[GUIDE] Distance Learning for Allied Health, Nursing, and Trade Programs

[GUIDE] Distance Learning for Allied Health, Nursing, and Trade Programs

[GUIDE] Distance Learning for Allied Health, Nursing, and Trade Programs

Learn how to solve attendance, compliance, and retention challenges in distance and blended learning programs. 

Distance learning has been popular in the nursing and allied health sector for some time now, allowing students to level up their credentials on their own time. However, it increased in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic when schools shifted online to continue educating their students. While some schools have returned to on-ground learning only, others have continued with distance or blended learning, even in traditionally hands-on fields. 

But managing distance and blended learning programs opens up an entirely new set of challenges compared to traditional, in-person education. In this guide, we’ll explore the benefits of distance and blended learning for trade and vocational programs, the challenges that come with it, and how to overcome them to boost student outcomes.

Why distance learning in vocational and trades education

One of the primary reasons distance learning is suitable for allied health, trade, and other vocational schools is that it accommodates nontraditional students who may be working or caring for families while going through their program. In fact, 68 percent of nontraditional students are enrolled in a for-profit program, with the other 32 percent split between nonprofit and private. Distance learning allows students to achieve their goals in a way that works with their lifestyle.

Learn how DeHart Technical School switched to blended learning with CourseKey, improving on-time graduation by 23 percent.

Challenges of distance learning for vocational and trades programs

Two of the most significant challenges in distance learning are student retention and compliance. When you can’t physically see a student every day, it becomes difficult to track attendance and monitor engagement. These two factors are also critical for compliance. 

Since the pandemic, there’s been increased oversight on distance and blended learning programs. In July 2021, the Department of Education introduced new regulations around distance education, defining what distance education is and requiring “regular and substantive interaction.”

Now, they’re planning to discuss even more regulations in the Spring of 2023 as part of the next round of negotiated rulemaking

Improving retention in distance learning programs

Retention is a significant challenge in on-ground learning, but it is even harder when students are online. While some studies have found lower retention rates in online learning compared to traditional in-person learning, others have found no significant differences or even higher retention rates in online learning.

One factor that may contribute to lower retention rates in online learning is the lack of social interaction and engagement. In-person classes allow students to interact with their peers and instructors in real time, which can foster a sense of community and motivation to learn. In contrast, online classes may lack the same level of social interaction, making it more challenging for students to stay engaged and motivated.

On the other hand, online learning offers more flexibility for nontraditional students often attending vocational schools, boosting retention rates. Ultimately, retention challenges oftentimes arise from a lack of data. Instructors may take longer to enter activities from the LMS into the SIS, which makes it difficult to track students’ progress and identify those at risk. The problem is compounded for adjunct instructors who are not always available for a quick question about an at-risk student. 

To get the student progress data faster and improve retention in distance learning, schools can remove the administrative burden of entering LMS activities into the SIS from instructors. Instead of data entry, instructors can focus on what they love: Coaching students. 

We know what you’re thinking. If the instructors aren’t handling the LMS data, then who will? 

Schools can use two different tactics: Staff up or automate it.

Dedicating an administrative staff member solely to distance learning management and retention ensures timely data entry into the SIS and fast intervention when a student is at risk. However, staffing up is always expensive, and on the heels of the great resignation, 39 percent of schools say that staff retention is a top challenge for 2023. Automating the data transfer from the LMS to the SIS is the most consistent, cost-effective way to ensure your staff gets the right data at the right time. 

When staff has a real-time view of student attendance and progress, they can intervene the moment a student becomes at risk, not a week later when it will be a challenge for the student to catch up. 

But more on automation to come… 

Improving compliance in distance learning programs

Under current regulations, schools must offer students “regular and substantive” academic engagement. This includes things like:

  • Attending class,
  • Turning in assignments, 
  • Participating in computer-assisted instruction 
  • Group activities and online discussions 
  • Interacting with instructors regarding academic matters. 


Knowing and documenting the rules is the most crucial part of distance learning compliance. For example, how do you document student attendance in online classes? How do you prove it if asked by an auditor? 

While some of these engagement opportunities get documented in the LMS, you may be missing some pieces here and there. For instance, if a student and instructor are communicating via email, are you tracking that, and is the documentation easily accessible?  

CourseKey's software for distance learning attendance and engagement

CourseKey’s distance learning attendance software helps schools track attendance and engagement in clock-to-credit hour programs to boost retention and maintain compliance. We award time based on activities completed in the LMS, then transfer the data to your SIS, reducing instructor burden. According to Kevin Awaya, co-director of education at Hawaii Medical College, implementing CourseKey improved both distance education operations and morale.

“Now the instructors don’t have to do anything for asynchronous attendance tracking,” said Kevin. “They spend the extra time engaging with the students instead of manually entering time. They’re very happy, because it eliminated a tedious task.” 

But that wasn’t the only win. 

“Before CourseKey, if a student submitted late work, there would not be an automatic way to update the LDA in Campus Nexus. An instructor would have to dig around in D2L to find the late submission and update Campus Nexus with the submission date. The updated LDA relied on the instructor’s attention to detail,” said Kevin. “Now, CourseKey automatically picks up the late submission date and puts it into Nexus. We’re confident the LDA in Nexus is the true LDA, and that’s because of CourseKey.”

Now, the team has real-time access to student LDA, meaning a student won’t get left behind due to administrative oversight. 

One of our key differentiators when it comes to LDA is that we make it easier to not only spot LDA, but to identify which assignments are contributing to the LDA. Other automations simply push the data into the SIS and mark the assignments “absent, present, or late.” This means that instructors would still need to go into every individual assignment to understand which one a student did or did not complete. In blended learning, we combine this with on-ground attendance to automatically complete timely and accurate LDA determination. 

CourseKey also helps document engagement outside of the LMS. For example, with our course and instructor chat function, your school has an easily accessible, documented record of engagement.

Request a demo if you’d like to learn more about how CourseKey’s software helps allied health, nursing, and trade schools streamline distance learning management to improve outcomes. 

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