By Penny Shumaker Jeffrey, PhD, LMBT
Continuing education (CE) within the massage therapy profession includes numerous and varied course topics, ranging from anatomy to business management to yoga for self-care. CE hours are required for a myriad of reasons, such as state-level licensing and maintaining specific nonlicensed credentials.
CE courses are offered through many avenues, including private and public post-secondary schools, membership associations and private individuals certified to offer CE courses. It is important to ensure that the CE course you are taking will meet any licensing or credential requirements.
However, just because continuing your education might be a requirement for the profession, it is important to embrace CE for the opportunities it provides in expanding your knowledge and skill set through best practices—while having fun and professionally networking. Whether you just completed your massage therapy program or have been in the profession for a number of years, taking CE courses might feel daunting but it is crucial to your continued personal and professional development.
This article discusses how to make the most of your in-person CE learning experience through considering: your preferences, the learning environment, the course and instructor, and networking opportunities.
Consider Your Preferences
Expanding your content knowledge through a CE course might consist of learning a new technique, taking a deeper dive into a technique you have been wanting to master, or maybe a broader learning experience integrating an existing technique with another. Increasing your depth and breadth of knowledge and skills is important for professional and personal development. An increase in this capacity can open more doors to opportunities such as management, consultant positions, specialization and more, all of which could lead to better pay or prestige in the profession.
With that, let’s consider you: what works best for you and what you need to best support your learning process. Spending time and money on CE courses has a direct reflection on your potential income and position in the profession, and that should not be taken lightly. All in-person CE courses are not created equal, and it’s vital to consider your valuable time and available monetary resources when deciding on a course.
Some CE courses are a short one-hour learning opportunity while other courses are several hours or days. There are even retreats held near and far in which you are offered meals and overnight accommodations.
Of course, the amount of time you can take off from your practice or the cost of the course can dictate this decision. A massage therapist in private practice needs to consider the loss of income from not seeing clients while in the course as well as the cost for the CE course. Nationally, CE course registrations are an average of $15 to 20 per hour. (This might be a moot point if you are a therapist employed by a company that provides in-house CE training at no or low cost.)
You also need to factor in how you learn. Do you come into a three-hour CE course with a strong mind and body during hour one, peak at hour two, and by hour three your mind and body are frazzled? If so, recognize and acknowledge that attribute of yourself and consider two-hour CE courses or courses that can guarantee the breaks you need to revitalize.
Additionally, people have preferences for the ways they prefer to learn: visual, aural or kinesthetic. If you prefer kinesthetic learning, for example, which many massage therapists do, it would be helpful to you if the CE course was a hands-on-minds-on-experiential-learning experience immersed in building capacity for a technique rather than a sit-down-take-notes-direct-instruction experience where the instructor drills you with a presentation made through Microsoft PowerPoint. Some learners prefer one type of course over the other, but either way it would be a good idea to find out how the course will be presented.
The Learning Environment
Consider your optimal environment, in which you can create a positive learning experience. If you want to take a three-hour, in-person CE course on business management and plan to sit for direct instruction, do you like to use a pen and paper to take notes or do you use a tablet or laptop? Some instructors do not encourage the use of electronic devices for taking notes because of the sound of typing on a keyboard, possible online distractions and sounds. Ask about such classroom rules prior to arriving with only a laptop for taking notes.
Other considerations should include the classroom temperature, seating arrangement and capacity. Do you feel more comfortable in small or large class sizes? Are you going to be required to sit on a metal chair at a table? Learning in an environment that is comfortable to you is important to consider. If you are considering taking a six-hour, day-long CE course and it will be held in a classroom environment with tables and chairs, how will your body acknowledge the experience? Will you have the ability to get up and stretch as needed? Can you bring a chair cushion? Some in-person CE courses have participants sit on the ground. Do they offer a back support device such as ground chair and prop pillows for your body? Will you need a clipboard for taking notes?
For skill-based CE courses, you might be spending hours on your feet learning new techniques. If you are currently active in your practice, then this time might not pose a problem. However, if you are taking a CE course to maintain your license but not actively practicing massage then you will want to take the activity level into consideration and ensure you have proper footwear and hydration.
For classroom environmental needs, it’s good practice to bring a light jacket or sweater in case the room temperature is too cool (similar to an airplane). Also, packing healthful, nutrient-dense snacks, light lunch for longer courses, water and your favorite mug with tea packets in case there is not an on-site area to purchase healthful snacks and drinks. Consider the things that will create a positive learning environment for you.
The Instructor and the Course
Much of a positive learning experience involves the teaching abilities of the CE course instructor, which includes their teaching style, and how the course was designed. In most cases, we learn about instructors and their CE courses through peer recommendations.
However, if you have never taken a particular instructor’s CE course or know someone who has then consider reaching out to the instructor prior to registering to ask some of these questions. Is the instructor grounded in a specific learning theory and if so, which one? Does the instructor’s teaching favor a constructivist or more behaviorist approach, considering how each approach might affect your learning experience? Does the instructor’s teaching engage participants in an active learning process or are they geared toward a more traditional learning theory in which they deliver the content and you listen? Does your instructor understand how people learn?
For the CE course, does the instructor identify course objectives and student learning outcomes to be accomplished by the end? (Yes, in-person CE course instructors should be able to clearly identify and accomplish objectives and outcomes.) Did the instructor create the CE course in a way that encompasses several different types of activities such as think-pair-shares, problem-solving case scenarios, reflection, practice? Does the course have an adequate break schedule and lunch time if needed? Is the content current, logical and supported by best practices or research? Does the course have handouts or other supporting ancillary materials and are they in digital or hard copy format?
Knowing what to expect when taking an in-person CE course lends the possibility of having a more positive learning experience than you would walking into a class that might not meet your expectations.
In-person CE courses can offer a wonderful networking experience for participants to increase both social and professional connections. Considering that students are there for a common reason, makes for a great way to create community. The course instructor will hopefully schedule time for introductions and then sufficient breaks and group activities to get to know others.
Students may come from near and far so take advantage of this supportive environment and reach out! As you enter the classroom, smile and look around, find another friendly face and say hello. If you are a natural introvert personality, now is the time to move beyond your comfort zone to embrace the idea that you all are there for a common interest. If you are a natural extrovert personality, then you might be the guide to help others connect through conversation.
Create connections that might offer future partnerships. Imagine meeting therapists who specialize in pregnancy massage and who may wish to partner with a massage therapist with expertise in craniosacral therapy. Imagine forming a friendship that might lead to a practice partner, a place to stay if you attend a course in their home state or if they attend one in yours. And, how lovely to attend a retreat that immerses you in a different place and culture!
Be sure to exchange professional contact information such as business name, phone number and website. Then, reach out to them within the week to let them know you enjoyed meeting them and look forward to future collaborations.
Get What You Hope For
In-person CE courses can offer a fun learning experience. Remember, because it’s your investment of time and money, consider your learning needs, the learning environment, the course and its instructor, along with available networking opportunities.
Considering these things can leave you walking away with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment in attaining the knowledge, skills and networking connections you were hoping for.
About The Author
Penny Shumaker Jeffrey, PhD, LMBT, conducts CE courses in nutrition, is the vice-president and a current board member for the Alliance for Massage Therapy Education, and is an assistant professor of science education at North Carolina State University. She created The Flying Pig Healing Cottage from her passion for helping miniature pigs, with Pig Pals of NC.
[OEx] Read “This is What ‘Continuing Education’ Really Means,” by Penny Shumaker Jeffrey, PhD, LMBT, at massagemag.com/current-issue.