Virtual education
Virtual education

NCBTMB Approved Providers Share Tips to Make Distance Learning More Effective

NCBTMB Approved Providers Share Tips to Make Distance Learning More Effective

This article is written by Scott Raymond, BCTMB, LMT; Dr. Susan Salvo, EdD, BCTMB, LMT; and Demara Stamler, LMT for the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (NCBTMB) 

Distance learning has been available for decades, and its use increased significantly during the pandemic. In our last column, we focused on gaining insights from continuing education (CE) instructors on how their methods were working. In this column, we want to focus on approved providers and share some of their tips for distance learning. We asked three NCBTMB approved providers to share tips on how they and other providers can create effective learning experiences. Scott Raymond, BCTMB, LMT, Southington, CT; Dr. Susan Salvo, EdD, BCTMB, LMT, Lake Charles LA; and Demara Stamler, LMT, Burke, VA, answered NCBTMB’s questions from our distance learners.

Q: What are the advantages of distance learning courses? Are the advantages different depending on synchronous or asynchronous learning?

Stamler: I started out with synchronous learning and within a few months added asynchronous. Synchronous learning more closely translates to the in-person classroom setting. You’re live with students, you can see them, they can see you, you can have discussions with them, query them, and discern engagement and participation. I have only used Zoom meeting rooms, so I can only speak to that experience; however, the advantage of breakout rooms available on other platforms can be highly effective and helps with peer-to-peer connection, brainstorming, and knowledge sharing. Contrary to some beliefs, you can create community, active engagement, and a collegial experience in a distance-learning environment, too. From a marketing and class-size optimization perspective, teaching courses in a virtual environment allows people anywhere in the country or world to attend. They don’t need to be away from home, pay for flights and hotels, be at the mercy of whatever food options are available, or find childcare. Additionally, the potential reach is exponential and allows providers to impact many more lives and livelihoods. 

Raymond:  I find that when I use multiple cameras and microphones the experience is sometimes better for remote users. I can walk around class with a camera and give remote users a really great view of the lesson. In general, online classes give better and deeper knowledge of hands-on demonstration when the instructor has high-quality equipment like cameras, microphones and the other technology needed for a fleshed out online experience. The instructor needs to be flexible and try new things. 

Q: How do you make the most of the distance learning experience?

Salvo:  Instructors should build a user-friendly, comprehensive distance-learning module that considers the diversity of their learners and the barriers the platform may present. They should ask themselves questions like, Are the instructions clear and the navigation intuitive? Is it easy to navigate for those with visual or auditory impairments? Can it be easily understood by non-native English speakers?  Is the material presented in a culturally competent manner as to not ostracize learners? The more thought that goes into developing the course from a learner-focused perspective, the better. In practice, this often means updating and refining the course presentation over time and with use.   

Stamler:  Instructors need to show how much they love what they are teaching. Learners will come away with so much more if their instructor cares about the subject, helps them understand why it matters and how it will help them in their practice and potentially in their lives. It helps to vary the energy and pacing and be creative. Learners can benefit from the reminder that it’s up to them to get the information they need and to ask the questions they need answered.  Instructors try very hard to give them what they need, but each learner is diff rent. For both the instructor and the learner, give extra grace as well.

Q: What suggestions do you have in establishing a relationship in a distance learning course?

Raymond:  During a synchronous class, I like to have people raise their hand and ask a question either live or as part of the chat box on the online platform just like an in-person classroom. Learn to be comfortable reaching out and asking questions. Participate in the question and answer period after class, and be prepared to stay late and engage the instructor if you need something answered.  

Q: What are the most effective approaches to teaching massage technique in a distance learning environment?

Salvo:  Teaching massage techniques remotely will require highly developed communication and explanation from the instructor. Best practices include explanation of the technique and its purpose, and clear visual demonstration of the technique from several angles. Offer a slow-motion version of the technique to help the learner understand details of what is happening. Thorough verbal explanation of both what the therapist should be feeling, as well as what the client will be experiencing, helps the learner comprehend the overall effect. It may also be beneficial for the subject of the demonstration to describe their experience of receiving the technique. As with any technique instruction, there should be clear directives about appropriate use and pressure, body mechanics, and any contraindications. Ideally, the course integrates an educator’s ability to critique several of the students’ practice sessions. Video conferencing in real-time and immediate feedback is always better. If in-person and live is not doable, record and send a video for the instructor to provide feedback. 

Raymond:  Hands-on technique class requires the right technology and a partner. I recommend students take technique class with a partner. For example, having the massage receiver wear a microphone during class allows me to demonstrate to the learner what the receiver is experiencing and how to adjust based on their feedback. Multiple cameras are helpful as well. I use a high-definition camera that is user-friendly and has a flash drive port. This provides good quality visuals. In addition, refurbished phones are inexpensive and can be used for the roving camera in the classroom. You can download Zoom and use it to project images from the class. Always have assistants to monitor the room and to monitor online questions and chats. Make sure learners have their cameras on and keep them on, even during the lecture portion of the class. It makes it less likely that they will get distracted. Instructors should always practice with the technology well ahead of class to work out any technical difficulties. In addition, the instructor and assistants should be available at least 30 minutes in advance to help with learner technology challenges.

Q: What was the best distance learning experience that you have had as a learner? And why was it the best experience?

Salvo:  My best distance learning experience was completely asynchronous, as it allowed me to work at my convenience. I personally prefer models that offer learners different options to digest the materials. For example, I prefer listening to a lecture or watching a video rather than reading text, so the best courses are ones that give learners the option to utilize the format that works best for them. An ideal course for me would have each lesson offered in a downloadable format (to be viewed anywhere) with each of these features:  

• A video with visual aids explaining the material;

• An audio file of the transcript of the video or a podcast style lecture covering the same materials;

• A written outline/text of the materials covered;

• Optional interactive materials to engage the learner with the material.

Stamler: I recently attended a three-day seminar that was beautifully run and managed. They changed the energy and pacing of the instruction various times throughout the training.  It even included upbeat music that they asked the class to stand up and move to and did it in such a way that people wanted to do it. A few tactics they used to mix it up: 

• Attendees were put in breakout rooms for short discussions and sharing to change the energy.

• The instructors varied their speech patterns, sometimes storytelling and sometimes lecturing.

• Instructor demeanor was inviting and positive, as if they loved what they were teaching.

• Instructors had a variety of visuals from photos to quotes to lecture points.

• When there were technical issues, they were addressed immediately and calmly. Attendees were either sent to break or instructors kept teaching without the presentation. I am a much better teacher from having attended that class and it had nothing to do with the curriculum.

Raymond:  My best experiences so far as an educator have been teaching classes online. They have taught me to better work with learners and better understand their needs. I like asynchronous classes because I can take it when I want, have time to process all the information and review everything after I’m done. Online classes are a great choice to maximize learning.  

Like This Article? Keep Reading:

What’s Happening with Hiring? Employment Trends in the Massage Profession

Where Can You Find Credible Evidence-Based Research for Massage Therapy?