In recent years, much educational research has been done based on the principles of cognitive load theory and other cognitive learning theories (Clark & Meyer, 2004).  This work has provided an empirical base for the design of online learning experiences which Clark and Meyer have applied in their development of a set of principles of e-learning design (2004).  These principles are summarised in Fig 3 on the following page.

It has been demonstrated that designing learning experiences based on these principles improves educational outcomes for students (Clark & Meyer, 2004), however much of Clark and Meyer’s work has focussed on incorporating multi-media within the design of learning experiences.  While the use of rich multi-media environments clearly has more potential to engage students, and improve learning (Clark & Meyer, 2004), there are some issues with the provision of an optimal multi-media environment for learning. These issues relate primarily to financial resources and accessibility.

Unfortunately the process of creating multi-media resources is expensive relative to the creation of text-based resources (Rumble, 2001), and the financial resources available to educational institutions are often limited.   This may be less of a factor in the future.  There is a move towards the use and re-use of open-educational resources (OER) within the education industry, and as multi-media learning resources become more available the development costs of producing a media-rich educational programme will decrease.  At present in the massage therapy field there are few educational institutions involved in the creation of OERs, although development in this area has begun (Massage Therapy Educational Resources, 2008).

There are also issues of accessibility.  Multi-media resources such as video and audio contain much more data than text-based resources.  This can lead to frustration on the part of a computer user who has a slower internet connection.   Ideally online learning resources should provide the user with the option of either text and images, or multi-media.

These limitations mean that online educational resources for massage therapy must initially be largely text-based.  Text-based media is not ideal for an audience with a predominant kinaesthetic learning preference, however this issue can be moderated by educational design.  Theoretical material should be interspersed with exercises which require the student to apply their learning to a pseudo-real-world context such as case-based learning.  Students may be directed from their online environment to engage in real-world activities such as interviewing massage therapists who are already practising.  There are already some quality online learning resources available in the anatomy, physiology and pathology areas.  As the pool of open education massage therapy educational resources develops, educators can begin to develop the rich clinical simulations and interactive media which will ultimately be more appealing to kinaesthetic students

The online learning environment should be designed to facilitate communication both between the instructor(s) and the students, and between the students themselves.  There are many platforms to support communication in the online learning environment including email, email groups, voice-over-internet-protocols services (such as MSN messenger, and Skype), social networking platforms (such as Facebook and Bebo), web-conferencing services (such as elluminate, and dimdim), blogs, and discussion boards to name some of the more commonly used services.  Choosing the mix of communication channels that are to be used in the programme is the first element of design, but choosing strategies and processes to facilitate communication is also important.  Gilly Salmon’s 5-stage model (2004) is a useful guide to facilitation of communication in online study