• critical thinking skills;
  • distance education;
  • off-campus postgraduate nurse education

The critical thinking skills students bring with them on entering university courses will necessarily have a bearing on how they manage their studies and gain new knowledge. This study examined postgraduate nursing students'perceptions of their gains in critical thinking abilities through engagement in off-campus studies after three semesters of study. Data for the study were collected by survey methodology. Descriptive statistics were derived and correlation analyses performed using SPSSx. This study indicates that for most skills, the differences between those students with prior university experience and those without it in perceptions of change in skill ability were not marked. For most critical thinking skills, about one half or a little more of the students perceived an overall positive shift in their abilities. For some skills, however, there were marked differences in the proportion of students perceiving a shift in skill ability, and possible explanations are offered. The results also indicate that a considerable proportion of the students surveyed perceived a lack of critical thinking skill development. As a result questions can be raised about how off-campus students without prior university experience engage with tertiary studies. The implications of these findings in terms of the development of off-campus nursing course materials and student learning are discussed.