Ep 11 – The Ups and Downs of Online Learning During a Pandemic with Whitney Lowe and Til Luchau

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COVID-19 has forced instructors toward “emergency remote learning and teaching.” Join us in this latest episode of The ABMP Podcast’s Conversations in Quarantine as authors and educators Whitney Lowe and Til Luchau discuss getting creative with their approaches to teaching. With the needed adjustments from hands-on learning to online learning due to the pandemic, the options for learners/listeners have never been greater.

Author Images: 
Whitney Lowe of the Academy of Clinical Massage
Til Luchau of Advanced-Trainings.com
Author Bio: 

Whitney Lowe is the developer and instructor of one of the profession’s most popular orthopedic massage training programs. His text and programs have been used by professionals and schools for almost 30 years.

Til Luchau is the author of Advanced Myofascial Techniques, a Certified Advanced Rolfer, and a member of the Advanced-Trainings.com faculty, which offers online learning and in-person seminars throughout the United States and abroad.


This episode sponsored by Anatomy Trains and Yomassage.

Full Transcript: 

00:01 Speaker 1: Anatomy Trains is excited to announce the release of Anatomy Trains Fourth Edition. This new edition comes with a free enhanced e-book, including hours of video. Learn more at AnatomyTrains.com.


00:24 Darren Buford: Welcome to the ABMP podcast and our series "Conversations in Quarantine". My name is Darren Buford, and I'm the Editor-in-Chief of Massage & Bodywork magazine and Senior Director of Communications for ABMP. Our goal is to speak with luminaries and experts in and around the massage profession to talk about the effects of Covid-19 on bodywork practitioners, the fears, the frustrations, and more importantly, to discuss next steps towards safely reopening our doors when the time is right. How to pivot now, how to prepare for the future and discussing what the new normal might be.

00:55 DB: We are joined today by Til Luchau and Whitney Lowe. Til Luchau is the author of Advanced Myofascial Techniques, a certified advanced Rolfer and a member of the Advanced-Trainings.com faculty, which offers online learning and in-person seminars throughout the United States and abroad. Learn more at Advanced-Trainings.com. Whitney Lowe is the developer and instructor of one of the profession's most popular orthopedic massage training programs. His text and programs have been used by professionals and schools for almost 30 years. Learn more at AcademyofClinicalMassage.com. And listen to Til and Whitney's podcast, The Thinking Practitioner, available on Apple, Google Play and Spotify.

01:40 DB: Hello, friends. Welcome Whitney and Til. You guys have been Massage & Bodywork magazine authors and columnists for a number of years now, and there are any number of topics that we could discuss today. But I really wanna focus specifically on your careers as educators and continuing education, and how that relates to our current pandemic. But first, I want to introduce my partner in crime today, an ABMP colleague, Kristin Coverly. Hello, Kristin.

02:07 Kristin Coverly: Hi, Darren. Hi, everyone. Hi, Whitney and Til.

02:10 DB: How are you doing? Good to have you here.

02:12 Whitney Lowe: Hey, good to be here, Kristin.

02:15 Til Luchau: Great to be with you. Yeah, it's exciting.

02:16 DB: Kristin, tell the audience a little bit about your background and our work together at ABMP.

02:22 KC: Sure, absolutely. I am a massage therapist for almost 20 years, 19-and-a-half, we're getting so close. And I'm also an educator. I worked in massage schools here in Colorado for eight or nine years. And now I am so lucky to be the Director of Professional Education at ABMP, which just means really that I'm in charge of all of our continuing education initiatives for our members and for the profession. And so, Darren and I get to collaborate a lot together on projects with authors who are also presenters and brainstorming new ideas to bring education and information to you, the massage therapists listening, and the profession so that we can do our best to keep everyone informed, and engaged, and really continuing to develop their practices and enhance their knowledge base and grow as they wish to.

03:11 DB: Excellent. Lots of people smarter than me about online learning and education. So I'm gonna jump right in. Whitney and Til, can you tell us about your origins as educators and a little bit about your teaching styles?

03:23 WL: Til, I'll let you go first there.

03:25 TL: I was gonna say that.

03:26 WL: Right. See, I beat you to it. [chuckle]

03:29 TL: Good. Okay, so yeah, Til here. Origins as an educator. Wow. I was born to a family of teachers. It turns out both my parents were teachers, high school teachers. All four of my grandparents were teachers, also school teachers. Aunts, uncles, sisters, teachers. So I couldn't help it. I had to teach. Started back... I think I taught my first class in 1985 when I got back from the Rolf Institute to where I was living in California, and they were like, "Oh, cool. What did you learn? Tell us something." So I said, "Okay." I opened up the anatomy book and just started teaching a class, and it was so much fun I continued ever since. That's probably my origin story right there. How about you, Whitney?

04:16 WL: Yeah. So my teaching origins go back to entry-level massage school back in Atlanta, at the Atlanta School of Massage. And I was a student and became a teaching assistant relatively quickly. And back in those days, this is the late 1980s, the process of teacher training and teacher preparation in the schools was often, "Hey, I think you'd be good in this class. Go teach it." No training, no preparation whatsoever. And so I really got my feet very wet at that time in a hurry doing those kinds of things. But also really discovered that I loved education and I really loved the whole process of learning, so really delved into trying to work very hard throughout the rest of the last several decades at being a better teacher. So that's become a big, important passion of mine as well.

05:13 DB: What has changed, if anything, with regards to how you teach and continuing education for you since the pandemic?

