Online education provides convenient, affordable access to a wide array of topics, ranging from two-hour ethics courses to more than 150-hour modality trainings. Many people take online courses to keep up with their required continuing education (CE) requirements, while others take courses because they want to learn about specific topics-regardless of how much credit they receive toward CE requirements.
Online and distance-learning courses are ideal for people who learn best at their own pace. Keep in mind that these courses also vary: some only provide written materials, while others include audio materials or videos. Some courses are completely online, while others e-mail or mail all or a portion of the materials. The assessments can range from multiple choice exams to written essays, documented case studies or submission of a video showing you performing a specific treatment protocol.
If you want a specific online course to meet your CE requirements, first check with your certifying/licensing bodies to find out their parameters before purchasing. Not all states have the same requirements. Find out the following:
- The number of hours required each year.
- Whether all or a percentage of the classes must be given by approved providers.
- The scope of topics that can be taken and which topics are not allowed.
- The minimum or maximum number of hours that can be allotted to certain subjects (for example, half of the hours must be hands-on or only up to one-third of the hours can be practice management).
- The method of learning allowed (some states don't allow distance learning for certain topics).
- Specific course requirements (for example, six hours of ethics every four years or CPR recertification every five years).
Many individuals, companies and organizations provide CE courses on a range of topics. Check advertisements in trade journals, magazines, newspapers and newsletters; contact your professional association for a list of providers; view online catalogs from massage and bodywork schools as well as local community colleges, universities and adult education programs; peruse local specialty publications; and surf the Internet (start your search with key terms like training, continuing education, home study, correspondence, massage schools, seminars, workshops or the specific topic you are interested in exploring).
Knowing how to evaluate CE providers is helpful, regardless of the reasons for taking CE courses. After all, it is your time and money you are investing. The depth, breadth and overall quality of CE courses vary greatly. Do proper research before purchasing an online course. The key aspect is the credibility of the company and individual facilitating the course. The following steps will guide you in ascertaining credibility:
1. Review marketing materials (such as advertisements, brochures or website). Do the materials project a professional image? Are the courses clearly defined with specific objectives? Are the testimonials believable and are they from real people (not a vague reference, such as "J.R. from Dallas, Texas")? Does the company offer any type of satisfaction guarantee or quality assurance?
2. Investigate the business' history. How long has the company (or individual) been in business? How many classes have been given? How many people have taken courses? What are the qualifications of the developer of the course? What are the professional affiliations held? Has the company/individual received any awards? Does the company/individual have credentialing status (for example, is approved by the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork or specific state provider)?
3. Obtain references. Obtain feedback from others who have taken courses by this provider. The CE provider should give you names and contact information from past participants; keep in mind that the referrals will most likely be slightly biased (those lists are usually comprised of happy customers). Talk with your colleagues. If you are registered with an online newsgroup, you can request support from members. You can also post questions on your Facebook page or Twitter. Ask specific questions, such as the following:
- How easy was it to contact the provider about the course?
- What did you like the most about the course?
- What did you like the least about the course?
- Were the course materials (handouts, manuals, videos) beneficial and of high quality?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the overall value of this course?
- Did you learn what you expected to learn?
- Were agreements kept?
- Do you think this was the best way to learn this subject? Why or why not?
- What is the likelihood of you taking another course from this company?