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Research Aims

The research project has a number of related aims.

1. To review on an ongoing basis the experience (satisfaction vs. dissatisfaction) and achievement of students in the blended programme

2. To implement changes to improve student experience and achievement.

3.Is blended learning effective in massage education?



In recent years an increasing number of educational institutions have begun to offer their courses by online or blended delivery. Massage educators have been slow to adopt these contemporary approaches to learning, but there are now a number of educational institutions offering massage therapy education either purely online or with a blended style of delivery (Remedial massage, 2008; How can you, 2008). Within New Zealand a number of educational institutions are considering the exploration of educational options within this area (J. Morgan, personal communication June 14, 2008; B. Bernie, personal communication June 14, 2008; H. Lofthouse, personal communication June 29, 2008; T. Rodgers, personal communication June 14, 2008). Many massage education providers consider online and/or blended delivery education for massage therapy to be inferior to traditional class-room-based delivery models (P. Charlton, personal communication June 14, 2008; T. Rodgers, personal communication June 14,2008; A. Palmer, personal communication June 14, 2008).

The online environment is rapidly changing, and a course which aims to utilise the richness of contemporary online applications may often be involved in the use of a technology in a way which has not been documented previously. An experimental educational delivery style is therefore called for, where the teachers involved in online education trial the use of an online application with a group of students in a particular way, then assess how effective this educational experience has been. The integrated group of technologies which are used to deliver the course is described here as the online learning environment.

The Otago Polytechnic massage therapy programme has recently undergone the transition from a purely face-to-face delivery style to a blended delivery style. The programme’s delivery style is making use of contemporary online applications such as wikis, blogs, collaborative document editing, voice-over-internet-protocols (such as MSN messenger and skype). This is new ground for massage therapy education, and in many ways for education in general. The department feels that there is a need to monitor the student’s experience and achievement in this new context and to make changes to improve that experience over time.

Literature review


Work on the Massage Therapy Educational Resources project is coming along.

There are now some good quality resources under many of the categories. Here’s a hand-picked selection

At present it’s a project of one. I’ve decided this semester that it makes sense for me to continue teaching the online aspects of the programme (apart from Bioscience), and to let our other staff concentrate on the F2F teaching.

I’m hopeful that in the future other massage educators will get involved in this collaborative development, but at present this is not happening. Hopefully the quality of resources available through the project
will encourage people to get involved.

Last week I did a presentation for the new DFLP students, outlining what I’m doing with what I’ve learnt over the last year or so. The sound quality is pretty poor, but it provides a basic overview along with questions & answers.

The Wiki-Educator Massage Therapy Educational Resources project has just been launched.

It’s intended that the wiki project page will act as a hub for international massage educators to collaborate on open-content educational resources.  I’ve now established the initial structure of the page (expecting that this will change over time somewhat as others become involved).  After a discussion with Leigh Blackall, have decided that it would be best if there were two categories on the front page

  1. The Library section is intended to be fairly unstructured to make it easier for contributors to load their resources to the wiki-page
  2. The Learning Outcomes section is intended to provide a logical structure for the placement of learning resources.  The learning outcomes are based on some which are commonly used in New Zealand, and it’s also hoped that as international contributors become involved, some discussion will occur around these learning outcomes.  I’m hoping that through this process we can start moving towards some internationally recognised standards for massage therapy education.

Someone will need to transfer the material loaded to the library into the structured learning outcomes section.  This will probably be me in the short-term, but there’s a prospect for government funding through AKO Aotearoa.

I’m about to send an email out to all massage education providers within New Zealand asking for interest, and from there will get in touch with my contacts in Australia & the US.  It’s going to be interesting to see how this goes.

I’ve also made a start setting up the course structure on WikiEducator.

The plan is to model the structure on the information in our recently developed programme document.  This will be a section of WikiEducator that is specific to our course.
I also intend to start a project aimed at building a library of massage education resources in collaboration with other massage education providers.  I’ve started a page for this, and I plan to bring the subject up at a meeting of massage education providers that I will be chairing in several weeks, then I intend to pass the word on to some of my networks in Australia & the US.

The OP specific course structure will link to relevant resources within the library.  I imagine that initially most of the work in developing educational resources will come from OP, but over time I hope that there we will have input from many other providers.

After some discussion with Leigh yesterday, and some experimentation with different platforms, I’ve decided to go with Pageflakes as the course hub.

Pageflakes allows you to amalgamate feeds or other widgets within a single page fairly easily, then publish this to the web. Here’s a link to the page that I’ve set up for the 1st year of the massage therapy programme (main cohort).

I’ve set up a blog in blogger for each of the courses within the first semester of the programme, and this page has a feed for each of them. The idea here is that the Anatomy 1 lecturer only needs to look after the Anatomy 1 blog.

On the right side of the page is a sustainability feed based on my tags. I only need to tag a page with sustainability & it will show up here.

This page took me about 30 mins – 1 hour to set up (including setting up the blogs, and creating a gmail account) . I’m not including the time that I took playing around & figuring out how pageflakes works (perhaps 2 hours).

