Obtaining a nutrition or dietetics degree from an online program is an option for aspiring RDs. There are several online nutrition programs available at bachelor’s and master’s levels.
When deciding which online program to enroll in, it’s important for students to choose one that meets national educational standards. The program should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics (ACEND). Further, the program should be offered at a regionally or nationally accredited university or college.
Coursework in online and traditional nutrition programs is very similar, with equivalent standards. What differs is the experience that students have in working towards their degree.
It’s worth mentioning that most people don’t take advantage of online nutrition programs. The majority of RDs attend traditional programs at colleges or university to obtain their degrees.
There aren’t any particular reasons for this, other than the fact that online nutrition programs aren’t as well-known. As the field grows, they will likely become more popular.
Coursework in online nutrition degree programs is similar to that of traditional programs. Listed below are descriptions of a few courses that are part of online nutrition degree programs:
- Medical Nutrition Therapy: Learn evidence-based approaches to prevent and treat chronic conditions, such as heart disease, kidney disease, cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Understand how pathology and biochemistry impact nutrition related diseases.
- Biochemistry: Focuses on biochemical principles of human nutrition, including gene expression, bioenergetics, and metabolism. Learn the structure and functions of biological nutrients including water, proteins, enzymes, macronutrients and micronutrients.
- Quantity Food Production: Provides an overview of food service organizations from food safety and sanitation to culinary math and laboratory exposure. Students will develop the ability to plan menus and become familiar with quantity food preparation and holding equipment.
- Nutrition Counseling: Learn and practice using theories of behavior change through counseling patients and promoting changes on an individual and group basis.
Some online nutrition degree programs are “hybrid-style,” meaning parts of the course are entirely online, while other components are completed in person. This is the case for courses that require hands-on experiences, such as labs.
Many online programs have begun to utilize Skype and other software that allows easier communication through a webcam. These are often used to execute lectures and meetings.
Field Experience, Training, and Credentials
Students who undergo online nutrition degrees are typically required to complete in-person field experience, similar to those in traditional programs. This may include working or volunteering under the supervision of a RD for a certain number of hours.
Field experience provides opportunities for students to apply academic knowledge to real world situations and shadow RDs in their day-to-day work. This is especially valuable for students in online programs who may not have as much face-to-face interaction with their classmates and instructors.
Aspiring RDS in online nutrition programs also have the same requirements as far as supervised practice, credentialing, and licensure.
Pros of Online Nutrition Programs
- Ability to study and complete coursework from any location.
- Sometimes more affordable, doesn’t require extra costs that come with relocation or commuting.
- Option for students with learning styles that don’t thrive in classroom environments.
- Encourages self-motivation since students don’t have as close contact with their instructors and classmates.
- Allows students to choose a program that interests them without having to worry about relocating.
- Students may have more flexibility with choosing where to complete field experience, since they aren’t confined to a particular location or class times.
- May help develop skills such as problem-solving, time management, organization, and self-monitoring.
- Gives students more control over their time and resources.
Cons of Online Nutrition Programs
The downsides of online nutrition programs mostly revolve around limited engagement with instructors and other students. Additionally, many of the required courses for dietetics students are challenging. For this reason, not having quick access to an instructor or tutor can be a major downfall.
Listed below are the major cons associated with online nutrition programs that aspiring RDs should take into consideration:
- Limited interaction between students and instructors.
- If students experience technological difficulties, this may prevent them from being able to attend online lectures, take exams, or submit assignments on time.
- Time management can be challenging since online nutrition programs are completed independently, and students won’t receive as many in-person reminders about deadlines from instructors and classmates.
- Less opportunities to interact with other students; not as much collaboration as far as study groups and group projects, which can enhance the academic experience in traditional programs.
- Most research for papers and projects will need to be conducted over the internet, rather than the school’s library. This may limit the resources that students have access to.
- Not as much hands-on experiences that are typically provided in traditional programs. For example, students in traditional programs may have opportunities to conduct nutrition classes at local schools for their education course, or “practice” nutrition assessment techniques with classmates.
- Feedback and constructive criticism on assignments and projects will be provided mostly online, which can result in miscommunication between instructors and students.
- If tutoring is needed, it isn’t as accessible.
- Students won’t be provided with as much 1:1 support when applying to dietetic internship programs.
- Since online programs don’t allow for as much interpersonal communication, instructors don’t get to know students and their abilities as well. This could make it more difficult for students to use them as a quality references when applying to internships and jobs.
Examples of Online Nutrition Programs
Online nutrition programs are offered by many colleges and universities throughout the country. Listed below are several schools known for their top-notch online nutrition programs:
- Eastern Michigan University
- Canisius College
- University of Southern Mississippi
- The University of Alabama
- University of Bridgeport
- Auburn University
- University of Northern Colorado
- Benedictine University
- Central Michigan University
- University of North Florida
- South Dakota State University
- Logan University