This post on the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) FlexPath program is sponsored by and crafted with Capella University; however, all opinions are my own.
At the beginning of last year Capella University launched a new learning format for their RN-to-BSN program they describe as self-paced called FlexPath. Being a self-starter that style of learning was very intriguing to me, but since I already had my BSN, it wasn’t really applicable to me. However, Capella has just announced their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) FlexPath program*! Capella’s MSN FlexPath program is the first of its kind. No other university offers an MSN with this type of groundbreaking learning format. Since I am interested in obtaining my MSN with a focus on Nursing Education, I really wanted to learn more about what obtaining a self-paced online degree would actually look like.
Capella allows anyone to try out this format with a FREE FlexPath trial course. So… I tried a course! I wrote this post so you could see my genuine thoughts as I checked out this new style of online learning. It’s important to me to be able to get an idea of what something like this would be like before taking the big plunge into an MSN program.
I am intrigued by FlexPath because my schedule fluctuates quite a bit, so committing to a normal college course timeline and pre-set due dates isn’t really an option for me at this point in my life. I have periods of time where I can get a lot done, but others where I am very busy and probably couldn’t meet the deadlines of a more traditional online format.
I haven’t taken a full online course since 2007 and my experience at previous institutions was less than awesome. The structure of the course made it difficult to find due dates, communications, and documents. Oh, 2007… I was probably waiting in line for the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to come out while I was looking at prices for Blu-ray discs to replace my DVD’s on my Blackberry, and missed a discussion post. Typical.
What is FlexPath?
For those of you who are not familiar with Capella’s FlexPath learning format, it is a different way to obtain your degree than the typical online experience. Here are the big benefits FlexPath offers that you won’t get in a more traditional online format.
- A new level of flexibility – With this 100% competency-based program, you can set your own deadlines and there are no discussion posts, so whether you finish a course in 2 weeks or 12, it is up to you. You dictate your pace (if you have more time and want to be more aggressive with your deadlines, or have a lot going on and need more time). Once you are done, you move on to the next course without waiting.
- Different cost structure – with FlexPath you pay per 12-week billing session, not per credit hour. And with the self-paced structure, you complete as many courses per session as you can, for one flat tuition fee** (which enables me to budget better) for that period of time. Therefore, the faster you progress, the more you save. For example, pace your MSN faster to graduate in 1 year at under $10,000. For a more moderate pace, finish in 2 years at under $19,500.
- Your experience matters – There’s nothing I appreciate more than when my existing knowledge is considered. I’m not completing unnecessary assignments that are not beneficial to my specific needs. Every nurse going into an MSN program brings different skills sets and experience to the table, and I like that my unique experience matters as I progress my education. It also means I’m not using my valuable time to do something I already know how to do.
- Different levels of support – In any online program, occasionally you have clarifying questions for the professor, but sometimes you just need some pointers, minor clarification, or technical help. I hated sending an email to my professor about something minor (but important) and waiting 4 days to get a response because they were so overloaded with similar messages and tasks. I like that there’s someone specifically for logistic help (FlexPath coach), someone for content assistance (FlexPath tutor), and then my professor. They also have additional resources like a writing center, career center, librarians, and so forth.
Exploring FlexPath Course Structure
This was set up much better than my previous courses. But that’s not terribly shocking since it’s been almost 10 years (gasp!) since I’ve taken one.
The trial course shows you what a real courseroom would look like. You’ve got navigation on the left side with links to your progress within the course, required assessments (essentially your major assignments), the syllabus, notifications, and tools. It looks like you spend most of your time under the assessments tab, which is where your assignment-specific information is located.
Here is a screenshot of the trial course home screen:
An unexpected surprise was the classroom’s ease of use and the intuitiveness of the online platform:
- When you click on links or buttons, it opens a new tab. I know that’s a small thing, but when you’re doing this a lot, it makes a big difference to have necessary pages or documents in their own tab.
- The scoring guide is really obvious. I can easily tell what is expected of me.
- The syllabus is part of the navigation. This means I can quickly access it and am incapable of losing it. (Score!)
