizes synchronous instruction this indicates that students must log on to a learning management platform at specified times to view and participate in lectures and discussions. Synchronous instruction provides a structured learning experience that is similar to a traditional classroom setting, but it may pose scheduling conflicts for those who have significant work or family obligations. Asynchronous instruction provides more flexibility, but requires students to be even more self-motivated. If a program utilizes asynchronous instruction this indicates that lectures and discussions are accessible 24-7, and that students are responsible for keeping up with coursework on their own schedule.

Part-time vs. Full-time Enrollment: Time to completion is another important consideration for students in online MSN programs. Programs that require full-time enrollment, or have a full-time enrollment option, offer the quickest route to earning a master’s in nursing education. However, full-time enrollment requires a more intense commitment of time, as the course load per term in full-time programs is heavier than in programs that are offered part-time. A part-time enrollment option may be preferable for students who are juggling commitments outside of school. Programs that are offered part-time, or that have a part-time enrollment option, take longer to complete, as students take fewer courses per term. The typical times to completion for MSN programs are illustrated in the chart below:

BSN-MSN20-24 months2-plus years
RN-MSN30-36 months3-plus years
BA/BS-MSN ~24 months2-plus years
Post-master’s certificate8-12 months12+ months

Campus Visits and Supervised Clinical Hours: It is important to distinguish between mandatory campus visits, which some MSN programs require, and supervised clinical hours, which are an important part of the training protocol for nurses and nurse educators. On-campus immersion sessions or intensives require students to travel to a campus in order to participate in learning and networking activities. They often give students an opportunity to meet with instructors face-to-face, and to interact with other students over a period of three-to-seven days. However, the travel costs and the time away from home may be an impediment for some students. does not include MSN programs that require more than three campus visits per year. In contrast, supervised clinical hours in the form of practicums and internships are integrated into most MSN programs in order to provide nurse educators with practical experience applying the concepts and theories that they learn in class. Most online programs allow students to find a convenient location for the completion of supervised clinical hours, although some programs match students to placement sites. Prospective applicants should research this aspect of online nurse educator programs to ensure that they will be able to meet this requirement, and to factor in any additional travel expensed that they may incur.