Distance Education: Pro or Con?

In the field of Massage Therapy, and in Nevada to be more specific, the Nevada State Board of Massage Therapists require 12 Continuing Education (CE) hours in our field (approved by the Board) in order to remain licensed as a Massage Therapist. This coincides with the 4-year goal of the National Certification Board of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork’s (NCBTMB) requirement of 48 CE hours for recertification. On November 16th, 2007, the NCBTMB began accepting Distance Education (DE) courses as a viable component of the professional training required to be an NCBTMB Certificant (Nationally Certified). Face-to-Face (F2F) courses have been the mainstay in the field of Massage Therapy and the frequency and availability of DE courses is steadily rising. F2F & DE courses make CE hours (credits) available to NCBTMB Certificant when the certificant completes the number of hours of training required for each course category: F2F courses offer live instruction with hands-on opportunities for training, practice, and evaluation; DE courses can be only by long distance (never interacting with the instructor, mostly internet-based) or a combination of long distance and face-to-face instruction (mostly in the testing phase of completion).
I speak from a practicing MT, educator, and MT educator’s point of view: I think in the long run that DE (Distance Education) courses do a disservice to the industry. The quality of the nature of massage therapy declines as DE courses are more and more the choice of practitioners that do not make the time to fulfill a standard of service: hands on learning.
I think making time to “be” a professional is critical in delivering the service that our clients expect from a certificant. “Hands On” is the nature of our profession. Just as we do not expect surgeons (a “hands on” profession) to learn by distance and then practice on their patients, we also cannot expect our instructors or MTs to not have hands on experience when teaching us a modality over distance or performing a massage – we expect the best and most value for our money and the credentialing agency that establishes their expertise should also. Do our clients expect us to never have practiced on a body (for taking DE courses) when we charge the rates we charge? I think one answer is they expect us to be proficient – hands on learning facilitates that key element in claiming we are practicing within our scope and have been critiqued and guided by our live instructor(s).
On the other hand, without some DE opportunities, many MTs would not otherwise be able to get the education they need to keep the credentials they need in this industry or want and have decided are the best fit for advertising and affiliating their professional image with excellence. I understand the need for convenience, inexpensive, and accessible CE opportunities.
Right now, a certificant can submit all DE credits for renewal of their NCTM or NCTMB accreditation. I believe that a percentage of DE credits of the whole 48 should be accepted as viable learning and practice tools for recertification purposes. MTs need to establish a commitment to the “best” care for our clients by integrating hands-on training in our careers. Our professional relationship with the NCB is a choice in many cases, sometimes it is a requirement of the local jurisdiction – some state licensing boards require CEs (of any approved type, DE or F2F) and the level of proficiency of their licensees is the state board’s responsibility. I think the NCB sets a standard for the industry and would hope that states and local jurisdictions would follow suit.