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Five factors That Make a Good Online Continuing Education Course in Massage


Whitney Lowe discusses the differences between his Orthopedic Massage Online Courses and his hands-on workshops.

Each excels at teaching certain things, which is why they compliment each other so well. Here are the main differences and benefits of each style of learning. Its less a choice of one or the other, and more a choice of what content and skills you have already had and what you need more of. Actual hands-on placement and practice? Workshop. Digging deeper into the rehabilitation sciences and conditions, problem-solving, and assessment/treatment plan development? Online.

  • The Orthopedic Massage Workshops emphasize hands-on technique. I demonstrate scientifically-based assessment and treatment methods, explain the physiology behind their use, and then students practice those techniques. These techniques contribute to your professionalbag of tools. Techniques workshops are best for learning the hands-on skills. However, a skilled craftsman is good not only because of the tools he or she uses, but because of their knowledge of how, when, where and why to use those tools. While we can get into some of this in the workshop, there simply is not the time for truly in-depth study of conditions and their treatment. That is why I created the online program.
  • The Orthopedic Massage Online courses emphasize the “how, when, and why” of assessment and treatment. These are cognitive skills – skills that require the clinician to think through their client’s particular representation of symptoms, discriminate between similar problems, and come up with a treatment plan that makes physiological sense. Clinical reasoning and rehabilitation science are learned far more successfully in the online environment than a hectic weekend workshop.
  • Do you need this type of training? Do your clients ask you to treat a particular problem? Do they have pain that has not gone away and want you to figure it out? Do they expect particular results? If you answer yes, then you will need an educated process of determining an effective treatment approach. High quality therapeutic massage treatment goes beyond cookie-cutter recipes and requires clinical reasoning.
  • Effective treatments consider many aspects of anatomy, biomechanics, and pathology. These are best taught by applying the concepts, rather than memorizing them. And they are best taught when you have the time and space to reflect on the scenario.  Workshops simply cannot accommodate this style of learning.
  • Making clinical decisions is called clinical reasoning and it is an often neglected, but essential aspect of being a skillful clinician. Therapeutic, clinical, or orthopedic massage is as much a cognitive, clinical thinking process as it is hands-on skill. Clinical reasoning – or rather, critical reasoning or analysis – is the cognitive process that takes you way beyond rote treatments to being truly connected with your client and able to determine a successful solution to their problem.
  • I take your orthopedic massage education one step further…I take you all the way through a client case, from initial interview to treatment plan. Thus, when you begin to work with your new skills in the clinic you have essentially ‘practiced‘ several cases already. This way, you do not wind up fumbling around trying to figure out how to apply the materials.
  • Finally, in these courses I am personally involved in your studies and you submit some of your assignments to me directly. While you are not graded, I do give you ideas and provide you with feedback that you benefit from. My program gives you rare opportunity to actually interface with a national provider throughout your learning process.

The best education has you actively using the concepts, not relying on rote memorization (reading text or watching video, then answering questions).  Lowe’s courses are an involved and engaging learning experience that gives you the skills you need to be the kind of therapist that has a waiting list.

At the present time massage therapy education only provides a basic education for practitioners and many find the need to continue their learning after they graduate from basic training. Consequently, there has always been a very active market for continuing professional development courses.

At the same time online education has exploded in its use across the educational landscape. Online education has numerous advantages for continuing education in massage therapy. As a result, many companies have rushed to fill this void by creating a large number of online courses. Unfortunately, a vast number of online continuing education courses in massage are of poor quality.

So what should you look for in a good online massage therapy continuing education course? I put together a list of five of the most important factors that help identify a good continuing education experience. They are not necessarily in a particular order, as I think they are all of great importance.

1. The course is created by someone who is actually a teacher. It is amazing to me how frequently this principle is not followed. There are many companies out there that will take content from someone who has produced an article or information on a particular topic. The course developer will take that information and simply turn it into a format that can be deployed on the web. However, there may be little attention paid to whether or not it is presented in an effective and realistic manner that makes the learning practical. You would not take a class from somebody who said they could simply gather a bunch of pages of notes from various resources and expect it to be good. The same is true online. Good courses are created by good teachers.

2. The course is not an information dump. Many online courses are simply a large collection of text or video footage that is posted online and followed by a relatively simple multiple-choice test. This method of information dumping is not an effective learning strategy and is one of the main reasons that online education in massage therapy has gotten such a bad name. There is much more to creating a good course than simply dumping information on the web and seeing whether or not somebody can memorize it for a few minutes.

3. You actually have an instructor (or at least access to one) in the course. Many of the developers who create courses have found a great advantage that they can simply get content from other locations and post that on the web and call it a course. However, what does the student do if they have questions? You would not think it a very good teaching practice if a teacher just walked in the room and threw a couple of books on the desk and walked out. Yet, that is essentially the model that is used in the vast majority of online courses that do not have a teacher available for the students to contact.

4. Content is presented in a contextual format. Another great disadvantage of courses that are designed as an information dump is that it does not take advantage of contextual learning. Students learn key concepts much more effectively when they can be applied in some context related to how they will actually use that information. For example, instead of just reading an article about carpal tunnel syndrome, a student presented with an online clinical case that they have to analyze will gain much more long-lasting learning out of that experience.

5. Multimedia is used most effectively. There are numerous continuing education courses that are nothing more than text information. Yet, the computer as a learning tool gives us the opportunity for very rich multimedia content. Other courses may have video, but the video is simply a recorded webinar or a talking head speaking to the camera that is very boring. Multimedia has the opportunity to be a great learning tool but like anything else its effectiveness is directly related to using it appropriately. Effective multimedia is not just technical bells and whistles, but effective use of video, audio, images, and design to support an effective learning strategy.

We are continuing to see great advances in online continuing education in massage therapy. Hopefully, the market will continue to put pressure on course developers to improve the quality of learning experiences they offer so students can benefit from the true advantages of this learning methodology.

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