Online education has increased dramatically in the massage therapy profession in the last 10 years. At this time, it is used primarily in continuing education, although it is making increasing inroads into entry-level education as well. Many states have set limitations on the amount of continuing education credits that can be earned through online education. The primary argument is that massage is a hands-on (psychomotor) activity, and therefore continuing education courses should predominantly be delivered in a classroom environment where physical techniques can be practiced. There is a serious flaw in this argument which will be outlined below.
What is the purpose of continuing education requirements?
The primary purpose of continuing education requirements in licensure is to make sure the practitioner stays current with new findings, emerging research and developments in the profession. The purpose of continuing education requirements is NOT to provide a market or an economic base for workshop presenters.
How is this goal achieved?
If the primary goal of continuing education is to make sure practitioners stay current (which it should be), the next natural question is to determine what methods are appropriate and beneficial for helping achieve that goal. There is certainly a place for learning new massage skills, but it is highly inappropriate to suggest that the only way to stay current in the field is to learn new massage techniques. In fact, an argument be made that the more important skills in continuing professional development are expansion of cognitive skills, not learning new techniques.
If one were to look at numerous other healthcare professions you can see a similar process. In nursing, physical therapy, medical practice, chiropractic, or any other field, there are continuing education programs that teach additional manual (hands-on) skills. However, it is strongly recognized in all of those fields that continuing professional development is reliant on practitioners learning more about current research and expanding their knowledge and understanding of how to work with people in the healthcare setting. Those types of skills can be taught exceptionally well online.
Why it is an error to limit online education
The most important factor in determining the appropriateness of a continuing education program to fulfill the goals of the CE Program requirement is whether or not the course meets the educational objectives of improving the practitioner’s knowledge or skills. The type of teaching methodology used to improve the skill set is secondary or even irrelevant as long as it is appropriate for what is being taught. For example, a state that has 24 hours of CE required may limit online education to six of those hours. The practitioner may take six hours of a pathology course, and 18 hours of some currently popular, trendy massage technique that has minimal impact on improving that practitioner’s ability to stay current or perform safe and effective massage. In fact, in most continuing education programs that focus on teaching treatment techniques, half of the practitioner’s time is spent receiving a massage! While it is certainly arguable that things can be learned from receiving massage, is it really worth half of those continuing education hours?
On the other hand, a person may be prevented from more beneficial learning experiences simply because they are delivered online. For example, the University of British Columbia has a Masters degree program in rehabilitation science which focuses on teaching healthcare professionals (like massage therapists or physical therapists) key facets of rehabilitation science that help them become far more effective healthcare professionals. Yet the vast majority of this Masters degree program would not be accepted for continuing education requirements in many states.
It is clear that the educational landscape is changing, and change is always uncomfortable for many individuals who have become accustomed to a pre-existing system. However, it is blatant discrimination to focus on the learning methodology and not on the content of the course when making limitations about what can or cannot be accepted for a type of coursework for continuing education.
There are frequent arguments about the poor quality of online education courses for massage therapy continuing education. Clearly there are issues that need to be addressed to improve the quality of educational offerings. However, rarely do you hear the same arguments made about the very large number of poor quality classroom courses that also fit under continuing education requirements.
The quality of the educational experience should be based on how well that learning experience meets the educational goals, not how it was delivered. As an analogy, when you order a pizza, you don’t care whether the person arrived in a Ford or a Honda. Your primary goal is that the pizza was delivered appropriately, on time, and for the agreed-upon price. The same should be true in education. It’s time to stop focusing on methodologies so strongly, and turn our attention back to helping create quality educational experiences in both the classroom and online environments.