Before I dive in to the geeky and technical stuff about creating an online ethics course for massage therapists, I’d like to explain why I thought it was worth the time, trouble and expense.
It’s all about Geography
I live in Washington, one of the most beautiful states in the US. From where I live, I’m less than 2 hours from the ocean, the mountains, and 2 national parks. It’s a big state full of beautiful places to visit. Yes, it’s rainy here all the time. At least in the part of the state where I live. But there’s another part of the state where it’s sunny most of the time. That’s where the apples come from.
What separates the state into two different regions is the Cascade mountain range. I’m sure you’ve all seen pictures of Mt. Rainier. If not, here’s a shot I took while on a hike. Beautiful, no?
Most massage therapists don’t live in the urban centers
While beautiful, the mountains and the miles make it hard for many of the massage therapists in Washington state to get their continuing education. Like many massage therapists in the country, they live far from the big urban centers where most CE courses are offered. Whenever they take a continuing education class, they usually have a long drive, an overnight stay, and meals to pay for. This also means that they have to close their practice down for a day or two, making the financial burden even greater.
With that in mind, I decided to put my most popular ethics class online. What follows is a description of what it took for me to do that. I thought it might be handy for any of you thinking about teaching a class online or taking an online ethics class.
Online Ethics course for massage therapists – requirements
In Washington state, we are required to take 4 hours of ethics continuing education and this must contain 2 hours devoted to professionalism and boundaries. There are several CE classes being offered that meet the 4 hours, but neglect the state’s requirement for these two topics. My course is designed to meet that requirement and includes it in the title. For NCBTMB recertification, you are required to take 3 hours of ethics continuing education.
There are really 3 methods of course delivery open to you: written, recorded, or live webinar.
- You can deliver your course material as text. That text can be on the webpage or it can be as a downloadable PDF document.
- You can record your course material as a video.
- You can host your course as a live Webinar (web seminar).
Live webinars have the advantage of allowing students to ask questions in real time. The disadvantages of live webinars include the lack of scheduling flexibility for the student and that any technical problems can interrupt the class.
Text course materials are inexpensive to deliver. If you are using webpage text, they are simply typed into the webpage. While this is inexpensive and requires no great technical skill, the big disadvantage is that very few people actually read web pages. They skim them. So this kind of text-heavy course delivery is unlikely to be successful in delivering the key learning. The key advantage for the student is that they can study at their own pace and convenience.
PDF documents are also inexpensive to deliver. Almost every word processor out there can create a PDF file and uploading the file to your website is fairly easy. PDF documents are more likely to be read than web text, and that can result in greater learning retention. Again, the key advantage for the student is that they can study at their own pace and convenience.
Recorded videos have the advantage of not allowing students to skim through the text and the combination of audio and video can help keep their interest. Disadvantages of video is that it requires more upfront cost in recording software and video hosting.
The pre-recorded video delivery methods also allows the student to take the course when it’s convenient for them. They can also break up the course material rather than sit through 4 hours of webinars. It doesn’t require a lot of writing up front but does require a certain amount of speaking skills.
My choice for delivery was pre-recorded video. I’m an experienced and confident speaker and all of my live materials could be utilized to create the course. I’m tech savvy and able to record and edit video myself. It seemed like a no-brainer to choose the video delivery.
Requirements to deliver an online video course
Learning Management System
In a nutshell, an LMS is software that delivers course materials, tracks a student’s progress, allows for testing a student’s comprehension and creates reports. I’m a big fan of WordPress to build websites. It seems there is a plugin (a small app) for just about everything. The two big contenders for WordPress LMS plugins are WP Courseware and LearnDash. LearnDash hadn’t been ported to WordPress when I started my course, so that left me with WP Courseware.
Testing for completion and comprehension
In order to verify that your student has completed the course, you should do some level of testing. In a live class, you know if they’ve been there for the entire class and you can observe whether or not they seem to be understanding the material. With an online class, you don’t have that. So a quiz or an essay is the most common method to check that the student has completed the course and understands the material. Testing for a technique course would be difficult, but testing for an online ethics course for massage therapists is very easy. The LMS (learning management system) plugin should have the ability to give quizzes and automatically score everything except essay questions. Both WP Courseware and LearnDash have that ability.
Printing certificates of completion
Since my quizzes are multiple choice, the student knows right away if they have passed the course. If they have passed all of the quizzes, my LMS will automatically generate a certificate of completion. This is handy for those students who have procrastinated and need their CE hours immediately.
Controlling access to the material
If you’re going to charge for a course, you need to make sure that non-registered students don’t have access to the materials. No fair getting your CE credits for free! This is the job of a membership plugin. I’ve been using Wishlist Member for many years now and WP Courseware has integration with Wishlist Member built in.
PayPal is my online payment vendor of choice, although I’ve heard very good things about Stripe. WP Courseware and Wishlist Member both have PayPal integration built in.
My videos are me speaking over my slides. Not the most dynamic or visuals, but it does keep the course material in sync with my live instructions. The hardware needed for this is a good quality USB microphone – I use the Blue Yeti Mic – and a computer – a MacBook. The software I use for recording webinars and video course materials is Screenflow. The Windows equivalent is Camtasia. And, of course, I’m using PowerPoint but Keynote will work just as well.
I don’t recommend hosting your own video. The bandwidth required will probably have your web host suspending your account and the load speed of your site and your videos is probably going to be terrible. Using YouTube is great for sharing videos publicly, but not if you want to limit views to paying students. For that, most people in the industry use Vimeo. No, it’s not free, but Vimeo has settings that will limit where the video can be embedded or streamed from. This keeps people from stealing your content and presenting it as their own.
Putting all the pieces together
Let’s recap. We have:
- Learning Management System (LMS) plugin
- Membership plugin
- Video recording software
- Video hosting service
- Online payment service
Of these, we have to get the LMS, membership plugin and online payment service to work together. It took me the better part of a week to find the missing pieces and choose the solutions. Yes, they are all WordPress plugins and that makes the final work much easier. But I won’t kid you, actually getting all of these moving parts working together was very time consuming and very complex.
I spend about 40 hours a week working with WordPress. I’ve used PayPal, Vimeo, and Wishlist Member on multiple websites. I am a support moderator for a WordPress theme vendor. I speak at WordPress events. I know WordPress. But getting the LMS and the membership plugin and PayPal to work together, creating all of the landing pages, student pages, confirmation pages, sign-in pages and course module pages took me at least 24 hours of solid, uninterrupted work. And that didn’t include any of the initial WordPress website work or theme design.
If you aren’t familiar with WordPress or any of these plugins, I would guess that you would probably spend about 100 hours trying to get it sussed out. And you still will likely not have it set up correctly.
This is where having a real web designer/developer like me will save you your sanity.
Was it worth the time, trouble and expense to create an online ethics course?
Yes. The feedback I’ve gotten from people who have taken the course has been 100% positive. They appreciate not having to travel. They like being able to schedule the lessons around their work and family time. They like being able to sign up and get their certificates the same day. They like taking a course while wearing their pajamas.
If you teach continuing education, and you’re interested in teaching some of them online, it is possible to do this yourself. The technology is all there, but I recommend hiring it out unless you are very WordPress savvy.
In a future post, I’ll discuss what I learned about the actual course material and delivery, so come back for that. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments or questions. Just use the comment section below.