I attended a mostly online program. We had to attend campus for skills/procedure training, but not for actual lectures. The lecture type material was a variety of things: recorded lectures, podcasts, powerpoint presentations, etc. The assignments were, well, what I expect most folks had to do: some various written reports/reviews on health conditions/topics, independent research, community projects completed by networking with providers and leaders in our geographic location, and some collaborative group assignments (which were the most annoying, truly). We had practice tests and reading assignments and whatnot. When we took an exam, we had to do so either at a proctored exam site, or we could take the exam at home by using this funny little camera doohickey that recorded 360 degree video, audio, and also noted every keystroke on the computer as we took the test. That was a bit weird because you had to make sure there was no background noise, no papers in front of you, nothing on the walls around you, etc. And believe me, the company paid to watch these videos did their darn job. I found out the hard way because I cursed a few curse words during a particular exam and got an email two days later asking me to not use vulgar language as it could offend the people who review the video. LOL! As far as preceptors, we were expected to find our own so that we could get one close by in our own community (but we had to submit their credentials and have them approved by our instructors, of course); but if we had trouble finding one, then the instructors would contact past preceptors for us and line one up (you just might have to drive a little ways farther than desired if you went that route). Anyway, that is all just to give you a feel for how the program was set up.
Now, do I feel the program was rigorous and whatnot? Meh. Appropriately difficult, but no more so than my ADN and BSN programs were. It was much more time consuming and, therefore, more stressful, which would certainly add a degree of difficulty. Oh, and I worked full time as an ER RN during my NP school as well, so that didn't help the stress/time factor either.
I would have liked to have gone to a traditional school just for the experience, but at the time there weren't any options in my area, and I had no way to relocate at the time. I do believe there is something to be said for face-to-face education. Being in a classroom environment and being able to ask a question and immediately hear your classmates' and instructors' opinions is a much better experience overall for me. However, I do not think that missing out on that has impaired my learning in any way. It just made me have to be more self-motivated and aware.
Now, for one problem (of many) that even I have with online schools: They definitely assume that you have a lot of knowledge and experience under your belt prior to beginning NP courses (and they should), despite the fact that many do not require actual nursing experience for entry. I know this is a whole other argument, but still. The online school I went to expected you to be a solid RN with solid RN experience to build on. Without it, my program would be like learning to speak Spanish by starting off in Spanish II, completely skipping Intro to Spanish and at least half of Spanish I. Not impossible to succeed, but it certainly doesn't make it easy. At any rate, I believe if a program is going to assume a certain amount of prior knowledge, then they should vet potential student candidates with this in mind and actually require experience to get in. Other programs may be different, and start off assuming no prior RN experience, and they may begin to build a foundation from a different level. But again, they really should recruit/accept applicants based on what level of experience the program is geared towards, not just how many dollars they can make off of us. That is a severe disservice to the student because it is not allowing for an appropriate learning environment. But I digress.....
My husband went to a ($expensive$) well regarded brick and mortar NP school. He did that because, even though he had been an Occupational Therapist for 12 years and a paramedic for a couple years after that, he had only been an RN for barely 2 years before going back for his NP. And he knew that he would need the extra oomph that a brick and mortar school could provide. And he did great. But they really did challenge him and build a foundation from the bottom up, which is what he needed in order to "catch up" with the more experienced RNs in his class. Online schools don't really seem to offer this that I have seen yet, and that is a huge problem for those students with little or no experience. If we are to continue having those with little/no experience as an RN become NPs, then we really need programs that are designed to take this into account so that they aren't short-changed.
Anyway, another issue I see with online schools no matter if you have RN experience or not, is that you really need to be a self-motivator. There are a lot of opportunities to procrastinate and end up rushed so that whatever your assignment is, you end up not learning as much from it because you just slap it together. I know you can do this in regular schools as well, but there is something reminder-like about actually having to GO to class every so often that can prompt you to complete your projects in a more timely manner. Just my experience here, anyway.
So what is the perfect method of schooling? I believe it is very much based on the type of person the student is. If you have little experience, and you aren't a self-starter/motivator, then I think a traditional campus experience would be more beneficial. And when I say "self-starter/motivator," I do not mean "excited to learn." We are all excited to learn and become NPs, but you really need to self-evaluate and know what your learning pattern and habits are before making such a huge commitment. It's all about knowing what your needs/opportunities as a beginning provider are. Are you starting from scratch? Do you have experience, but it really isn't relatable to your chosen NP degree path (such as having practiced as a Peds RN but going into Adult Health)? Are you sure of your learning habits/needs? Etc etc etc..... Good luck to any and everyone. It's certainly been no Disneyland Fairytale being an NP, but it is what is, and I sure don't miss being a human fecal receptacle when I was working as an RN in the ER! LOL!