Understanding which continuing education massage therapists can chose from is important to identify which best supports their learning style.

Lifelong learning can be defined as a continual, voluntary, personal choice to pursue knowledge for professional or personal reasons.

Lifelong learning—or for massage therapists what we can also call engaging in continuing education—is motivated by oneself, not by other people.

Biologically, as higher-order, thinking mammals, we possess the innate ability to be lifelong learners, and we also possess the cognitive framework to choose whether we want to learn a particular subject or not.

Of course, the latter is subjective, because the decision to learn about a specific subject—such as massage therapy—is voluntary.

Learning should be a lifelong endeavor, but we need to have the desire and interest to want to learn. Understanding our relationship to learning can help us as massage therapists choose the continuing education that best supports our learning style and desired rewards.

Understand Yourself

As you read through this article, ask yourself the following questions: What drives my interest in wanting to learn about particular subjects? Why did I choose to pursue massage education? Why didn’t I choose to learn something else? Which learning environment do I feel most motivated in, and why?

Reflect on the numerous reasons that led to your decision to be a lifelong learning—or not. Might that decision have been because of the subject, the place of learning or socioeconomic reasons?

Virtually all massage therapists need to complete massage continuing education classes in order to maintain a credential. Many therapists also choose to pursue advanced massage education in a specialty. Understanding your personal learning style and motivations will help you as you travel the path of massage education throughout your career.

This article will explore types of learning environments; the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards of learning; and the benefits of being a lifelong learner.

Learning Environments

Lifelong learners can certainly glean new knowledge from a variety of learning environments, but some of those places might be a better fit for one person to learn in than another.

Lifelong learning environments include formal, informal and non-formal settings. I’ll explain each of these here.

This article is not intended to imply that one learning environment is more effective than another; however, I do want to stress that lifelong learning within the environment you choose to participate in has blessings and challenges, each with intrinsic and extrinsic value.

The Formal Setting

 Being enrolled in a massage certificate program would be an example of a formal learning setting. Learning in this setting occurs under the umbrella of a structured educational institution or organization, within a specific place and duration of time, with curriculum that has specific course objectives and student learning outcomes.

Massage continuing education courses that offer credit and are held in person, online or through a recorded platform hosted by an educational institution or organization also can be defined as formal learning.

The thought of going back to school causes stress for some adults. The idea of a set schedule, homework and classroom dynamics are not appealing. Other adults thrive academically and emotionally in this setting. In fact, in the formal setting, the participant chooses which course best suits him or her, pays for the course and participates in it.

Behaviorally, because an adult makes the choice to sign up for a program, pay tuition and participate, you might imagine that both blessings and challenges might present themselves in many forms within the structured classroom environment—and you would be correct about that.

Beautiful differences among people coming together from various social, cultural and economic backgrounds present fruitful academic and emotional learning opportunities. Less appealing is that formalized education, in many cases, has a higher price tag and presents individual scheduling conflicts around life needs such as working, caring for children or parents, relationships and transportation.

The informal setting. Lifelong learning in informal settings happens daily, and is fun, noncommittal and experiential. It also can spark interest and excitement to motivate a person to want to learn more.

 Imagine going to a social get-together with other massage therapists and striking up a conversation with one of them about a modality she recently learned. You weren’t familiar with this modality, and asked her to demonstrate it for you. As she demonstrated it, you and the other therapists learned something new.

You were able to take away a new skill. This massage education happened in a very spontaneous moment, enabling you to experience it naturally. There was no conformity in relation to curriculum, setting or expectations.

The non-formal setting. Another learning environment is the non-formalenvironment. This setting falls between formal and informal, and there is a lack of consensus in the literature about the clear differences between the informal and non-formal environments.

However, it’s generally noted that non-formal education is geared more toward individual student needs in a formalized setting, without all of the constraints the formal learning environment presents.

For example, a conference seminar or an online webinar that offers no extrinsic credit for the learning experience, but through which the student still gathered new knowledge or a new skill, are both non-formal settings.

Rewards of Learning

Lifelong learning delivers both intrinsic and extrinsic gifts, or rewards. One type of gift is not necessarily better than another, so it’s important to understand both types, with the understanding that even education researchers disagree on the value assigned to intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

For example, years ago in my professional life, I felt something was missing. I had three academic degrees, I was always in my head, I was moving forward through life, and I was successful in what I accomplished. Still, I felt something was missing, professionally.

I realized I had a calling to be a massage therapist. I could not outwardly explain the calling, other than to say it was loud and clear that I wanted to learn about being in this profession.

If I wanted to be licensed within the profession of massage in my state, I had no other option than to attend a formalized certificate program, with a set number of hours and a curriculum required for licensure. I evaluated several different massage education programs and chose to go to an outstanding, privately run massage school within a few minutes of my home.

The intrinsic value for me in attending the program far outweighed the extrinsic value. I continued to work my full-time job, going to school in the evenings, missing out on family time, and staying mentally tired.

The extrinsic value of the money earned after my program would not equate to what I was currently making; however, intrinsically, I began to fully understand the importance of presence and empathy, and principles of positive, nonviolent communication. I began to learn about the strong connection among body, mind and spirit. What I took away intrinsically from that learning experience was of great personal value to me.

Intrinsic Rewards of Lifelong Learning

• Developing a growth mindset, or the understanding that intelligence and abilities are things that can be developed.

• Taking time for ourselves and doing something we enjoy simply because it gives us pleasure.

• Learning that learning for learning’s sake can be powerful.

• Allowing ourselves to feel emotions such as interest, satisfaction, self-esteem, confidence, and enthusiasm for lifelong learning.

Extrinsic Rewards of Lifelong Learning

• Learning a new modality for financial gain in a professional career.

• Creating new, purposeful connections with people at conferences that can possibly advance one’s professional career.

• Learning new research findings within massage education that can help our clients.

• Using knowledge gained to teach others in a massage continuing education course.

These lists are not inclusive, and can become very personalized to the learner. But, again, it’s important to realize that both can occur and one might be dependent on the other.

Massage Education for a Lifetime

As a lifelong learner myself, I hope you feel inspired to explore your own best learning environment and the rewards that motivate you. There might be challenges that discourage you from diving into lifelong learning, but remember that the blessings of massage education far exceed the challenges.

Please reflect on which learning environment might best fit your life situation, what challenges and rewards education holds for you, and why is it important for you to pursue lifelong educational opportunities.

About the Author:

Penny Shumaker Jeffrey, PhD, LMBT, conducts continuing education courses in nutrition, is a board member of the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, and an assistant professor of science education at North Carolina State University. She created The Flying Pig Healing Cottage from her passion for helping miniature pigs, with Pig Pals of North Carolina.