- When I need to look up a resource from a journal or database, it’s within the dashboard. This subtle feature makes things substantially more convenient because I don’t have to log into another website to get what I need.
- You can chat online with a librarian during specific hours. Guys. I hate the phone… like, with a passion. The ability to do an online chat when I need help compiling resources (which I needed many times during my undergrad) is simply magnificent.
Setting Your Deadlines
We chatted a bit about setting deadlines, but I wanted to show what that actually looked like. Remember, you read your assessment and then you decide how long you think it will take you? Here’s what it looks like when you set your deadline:
Submitting a FlexPath Assessment
For each assessment, you are given an overview of the requirements and what success looks like. It reminds me of the prompt for a paper. How many of us have Googled our assignment just to get an idea of what the professor was talking about?
Writing a paper? Compiling APA resources? Discussing my knowledge? No 50 question timed exam over 400 pages of material? No test anxiety?
I think assessments are my new love language.
After you get your mind around what’s expected, you then set your target completion date. If you’ve got questions, there are links to connect with a facilitator, tutor, or instructor. No, not sending emails back and forth, thank gosh… my inbox is already fuller than the trashcan outside of an isolation room.
They also provide a scoring guide, which again, is really helpful. I’ve written some papers but not been aware of how I was actually going to be graded.
I wrote my trial course assessment and uploaded it per the instructions. It stated that I would have facilitator feedback within 2 business days. I received my feedback and a grade about 2 business days later. There was an entire page-long written response to my assessment, followed by a grade… which was kind of cool to see, even though it was just a trial course.
What Everyone Cares About Most – How You’re Graded
Writing is my personal strength, not taking tests. I’m what you’d call a poor test-taker. I’m a terrified tester. Tumultuous test-taker. Turbulently tearing tests…. Okay I’ll stop now.
I’m bad at tests.
Even things I know beyond a shadow of a doubt… I doubt under pressure. (You pull out your calculator on your phone for 8+6 too? Great.) I would much rather leverage resources and synthesize my thoughts into an authentic assessment based off of my timeline versus taking an exam to demonstrate my knowledge. I think that’s a much more effective way to learn because I’m showing that I really have mastered a concept and haven’t simply memorized facts for a test. I’m leveraging my resources available to me to come up with an appropriate response… sound familiar? It reminds me of when I’m working at the bedside, utilizing what I have at my fingertips (policies, procedures, medication references, other member of the healthcare team, online databases, and quite a few more things) to deliver the best care possible to my patients.
Here’s a little more in-depth about how learning is assessed:
After really diving into the trial course, I feel like this is a step up from the regular online learning options out there in terms of personalization and accountability. So if you are motivated, focused and self-directed, this would be a great fit for you. However, if you need more structure, FlexPath may not be the best option. But don’t worry, Capella also offers the MSN in their more structured online format: GuidedPath, so you have options.
When I was fresh out of high school, this probably wouldn’t have been ideal for me because the transition from high school to college was a steep academic learning curve for me. But now, this learning format is ideal for my learning style.
My Final Thoughts on the Master of Science in Nursing FlexPath Option
I was pretty blown away at FlexPath after trying the trial course. I have been putting off getting my MSN because I simply haven’t had the time and was overwhelmed at the simple thought of the pre-set deadlines. However, after really jumping in and seeing what it would practically be like, I’m ready to take the plunge. I’ve actually decided to go ahead and begin my MSN with a focus in nursing education in the next coming months at Capella through the FlexPath format.
Try FlexPath For Free
If you would like to try out the FlexPath trial course at Capella for free like I did, click here.
If you’d rather do more of a traditional-style of online learning, there is always Capella University’s GuidePath option. This option includes due dates set by the instructor, discussions, and/or other assignments.
Also keep in mind that the BSN, MSN, and DNP degree programs at Capella University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Have you taken any FlexPath courses? What did you think?
* This offering is currently not approved for federal financial aid by the U.S. Department of Education (ED).
**Books, supplies, and other fees may apply.
See graduation rates, median student debt and other information at http://capellaresults.org/outcomes.asp