In 1991, at the request of the Ministry of Health the Open University of Sri Lanka (OUSL) agreed to open its doors to the nurses to obtain University education. The first group of nurses was enrolled as undergraduates in July 1994. The OUSL provides education through the distance mode in which the age, gender, experiences of the learner, content, context, learning resources, mode of instruction, and the study system are different to the education received in the schools of nursing.
The conventional method of face to face learning they had earlier made these nurse learners expect similar teaching methodology in the nursing degree programme. Distance education however expects learners to be self-directed and do independent learning, a methodology which is unfamiliar to the nurses. Moreover pressures of employment, family and social commitments, are a part of their daily lives. In addition the course is conducted in the English medium, and these nurse learners do not possess an adequate knowledge of English to follow the programme successfully. As our goal is to develop independent, autonomous distance nursing learners, it is important to consider their educational background and their prior learning experiences. Although the philosophy of the nursing programme at the OUSL emphasises the necessity to provide a supportive learning environment and creative flexible programming to foster to scholarship and life long learning, these nurse learners do not have supportive learning environment and creative flexible programming to foster to scholarship and life long learning, these nurse learners do not have supportive learning environment in the work place. This is also another important aspect that needs to be taken into consideration.
This article attempts to examine the ways to support the nurse learner in the OUSL baccalaureate programme in nursing through distance education. In order to provide a supportive learning environment, a combined system of distance teaching and face to face teaching is suggested. In addition, a nurturing relationship to develop the self-efficacy and self-concept of these learners is equally important.