I spent three days last week at the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education (AFMTE) conference, in St. Charles, Missouri. This was an interesting and inspiring conference for me, because it was heavily attended by decision makers and educators who were focused on discussing challenges to both the present and future of massage education and practice.

Several developments discussed at this conference could mean big changes in the area of continuing education.

One of the most discussed topics at the conference was the Federation of State Massage Therapy Boards’ (FSMTB) development of an online module that will provide three of the six continuing education units (CEUs) the FSMTB will require for maintaining licensure in states that utilize the FSMTB’s Massage and Bodywork Licensure Examination.

This means states that currently require eight or 10 or 12 CEUs to maintain licensure will drop down to six CEUs—and three of those may be obtained each year directly from the FSMTB’s public safety/ethics education module. (The states will be in choice as to whether or not they use the FSMTB’s module; but, in reality, the state boards are the entities that asked for the module’s development, so I think it’s pretty clear they will adopt it.)

The FSMTB announced it was transitioning “from broad continuing education requirements to maintenance of core competence” back in 2012—but the fact that it would also create an online module where massage therapists can earn half their required CEUs seemed to be news to many at the AFMTE conference.

However, I don’t believe the FSMTB’s module nor its changes to the number of CEUs required to maintain licensure is a death knell for CEU providers, because two additional developments discussed at the AFMTE conference could herald the birth of two new educational marketplaces.

First, the AFMTE conference was greatly focused on educational standards for massage therapy educators (see the core competencies that came out of its Teacher Education Standards Project)—so I imagine that CEU providers could develop classes that teach the educators of the future how to help mold the massage students of tomorrow. Someone who teaches a CEU class on ethics for massage therapists, for example, could tailor their coursework to educators instead.

Those students of tomorrow—and, really, many of the students enrolled in massage schools today—grew up with technology, take classes online, want hybrid education and move at a faster pace than ever before, according to Whitney Lowe, who presented “Developing the 21st Century Teacher” in a keynote address. (Read my blog about Whitney’s presentation here.) As a side note, the current issue of Scientific American has a special report, “Learning in the Digital Age,” on these types of changes to education, which is worth reading for more information on this topic.

These demands mean online education will only become a larger share of the massage education marketplace.

Second, the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork‘s (NCBTMB) executive director, Susan Toscano, and vice president of education support, Donna Sarvello, presented an update on the NCBTMB’s development of specialty certifications—a development that I imagine could be a positive one for CEU providers, since they could have the opportunity to tailor courses to the new specialties.

During The NCBTMB presentation, several people expressed concern about NCBTMB’s looking solely to the massage field for CEU providers, when medical schools and universities could be utilized to provide higher-level education.

During the presentation, Janet Kahn, Ph.D., and Ruth Werner, Ph.D.—both of them researchers connected with the medical community—each offered to help the NCBTMB with its approved CEU-provider program, the latest version of which will go live Nov. 1, specifically in regard to networking with medical schools and universities. Educator, massage therapist (and MASSAGE Magazine blogger) Laura Allen asked when the NCB would remove the “things with no basis in reality,” religious- and spiritually-based bodywork and “claptrap” courses “that are all about using some product” from its approved provider database. Toscano said she would take the input from Kahn, Werner and Allen back to the board.

Sarvello told the audience that CEU approval is an ongoing process, and that, until now, “we really had no bar, and we can’t take it from here and jump way up here.

“We need to take baby steps to move the whole profession,” she said. “NCB is here to elevate the profession, but we’re also here to support this profession—we’re going to bring [people] together and raise them up together.”