by Tom Myers

Since Erik Dalton and Art Riggs have covered the territory, I will simply shout “Olé” and add my own emphasis.

I completely understand the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork’s (NCBTMB) concern that online education not replace the direct kinesthetic experience of one-to-one, hands-on education. The motivation to prevent the electronic medium from taking over completely is laudable, as this is a motor skill. I don’t want my surgeon trained solely on simulators, and I don’t want my massage therapist trained by phoning it in.

But when you talk about continuing education after a competent and documented one-on-one basic training, we are concerned with adding valuable skills to an already competent person—and that is a different animal. Thus, in creating such rules, regulators may go too far in denying access to good instructional material that is, thanks to the reach of the Internet, available to those who are geographically or financially challenged in making it to hands-on classes.  

People have been learning technique from video for years, and many such videos are approved for NCB credit. Distance learning is no good for acquiring a whole new approach (although, it can be used to learn about the approach), but it is ideal in refining existing skills and bringing new techniques within a known bailiwick (for example, more myofascial techniques for the myofascial release practitioner; a new cranial move for graduates of The Upledger Institute; a more advanced exercise for the Egoscue crowd). These applications of Internet learning should be encouraged and fully credited. In other words, I would be very afraid to get my cranium adjusted by someone who learned it all online, but I am relaxed about a trained craniosacral therapist using a new temporal release technique she picked up from Michael Shea’s Web site.

Online students study when they are ready, often pay more attention and can review instruction as needed. The sad truth is, as both Dalton and Riggs point out, the student:teacher ratio and the demands of a weekend workshop often do not succeed in bettering online education in terms of one-on-one contact, or competency assurance in terms of the techniques conveyed. In some cases, online education may even do a better job. As our sophistication with online educational applications increases, it will get even better.

The one place we can all agree that needs to stay in the person-to-person realm is the area of manual-skill examination and resultant certification. By all means, keep some percentage of continuing education hours as an in-class requirement. By all means, make sure certification in any skill-based technique is assessed accurately. (Although I notice that neither of the two current national exams have manual components—how does that work to assess competency in a way online education cannot? There is cognitive dissonance here.)

Limit online education, make sure it is supplemented with supervised manual-skill building, but do not stifle it. Online education offers a great new opportunity and learning channel that will revolutionize education in a few short decades. We want to be on top of it, not running from it.

Tom Myers is director of Kinesis Inc. and author of Anatomy Trains.