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What I learned: my first online ethics course

Online courses for massage therapistsIn my last post, I wrote about all of the nuts and bolts it took for me to create an  online ethics course for massage therapists. Today, I’m going to discuss some of what I learned from the beta testers.

Note: beta testers are people who sign up to use a piece of software or product knowing that there will be problems with that product. In exchange for free or very low cost access to the product, they provide valuable feedback on errors, issues, and usability. In order to fully test my course, my beta testers paid $1.00. This fee was chosen so that I could test out the PayPal integration.

My beta testers used a variety of devices and internet browsers, some using multiple devices and browsers. This helped me make sure that the course works in modern, up to date browsers. But mostly, they gave me great feedback on what the course was like for them as students.

I’m just going to give a big old THANK YOU to my beta testers! You guys rock!

A little background on the course

I’ve been teaching ethics in massage school for many years and I’ve been teaching ethics CE courses since it became a requirement in  WA state, about 4 or 5 years. I’ve tweaked the course and slide deck multiple times and added in new examples as they come along. I’ve even created a second version of the course, Ethics and the Internet, so that MTs who have already taken my first class get some new material.

My teaching method is primarily lecture of the principles and group discussion of the examples I bring in. In live courses, we also spend a considerable amount of time discussing ethics situations which the MTs bring in. I don’t do role play exercises. Mostly because I despise role play in classes and will find almost any excuse to avoid participating in them, including faking major illness. Really. I hate role play.

My main teaching materials are Power Point slide presentations. Before you groan and roll your eyes, I want to assure you that I don’t use those kinds of slides. You know the ones I’m talking about: 200 words on each slide that the presenter reads from. No. Absolutely not.

I’ve been speaking in public for about 20 years. I’ve had advanced training in slide development and public speaking. Other than having a habit of rocking back and forth a bit, I’m actually pretty damn good at it. Good enough that I usually scored in the top 3 of my tracks at the Intel Developer’s Forum.

Here’s one of the main things you learn about slides: they are prompts for the speaker so we can make sure we cover everything we need to and they shouldn’t prevent the listener from paying attention to the speaker. About 3-5 bullet points per slide. Less is more. The point is to keep the audience (students in this case) paying attention to the teacher. This lets me, as the teacher, see if the students are engaged in the material, comprehending the material, and diverge from the material to answer questions and lead discussions.

For live teaching events, slides are pretty spare.

My online course was 4 – 50 minute pre-recorded videos of me giving the same lecture over the same slides I use in my live class. Since there wasn’t anyone to ask questions, I interjected questions and discussion points that have come up in previous live classes.

Student feedback

Flexibility of online classes is a plus

The students loved the ability to break the class up into pieces and fit them into their schedules. Some of my beta testers work on the weekends and that makes weekend CE classes difficult to accommodate in their schedule. Other testers work evenings. The rest work week days. Most live CE courses take place on the weekends, but having them online makes it easy to fit into any work schedule.

Videos are a plus

One student commented that closing the browser meant that she had to start the video from the beginning. That can’t really be prevented. One thing that could improve this experience would be to break the video up into smaller videos, allowing students to break up the hour long lesson into even shorter pieces. Another student had her tablet with her in the kitchen and listened to the course while she washed dishes, glancing up at the slides from time to time. Another student commented that hearing my voice and where I was placing emphasis helped her understand the material and was more interesting than getting the same information by reading a book.

Slides for live presentations are kind of boring in online courses

All those skills at creating great slide decks? They’re not so useful in an online course where the online thing to look at is those slides. “… more graphics” “… more pictures” were common comments.

Handouts would be a nice option

Having some ‘printed’ materials they can download for reference or to take notes on was a request by a couple of the testers. Not everyone wants this, but since it doesn’t cost anything to make the materials available as a downloadable pdf file, it seems like a good idea.

Improving the online ethics course for massage therapists

As I begin preparing the next online course, some of the things I will be doing:

  • Breaking each hour into smaller segments. This will give the students even more flexibility. Shorter segments should also improve student attention.
  • Using shorter, more dynamic video content. It’s a visual medium and I need to make greater use of that ability.
  • Mixing up the teaching materials – using text based and video based materials for each lesson. To accommodate different learning styles.
  • Providing notes or ‘workbooks’ that students can download and print out. Give them some reference material for future use.

Technically, I’m happy with the software solutions I’m using. The students found very few technical issues and those were ironed out pretty quickly. The course was a lot of fun to create and I’ve learned even more about online course design. I’m looking forward to taking what I’ve learned and applying it to other courses in the future.

If you’re interested in taking the course yourself, you can sign up for it at my education website, Mountain Shadow Education*. I’m also interested in any questions or suggestions you might have. Feel free to use the comment section below.

* My business is named for Mt. Rainier, which dominates the skyline on clear days.

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