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Online Education – Whitney Lowe Interview

Whitney LoweWhen it comes to online education, one of the names that comes up is Whitney Lowe. Whitney Lowe began exploring massage in the mid 1980s. He has been teaching pathophysiology, rehabilitation strategies, massage therapy applications, and other topics in rehabilitation science for over 2 decades.

He teaches live and online courses in Orthopedic Massage. You can find more information about Whitney and his courses at OMERI, Orthopedic Massage Training. Whitney was kind enough to answer my big list of questions.

Whitney Lowe – OMERI Orthopedic Massage Training

Have you taken any online courses in the past? Were they massage related?

Yes, I have taken quite a number of online courses. Some of them were related to massage, while others were not.

Was the course live (webinar format) or learn at your own pace?

Again, I’ve taken courses in both formats (webinar or synchronous forms as well as asynchronous self-paced courses).

Was this teaching/learning technique effective?

I would say it was effective in some instances and not effective in others. It was not so much about synchronous versus asynchronous courses as much as it was the quality of instructional design behind the course that was built. I have found that to be true across the board in all online education courses that I have been involved with. It’s not so much about the delivery platform, but is much more about the quality of instructional design.

As a student, what worked the best for you?

I have a strong preference for asynchronous course material because I prefer to work at my own pace with the option to review or rewind content if I need to go through it again, and at the same time having the ability to skip through things that I’m already well-versed in or familiar with.

As a student, what did you think needed improvement or change?

In too many of these courses, there simply wasn’t any significant engagement with the content. A webinar is basically a passive lecture where you have to sit and look at your computer screen for an hour or so. It is certainly possible to make this interesting, but too many people just make it a boring Powerpoint presentation with no personal interaction. In many of the other courses, they were limited to watching short video clips or reading content and taking a multiple-choice test. It is definitely possible, to get good information across in this fashion, but there are many other ways to make it more interesting and engaging.

From your website, I see that you teach bodywork courses online. What format do you use for your courses? (Ex. Live webinar, pre-recorded video, etc)

I use a variety of different formats in our online orthopedic massage courses. I use video, audio presentations, reading materials, and numerous other interactive course activities including highly complex virtual client scenarios. It should be noted that the majority of what I’m teaching in the online environment is not about a massage technique. It is far more about the comprehensive aspects of rehabilitation science (kinesiology, biomechanics, pathology, injury management, assessment, treatment planning, physiology, etc.). These topics translate exceptionally well to the online environment. However, that doesn’t mean we ignore focusing on massage techniques as there is a fair amount of technique content delivered through video demonstration.

How do you asses students’ learning?

Throughout the course work students must submit a number of different assignments. There are also numerous formative assessment activities throughout the course where they must demonstrate their understanding before they can move on to the next group of activities. I evaluate their submitted assignments and they get comprehensive and detailed feedback on these assignments that are submitted. There is actually far more assessment of student learning in this online format than I was ever able to accomplish in teaching live workshops.

As a teacher, was this an effective way to deliver a course?

I think it is a highly effective way to deliver a course, but again the key component is about the quality of instructional design. There are plenty of examples of very poor courses and poor learning activities as well, so just because something can be done online or in the classroom doesn’t mean it is good quality. The quality of the instructor and most importantly in the online format, the knowledge and skill of the instructional designer and course developer(s) are crucial for an effective course.

What is missing from the current online course delivery systems? If you had a team of software developers, what would you have them create or change?

The biggest thing that I see missing from today’s online courses is interactivity. We have the technology to make highly complex and realistic scenario-based learning, which is exceptional for creating the most ideal learning environments. However, it is still highly expensive, labor-intensive and knowledge intensive to produce these types of learning experiences. Yet, I think in the future you’ll see this kind of thing happening more and more frequently. One of the most exciting developments that I think is coming down the pike in online education is adaptive learning. Adaptive learning is the capability for the learning experience to adapt to the unique needs of the student so that each student is not getting a cookie-cutter approach, but instead is able to get things that are specific to their learning needs and desires. You simply cannot do that with classroom-based learning and this is one the great advantages of what is occurring in the online education community.

What do you think the future is for online learning in the massage school teaching environment?

I think there’s a great future for online learning in the massage education environment. However we have a long way to go to educate our instructors about technology and education. Right now there is a tremendous amount of fear in our profession about online education and mostly that comes from a lack of understanding of what it is really about. Some people think that the increasing use of online education will take away from the learning environment of connecting with another person. That doesn’t have to be the case at all. Clearly, learning how to connect with another individual in the therapeutic environment is a key and crucial skill for our education. However, that doesn’t mean that sitting still in a desk for hours listening to a lecture in anatomy is the best way to do that either. I think we can blend together incredible learning experiences and create highly complex hybrid learning environments that really focus on the way people learn.

Do you see any roadblocks to that future?

Currently, I think the biggest roadblocks to this progress are the legislative obstacles that prevent online education from being used in the entry-level massage environment. Legislators need to get out of the way and let educational innovation take root in our field. The prohibition against online education at the entry-level for massage therapists is simply ridiculous. If online education is good enough for Stanford medical school (where it is used extensively) are we really sure that it is not good enough for massage therapy education?

What do you thing the future is for online learning in the continuing education environment?

I think you will continue to see a very large amount of online learning in the continuing education environment. There are so many advantages for this learning format for continuing education. Because it is now increasingly expensive to attend live classes, people find this to be a great value for meeting continuing education requirements. There is also a very clear geographical bias against people who do not live near large metropolitan areas to get quality education classes. Online education has the potential to level the playing field and make high-quality educational opportunities available to everyone regardless of where they live at a very affordable price.

Do you see any roadblocks to that future?

Again, the primary roadblocks to this seem to be legislative because many state massage licensure laws do not allow more than a small percentage of the required continuing education hours to be granted through online education. This is again a ridiculous requirement. The purpose of continuing education requirements is to continue the professional development of an individual. There is nothing that says you cannot develop professionally through online education and can only develop professionally through taking a class in a physical classroom. There are a very large number of poor classroom educational requirements that will fulfill the continuing education requirement for an individual and yet, they can go through an entire Masters degree program in rehabilitation science at the University of British Columbia, which is offered completely online, and get virtually no credit for it. Does that make any sense?

Any further thoughts or comments that you would like to share or discuss?

I have been involved with online education since the early 2000s, when I first began to see this as an opportunity to teach clinical reasoning and critical thinking skills that I was not able to deliver in the classroom due to time limitations of the weekend workshop format. I spent at least five years researching the field and learning a great deal about technology, multimedia learning theory, software, and delivery platforms before I ever launched my first course. I have routinely said to people that it is relatively easy to create an online course, and quite hard to create a good one. I hope that in the future we can see a greater degree of attention focused on demonstrating high quality learning strategies so that the profession’s perception of online education is not simply based on seeing the proliferation of low-quality simplistic courses that involve reading just a PDF or watching a webinar and taking a multiple-choice test.


If you have any questions or comments, please share them below. I would love to hear your thoughts.

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