With recent advances in technology, such as digital video and the Internet, home study massage programs have rapidly evolved over the past few years. From the early home study courses that primarily consisted of dull, black-and-white course books and Xeroxed handouts sent through the mail, today’s programs have expanded into a burgeoning universe of elaborate, multimedia presentations and high-tech forums for teacher-student interaction. 

However, because today’s technology is easy to use and relatively inexpensive, we’ve also seen an increasing number of home study programs which—despite their techno-savvy packaging—offer little in the way of substance. Go online and you’ll find dozens of faceless, continuing education companies marketing all manner of home study products for massage professionals. Unfortunately, many of these programs offer poor-quality content and seem to be designed more for making money than imparting useful knowledge.

One way to ensure you’re getting the best possible professional education from home study courses is to examine the instructor that teaches and/or puts together the classes offered. A top benefit of home study programs is you can take classes from the most renowned experts in massage without having to travel long distances or pay huge fees to attend their classes. With that in mind, doesn’t it make sense that you should select courses taught by the most experienced and established instructors?

In some cases, going with big-name experts might not always equate with getting top-quality home study courses, since even well-qualified instructors can occasionally take advantage of their fame by churning out massive numbers of poorly designed classes. But if you’re willing to do a little research into the teacher’s background and examine the nature of the programs offered, you can easily find the ones who are most sincere about giving you the best possible education for your money.

This article is the first in a series that will provide you with some helpful questions to ask about home study instructors and their courses before you purchase their continuing education products. Read the first three questions below to get started, and then check back next week for the conclusion of the series.

1. What level of experience does the instructor have? This seems like an obvious thing to look for, but with so many different home study options out there, it truly is one of the most important. The most qualified teachers will have more than 10 years experience practicing and teaching massage therapy, and several will have upwards of 20 or 30. Even more, it’s always a good sign if before they launched their own careers, the instructors themselves studied extensively with prominent bodywork experts. Another telling qualification to look for is whether or not they still regularly practice massage. If someone is really passionate about touch therapy and wants to stay current with the latest developments in the industry, that person will maintain a practice and not give it up and focus solely on teaching and publishing.

2. Has the instructor been featured and/or published in respected massage trade journals? The top educators will be innovators in the field and, thus, they’ll attract the attention of the massage media. You’ll find their techniques, articles and opinions widely featured in massage trade publications and Web sites. Moreover, if they’re constantly looking to advance and further develop their work, they’ll appear in such media numerous times over successive years. Many of the top experts will even be given their own series, column or blog, where they can sound off their views on the profession. The bottom line is, if someone is truly making a difference in massage therapy, journalists will be eager to give them lots of press.

3. Does the instructor offer popular workshops and seminars? Nearly all of the top instructors will have laid the foundation for their teaching careers by leading live seminars and workshops before getting into home study. Many times, their home study programs will have directly evolved out of the desire to reach those therapists who are unable to attend their live classes or for practitioners who’ve taken their in-person courses and want to learn even more. Though offering quality live instruction doesn’t always mean their home study courses will be as good, having proven themselves to be popular and respected teachers in the live setting usually means they at least possess the necessary skills to be competent educators. 

Check back next week for the final questions to ask about home study teachers.

Chris Towery is the former associate editor of MASSAGE Magazine and is currently a full-time freelance journalist. He has written hundreds of articles for more than 20 different magazines, newspapers and custom publishers. Much of his recent writing has been for the complementary and alternative health-care industry. To contact Towery, e-mail cmreuben@yahoo.com.