This page is designed for full-time students, but the beauty of it is that I can fairly easily set up a page for a part-time student stream. If I go through the same process I can set up a page that only has feeds from whichever courses the student(s) is(are) enrolled in.

Once a student is enrolled in the course all I need to do is to send them an email with a link to the course hub that is relevant to them.

I’m pretty stoked with this solution :-). The look is not ideal at present, but I can upload my own banner, so I plan to talk with marketing about this soon.

I completed a flowchart of programme structure, and programme sequencing yesterday. Here it is.

Programme Sequencing

Our consultation process with the Spa industry has focussed on four key areas.

  1. What key competencies spa owners look for when considering employing massage therapistsThe competencies that have been most commonly mentioned are massage competence (including relaxation and deep-tissue), being a team-player (able to fit in with spa systems and work with other people), Interpersonal skills, having a professional manner, and having competency in other specialisations (e.g. Aromatherapy, hot stone massage, reflexology, indian head massage etc.)
  2. What key competencies are often not found in massage therapistsCompetencies mentioned here included a lack of commitment to professional conduct and systems orientation, and a lack of ability to communicate with confidence
  3. Common pay rates of massage therapists in the spa industryThere is quite a bit of variation here.

    For massage therapists who are new to the spa industry the hourly rate varies between $18-25 per hour depending on the spa and the quality of the therapist. Some spas noted that time not spent massaging might be paid at a lower rate ($12-14 seems to be the range here). One spa mentioned a difference in employed and on-call rate with the employed rate being lower.

    Massage therapists who are experienced in the spa industry can generally expect to be paid more. The range here seems to be from $20 – 40 per hour depending on the level of experience and the spa. Therapists who are employed may sometimes be paid at a lower level than therapists who are on-call.

  4. If graduates of our Certificate of Spa Therapies and Stress Management would be attractive to employers in the spa industry.The response to this was overwhelming with all participants agreeing that a qualification that focussed on the needs of the spa industry would be attractive to them.

This consultation strongly supports the development of the programme as outlined, and has provided us with some important data which we will use when developing courses within the programme.

A couple of days ago I was directed to Pillay, Irving, and Tones article (2007) that compares different diagnostic tools which are used to assess students readiness for online learning. Their literature review triggered my own thinking regarding our proposed course.

In their literature review they found that students are often less satisfied by online learning environments than classroom environments. If this is true, it is likely to contribute to the higher rate of attrition that is often reported in online learning.

If we can determine which factors lead to satisfaction and achievement, and also attrition and non-achievement, we may be able to better accomodate the needs of online learners in our programme. I’m also interested in whether it’s possible to develop/incubate the qualities and skills that help students to succeed online.

According to Pillay, Irving and Tones the following factors contribute to good outcomes for students

  • Social interaction
  • Computer Literacy
  • Computer self-effiacy (or the perception of the learner that they can be an effective computer user)
  • Positive online learner qualities

They also found that the following factors contribute to poor outcomes for online learners

  • A predetermined pace of learning
  • Poorly designed or poorly functioning learner experiences
  • Dissatisfaction (which may be related to a low level of computer self-effiacy, or a low level of interaction with the learning community and/or instructors)
  • Negative online learner qualities

Social Interaction 

social interaction within the OLE supports and motivates students to complete their work and seek out new learning experiences. (Pillay, Irving, Tones, 2007)

Study Skills Programme 

I’ve already discussed how we plan to incorporate a computer literacy and study skills programme into the first semester of our massage therapy programme.  According to Pillay, Tones and Irving students who had completed computer literacy courses before engaging in online study were observed experiencing less anxiety and frustration than those who had not.  They also found that computer self-effiacy is enhanced by the development of technical computer skills.  A low level of computer self-effiacy is related to feelings of anxiety when required to use computer applications.  This anxiety leads users to interpret events more negatively than non-anxious users and therefore contributes to dissatisfaction.

Presumably, our study-skills and computer literacy module should increase the computer literacy and self-effiacy of our students.  In principle this should reduce any frustration, anxiety and therefore dissatisfaction that is felt by our students.  Our students will also be receiving many massages as part of their training, and the anxiety-reducing effects of massage are well documented, so this should also contribute to dissatisfaction minimisation.  A lower rate of dissatisfaction should contribute to a lower attrition rate.

The research also indicates a number of learner qualities which are related to learner success and satisfaction online.  Our study skills programme should aim to cultivate these in our learners.

The ability to select appropriate study aids, effective time management and the ability to concentrate on the learning process despite any distraction that may occur are learner qualities that contribute to academic achievement in the online context.  Distractions are legion in the flexible learning environment, and may range from the lour of the beach on a sunny day to the TV, children, partner, friends and family and many many more.

The learner qualities which are predictive of student dropout are the lack of ability to select the main ideas from educational experiences or articles, an attitude that the material studied was irrelevant to the student’s educational pathway and a lack of ability to resist distractions from the learning process.

