A cartoon featuring office workers on a desk in front of a giant monitor illustrates the concept of online continuing education, which differs from in-person instruction in several key ways.

There is a big difference between full-scale online curriculum design and emergency remote teaching. (COVID-19 disrupted education across many disciplines and necessitated that many people put massage continuing education programs online. Teachers and students had to adjust to this change nearly overnight.)

Here, I’d like to highlight 5 principles that contribute to a great online learning experience.

1. The course is created by the original author or provider of the content.

Some companies use other providers’ or authors’ works to create courses. There are many legal complexities when using someone else’s works. Since the developer cannot legally quote from or use any original work’s content without violating copyright laws, the student is left reading or watching the original author’s works and getting a test from another person. Someone else—notably not the original author and expert—is hired to write up supplemental materials and tests.

In sharp contrast, in a massage therapy continuing education online course designed and created by the original author or provider, additional and more substantial content and knowledge are shared with the student. Thus, the original work turns into support material for a far more comprehensive program.

As a result, the student learns substantially more from that expert than from just the expert’s text or video. The best content creator for a course will always be the author or creator of the original work or someone trained by that expert.

2. The massage therapy continuing education online course is not an information dump but is well-designed, using proven online educational methods.

Online courses can easily wind up being an extensive collection of text or video footage posted online. Information dumping is not an effective learning strategy and is a key reason online education in massage therapy has gotten such a bad name.

There is more to creating a good course than simply uploading information onto the web and seeing whether or not somebody can memorize it long enough to take a multiple-choice quiz.

A good course takes content and organizes it into well-designed and thought-out educational components based on sound learning strategies. Online educational methods that elicit the best retention, understanding and working knowledge result in better student outcomes. In fact, how we teach online is quite a bit different than classroom teaching.

Good online instructional design and methodology are vital to the quality of an online course.

3. You have an instructor (or at least access to one) in the course.

It is certainly possible to have a good online learning experience without an instructor, just as it is possible to read and learn from books without a teacher in your classroom. However, it is a great advantage to have an instructor available who is responsible for the course content to help you overcome problem areas, guide your learning, answer questions and help with technical challenges.

Having an instructor available is especially helpful for those who may not be as highly motivated to work on the course themselves. An instructor is also valuable for those intimidated by technology who believe they need guidance and support working through course content within that platform.

4. Content is presented in a contextual format.

Students learn key concepts more effectively when they are applied in a context related to how they will use that information.

For example, instead of just reading an article about carpal tunnel syndrome, a student presented with an online clinical problem to solve related to carpal tunnel syndrome will have a longer-lasting learning experience. This is called applied learning, and it is one of the instructional methods that can make online education better than in-classroom education.

5. Multimedia is used most effectively.

Multimedia content can help or hinder learning depending on how it is used; more is not always better. For example, some courses have videos that are recorded webinars or a talking head speaking to the camera.

While perhaps helpful for select types of information, when it comes to massage therapy continuing education online, simply mimicking the classroom lecture in an electronic environment can be tedious and ineffective for the student. Video, graphics and other multimedia are best used selectively and in a manner that supports a sound educational strategy and purpose, and when limited in time.

Whitney Lowe

About the Author

Whitney Lowe, LMT, directs the Academy of Clinical Massage. He teaches continuing education in advanced clinical massage through the academy and offers an online training program in orthopedic massage. He is a regular contributor to MASSAGE Magazine and is also a MASSAGE Magazine All-Star (massagemag.com/all-stars).