• distance education;
  • nurse education;
  • Habermas;
  • postregistration;
  • critical thinking;
  • grounded theory

Aim.  This paper reports on a study exploring the experiences of nurses undertaking distance education (DE) programmes.

Background.  While DE has many advantages in terms of the flexibility, autonomy and freedom that it affords to learners, the literature reports that students undertaking these programmes can also experience feelings of being disconnected and isolated.

Methods.  A convenience sample of 15 participants was selected, and data were collected using in-depth interviews. Data were analysed using a qualitative design that drew most heavily on the methodological procedures of grounded theory.

Findings.  Habermas’ theory of communicative action was found to be relevant to the interpretation of data and four categories were constructed to explain participants’ experiences in relation to DE, namely: lifeworld lamented; lifeworld experienced; lifeworld ceded and learning within a bounded system. These categories reflect the manner in which participants experienced the lifeworld component (the interactive and subjective dimensions) and the system component (objective and outcome oriented dimensions) of the educational realm. While data indicated diversity in how the boundedness of the programmes was experienced, overall such standardized, instrumental courses were viewed favourably by participants within the limitations of their own personal circumstances.

Conclusion.  Distance education as a means of disseminating nursing knowledge should be strengthened. The challenge for nurse educators is to develop DE programmes that minimize their limitations and maximize their potential.