In accordance with these findings, our study skills course should begin with an initial screening to determine areas of learner weakness and strength.  The course should be structured so that learners should not have to complete training in any area which they are already competent.  Within the course we should help the students to gain an understanding of both traditional study skills and the learner qualities which are important to online success.  Motivation to concentrate despite distractions will probably be the most challenging, but I can see that strategies in relation to time-management could work.

Regarding learner qualities that contribute to attrition the ability to select the main ideas in a piece of writing is something that is commonly covered in study skills courses.  I believe that if we concentrate on stressing the links between current study and future study that we should be able to avoid the trap of demotivating students because they think what they’re studying is irrelevant.

I’ve noticed this happening with Anatomy & Physiology this year.  When the students start studying Bioscience they need someone to make it clear that this is the foundation of their understanding of Pathology which is necessary for safe treatment, and that without a good understanding of Physiology they will not be able to adequately understand the effects of the massage strokes which they will apply to their clients.  Likewise anatomy needs to be related to both assessment techniques and clinical massage.  It’s very important that we do make this clear because

Prior research suggests that expecatations, perceived usefulness and perceived ease of use of online learning materials are more influential than either computer self-effiacy or technical skills in determining online learning technology use.  (Pillay, Irving, Tones, 2007)

Pre-determined Pace
In the literature review one of the factors which is found to contribute to poor student outcomes are when the course forces students to learn at a predetermined pace.  Our course will have a fairly well-defined structure.  Students will need to begin each module at around the same time and will need to complete assessment tasks at similar times, so there will be a certain degree of pre-determination.  However we should be able to structure activities to have an open-ended component so that faster learners can still remain motivated.  One way of doing this would be to have a set of activities and assessment tasks that are required for course completion, and to have a set of extension activities that sit on top of these.

Poor design / Dysfunctional technology

One of the factors which is strongly related to student dissatisfaction is learning activities that do not work.  The implication here is that it’s important to plan learning activities effectively, and to test any learning activities or web-based applications before they are provided to students. This is much more important than it is in the classroom environment.  In the classroom you may notice on the day that some of the activities you have planned are not appropriate for the current level of understanding and engagement that the class have, and as a result you may change your lesson plan to suit.  This is much more difficult online for several reasons.  The lack of body-language (and tone in text-based communication), make it more difficult to be “in touch” with the class.  Also the increased emphasis on assynchronous learning and communication mean that often you need to post the activity, and wait to see what happens.  It seems clear that regular communication with your class is necessary so that you can quickly determine if there are any problems, and arrange for them to be fixed.

In my opinion, online learning experiences are similar in many ways to software applications particularly if they involve multi-media elements.  I wonder if a software development model might be more appropriate than traditional classroom-based learning design models?


Pillay H., Irving K., Tones M. (2007). Validation of the diagnostic tool for assessing Tertiary students’ readiness for online learning. Higher Education Research & Development, 26:2, 217 – 234

I’ve just been trawling through the programme documents of other programmes at Polytech to see if anyone has developed units that we can use in our new programme.

Something that’s really struck me is that that the level of Anatomy and Physiology that we teach in our Diploma of Massage Therapy is very high relative to other programme in the health group at Otago Polytechnic. In the current draft of the new two year programme we have 45 credits (450 hours) of Anatomy & Physiology, 30 credits (300 hours) of Musculo-skeletal Anatomy, and 8 credits (80 hours) of Pathology. If I compare that to the three year Bachelor of Nursing, they cover 33 credits (330 hours) of Bioscience, Anatomy & Pathology combined. The Bachelor of Midwifery has 32 credits (320 hours) of the same. Other departments (Occupational Therapy, Sports Institute programmes) have considerably less.

It’s worth noting that the reason we teach the level of A&P that we do is that the NZQA National Diploma of Therapeutic Massage that the last incarnation of our programme was modelled on had 44 credits of A&P, and 23 credits of Anatomy.  With the national diploma falling off the framework and the subsequent move in the industry towards a contemporary set of standards for massage education it’s a good time to reconsider if this level of Anatomy & Physiology is optimal for massage therapy programmes in New Zealand.

I was pondering this last night, and I thought I’d call my friend Nicholas Aitcheson. Nick is a physiotherapist who uses quite a bit of massage in his work, and has done some teaching for us on the subject of kinesiology. Nick said that a physiotherapist in New Zealand will currently study the following subjects relevant to A&P & Anatomy during their 4 year qualification.

1st year – 30 credits of Biochemistry, 30 credits of Biology
2nd year – 30 credits of Physiology, 30 credits of Anatomy
3rd year – 15 credits of Anatomy

This makes a total of

  • Physiology – 60 credits at Level 5 / 30 credits at Level 6
  • Anatomy – 30 credits at Level 6 / 15 credits at Level 7

With this as a benchmark, and with the emergence of massage degrees in New Zealand, the level of Anatomy & Physiology and Anatomy education that we teach as part of our qualification no longer seems excessive to me. It’s vital to the future of the massage industry that we reach parity with other healthcare providers if we are to integrate our profession into the mainstream health model.

Although maybe we should consider increasing our Pathology component????