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Massage Today
September, 2010, Vol. 10, Issue 09

The Changing World of Education

By Keith Eric Grant, PhD, NCTMB

"For everything you have missed, you have gained something else, and for everything you gain, you lose something else." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Back in December 2003, I attended a lecture by William A. Wulf, then president of the National Academy of Engineering. One of his comments that struck me was on the difference between small improvements in technology that make something already being done easier and on the continuing and often unexpected social changes stemming from huge quantitative changes in technology. He noted that he had a computer in his briefcase 100 times faster than the ENIAC computer (circa 1946), which weighed 100 tons and was the size of a squash court. The computer in his briefcase? It was a greeting card with a microprocessor to generate music. Wulf also quoted a statement by computer scientist Danny Hillis, likely looking back from the late 1990s to the late 1970s:

"I went to my first computer conference at the New York Hilton about 20 years ago. When somebody there predicted the market for microprocessors would eventually be in the millions, someone else said, 'Where are they all going to go? It's not like you need a computer in every doorknob!' Years later, I went back to the same hotel. I noticed the room keys had been replaced by electronic cards you slide into slots in the doors. There was a computer in every doorknob."

In the last 15 years, we've seen great changes in the diversity of people using electronic communication. E-mail lists and "UseNet" groups became common and then morphed into social networking and communication media such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Skype, and YouTube. We can now share thoughts, pictures, and videos in ways unthinkable a few years before. With Skype, we can converse with colleagues by voice, share text and Web links, and even see their computer desktop or share ours as we work on projects together. Our friends and colleagues can now as easily be across the world as across town.

Communication has changed enormously in the amount of information that can be moved and stored and in the capabilities to display it. Communication also changed both in the move from media control of information to individual control and in information media having to adapt both in presentation of information and in finding new business models -- a transition that is still in process. Now, I believe, we are on the verge of such changes in education, including, at the least, didactic elements of massage training. There is a tremendous amount of effort and creativity being thrown into technology for education.

Technology in Education: Hybrid Textbooks, Interactive Tools, and More

This morning, before sitting down to write, I chatted with Susan Salvo, author of Mosby's Pathology for Massage Therapists, about her experience with Elsevier Publishing's hybrid textbooks. The textbooks are hybrid because they include a physical textbook, an access code to online interactive modules, and a user guide.

In using such technology for hybrid classes, Salvo stresses the need for the teacher to demonstrate access within the class and to provide regular links and contact via e-mail. For the student, the online modules provide additional ways of learning and the ability to review material until they grasp it. According to Elsevier's description, their Evolve Course Management System (CMS) is available to instructors upon adoption of a core textbook and provides both learning resources for a corresponding textbook along with access to a comprehensive suite of communication and organization tools. These tools include discussion boards, e-mail, chat rooms, calendars, address books, task organizers, and more, allowing an instructor to customize course content, build online tests, create assignments, enter grades, post announcements, manage student groups, and much more.1 (Ryann Ellis provides a more general discussion of the desirable features of such a learning management systems.2)

Jan Schwartz and her colleagues at Education and Training Solutions3 have taken a more direct path to online learning -- one that includes being a provider of classes for Massage Envy. Schwartz noted that they chose Moodle4 as a course management system (CMS) because of it being developed and maintained by "an open source concept community -- working together to create a product that just keeps getting better".

Schwartz, who holds a masters degree in Sustainable Entrepreneurship: Specialization in E-Learning spoke with me about the flexibility of such systems. Moodle, for example, provides for synchronous sessions with group chat rooms and having office hours in which students can talk with the instructor. It also provides for students doing group projects together, working asynchronously as their own time permits. An example she gave was for students to read an article, review it, and then comment on at least two of their classmate's reviews. Schwartz notes that part of the instructor's role is to nudge students to stay on topic in the work rooms and to be succinct. There's a social forum provided for more casual interactions among students.

At this point, online learning can't teach the basic kinesthetic vocabulary of massage skills. Some things still need to be learned in person. What the technology is capable of providing is both theoretical knowledge and demonstrations of ways of applying a kinesthetic vocabulary once learned. At this point, there are still state laws and board regulations that can prevent full utilization of current technology. Both the technology and its use for education in general are evolving so rapidly at this point, however, that such laws and regulations will increasingly be seen as quaint anachronisms. Students who have grown up with technologically-based education will push the profession into using technology for its full potential in providing training that is both flexible and highly interactive. From a regulatory standpoint, training concerns should not be about how content is delivered, but about how well students can demonstrate their mastery of required content after training.


  1. Elsevier. Evolve. Accessed 27 July 2010.
  2. Ellis RK. A Field Guide to Learning Management Systems, ASTD Learning Circuits, 2009.
  3. Education and Training Solutions. Accessed 27 July 2010.
  4. Moodle Community. Open source community-based tool for learning. Accessed 27 July 2010.

Click here for previous articles by Keith Eric Grant, PhD, NCTMB.


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