I have been exploring online education in the massage therapy field since the late 1990s and have become a huge advocate of this approach. I frequently get asked about the key benefits for online learning in continuing education so I thought it would be helpful to share what I think are the top 10 advantages for this approach. They are not necessarily in any order because some of them could be more important to you than others. I also want to stress that these key advantages are not always present in any online course, but are characteristic of high-quality online learning experiences.
- Time saved– Everyone is exceptionally busy these days. Once you get out of school it’s hard to find time to do additional classwork. Especially if that means giving up sacred weekend time or having to take time off from your business to travel to a course. Online education lets you schedule your educational experiences around your life. That means you can do your studies when it is most convenient for you and also when you are most conducive to learning. If you happen to be scheduled to take a workshop class and you have a car accident on the day before and are emotionally stressed throughout the weekend, that’s too bad for you. But with online education you could wait until you’re healed and ready and then start your studies when you’re ready for it. You’ll get a lot more out of it that way.
- Cost effectiveness-Let’s face it, continuing education workshop courses can get pretty expensive, especially now that money is often tighter for most of us. There is not only the cost of the course, but if it’s not in your immediate area there is the cost of hotels, and travel. There may also be significant time taken off of work which is lost income. Online coursework provides an opportunity for courses to be delivered at much lower cost and there aren’t the other expenses associated with physical in-person classroom courses.
- Chunking- One of the biggest challenges of the traditional weekend workshop format is information overload. It is extremely difficult to keep an attention span for an entire day. There is only so much information that you can take in and absorb in a short period of time. Because you’re often in class and trying to learn for 6 to 8 hours per day a great deal of the information you learned may be lost due to cognitive overload. Online education provides the opportunity for small chunks of learning to be delivered in shorter segments so you can take in as much as you feel ready, and then stop without getting information overload.
- Longer period of interaction with your instructor- If you are in a facilitated online course (one with an instructor) you have access to that instructor during the entire length of the course. The course may be delivered over a much longer period of time than just a weekend so you have a greater period of time to access the instructor and ask questions. The greater length of time with an instructor allows you to integrate your learning with your practice even better.
- No “one pace fits all” in the classroom- The traditional classroom experience is a “one pace fits all” learning process. For example, a lecture on a particular foundational topic or theory is presented and you have to keep up with the pace of the lecturer. If there are concepts you don’t understand or something you missed, there is rarely time in the class for you to stop and wait for you to understand them. In the online learning environment you can stay on a concept or topic as long as you need to until you fully understand it.
- Shy students may feel more comfortable asking questions- In the traditional weekend workshop classroom you are in a class with people you have never met before. Many students may feel shy or uncomfortable asking questions in front of their peers in this environment. If you’re in a facilitated online course where you have access to the instructor, you have a personal interaction with the instructor only and do not have to feel uncomfortable about asking any question you want to clarify. Yet there are often opportunities to connect with other learners through forum discussions if you want to.
- Learners can focus on what they need- Everyone comes to the classroom with different learning experiences and backgrounds. Consequently, you may want to spend more time on a concept you are not familiar with, but somebody else in the class has plenty of experience in this area and wants to focus on something different. Because the classroom can only have one major focus, that means everybody has to focus on the same primary learning activities. In the online classroom, you can spend more time on those things that you are not as strong with and move more quickly through those things you are familiar with.
- Freedom to make errors- In our culture there is a strong, negative perception about failing or making errors in an activity. However, making errors is a crucial part of the learning process as it helps refine your understanding of when something is correct or incorrect. Online learning experiences can provide numerous opportunities for you to test your understanding without fear of repercussions for failing or making errors. The lack of individuality in the physical classroom makes it much more challenging to accomplish in that environment.
- Greater control over your learning process- While the long-standing theory of visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning styles has basically been debunked, we do still understand that people learn in different ways. Both the physical classroom environment and online education can offer different learning strategies. However, the online learning environment does give learners a great deal more control over their learning process because of the individuality associated with time, pacing, and content.
- No geographic discrimination- Massage therapists are located all over the world. Some live in high population centers, while others live in much more remote or geographically isolated regions. However access to education is very unequal. If you don’t live in a large population center, your ability to access quality continuing education courses in a physical classroom with an instructor is very limited. It becomes much more expensive for you to attend these classes and consequently many people are unable to afford them. Online education levels the playing field by making coursework available to anyone anywhere in the world as long as they have access to an internet connection.
There are still many courses that are most effectively taught in a classroom environment. And, the skills involved to become an instructor for an online course are very different than those for a physical classroom course. So it’s not accurate to make a blanket statement that one type of education is better than the other. However, we are at a major transition period where we are seeing a rapid adoption of online education in many sectors such as higher education and continuing professional development. Consider these options and if they are important to you it may be a good reason for you to seek out a high-quality online learning experience.