05:22 WL: Til, why don't you do that? 'Cause you've been doing some really interesting and innovative things here in the pandemic response.

05:28 TL: Okay. How has the pandemic changed things and what are we doing? Online, I think... This is the way I'm thinking about it. Online is no longer a thing. The distinction between in-person and online is so blurred that we talk about live or not live. And live doesn't mean anything about being in-person or being in different rooms or anything like that anymore. It really is a blurred distinction. And we're spending so much time in virtual connection that we're getting used to it, we're getting better at it, we're learning how to manage it, learning how to pace it.

06:00 TL: So any more it's like, we're getting more and more people interested in our live courses, which of course during the isolation period are online. The trend overall nationwide, probably worldwide, is record numbers of older users coming into this space, into this online space. I know in our field... Our field has never been at the cutting edge of technology, and most people who do this work would rather not have to deal with technology, and so there's a bunch of them getting pushed into this space. And it's a big learning curve. So just like for the older people who are wanting to stay in touch with their relatives or are isolated at home, a lot of our users are getting pushed to be online when they wouldn't have chosen that or weren't interested in that earlier.

06:41 TL: So it's a big difference in terms of the activities here in the office to really help people navigate that, because one of the intrinsic features is it's a new territory, it's like any other learning thing. So the factors there that we really push forward are keeping it really easy, keeping it really affordable and keeping it really relevant. We used to just... You asked, "What was it like before?" We had recorded self-paced courses. You could go there and listen to a lot of different courses and do it at your own time. Now, we're really looking to keep the live components embedded in the learning process. So we're doing different hybrid models where there's a live lecture of me actually talking people through, people ask questions and we have interactions. We do small groups with a faculty member where people can really get into in-depth discussion.

07:27 TL: We do study pods with peers, where you meet with peers and really go through a curriculum. We have an active online discussion forum. And then we have credit or not-for-credit options. Which, if you're doing the credit option, then there's a timeline, you have a group that's meeting. If it's not for credit, it's more back to the old model of you do it when you want to by recording. So it really pushed us in some direction, I think probably true for Whitney too, I don't know, but it pushed us in directions we were going anyway, it just made us get a lot better at it and a lot faster, but a lot more innovative.

07:55 WL: And I think that's a really good example of teachers being creative in the response to this particular situation. Because one of the things that I've noticed a great deal that occurred from this problem was this happened so fast for everybody. What it did is it pushed, obviously, a lot of people into trying to do education stuff remotely. But I heard an educator talking about this and he made a statement that I thought was really spot on. He said, "There's a big difference between online curriculum design and emergency remote teaching." And that's what a lot of people jumped into, was this emergency remote teaching.

08:37 WL: And a lot of the things that Til is talking about here involve a deeper process of thinking of like, "Well, how can we do some of these kinds of things and still maintain quality curriculum design and good levels of interactivity and all that kind of stuff?" And it's a lot more than just getting on a Zoom call and trying to duplicate the in-person environment by just talking to the computer with a bunch of people's faces on the screen in front of you. And there are some very significant differences there in how people interact in that kind of environment. And that's gonna be more of the cutting edge, I think, of where these things... Well, what comes out of this is us learning, "Well, what might this really look like? How might we do some things differently now?" I've been trying to bang the drum for a couple of decades on the potential benefits for online education, and Covid-19 did more work on that in two months than I've been able to get done in two decades. We'll take it. We'll take it.

09:39 DB: And how do you both balance... Is hands-on learning still incremental to what you're doing? Is it still important? Is that on delay right now? Can you tell me a little bit about that component?

09:54 TL: That's a really important question 'cause I didn't mention that in my list of things we're doing. And that should have been mentioned, because that is the biggest challenge of online learning, is, "How do you make it relevant to hands-on or embodied work?" And so some of the experiments we have is we have structured practice exercises for people that actually have a practice partner or who are seeing clients. But then the other challenge with the epidemic is a lot of people don't have that option. They're not comfortable seeing people or they're not allowed to see people. And so we've really experimented a lot with turning the hands-on techniques we teach in our method into movement exercises or self-exploration or self-care exercises. In fact, that's been one of the most interesting homework assignments, is to give the students. It's like, "Okay, so now you've seen the video, you've studied the principles. Come back and turn this into a self-care exercise." And there's been some really interesting, creative, fun things that have come back in that conversation, too.

10:47 KC: Can you give us an example of one of those self-care exercises that came back to you that was particularly memorable?

10:54 TL: Yeah, no, absolutely. We have a whole sequence in our published class called the push broom sequence, where it's hip joint rotation in every direction. We do that with a client on a table situation where we bring the leg up in kind of like a baby crawling or bullfrog position, and do lots of variations of rotations there at the hip. People turn that into great floor work on the mat where their knee was up and they were lifting their foot off the floor, they're lifting their knee up off the floor in the other way, playing with sliding the foot out on the floor or in closer to the body. So that's an example of turning it into something that gives the therapist or the practitioner a sense of it in their own body, since that's so important, that you really feel what's happening in their body. But then it also gives them a way to stay engaged and stay physical in the learning process.

11:39 WL: Yeah, and one other thing I would add into that too is that when we talk about, "How do we transfer some of the things that we've been doing into that environment?" There is a very, very strong emphasis in the large majority of our continuing education courses, for example, on practical hands-on applications. That's what we tend to do most in that environment. But this is something, too, that I've been arguing a lot with the state massage therapy boards about for many years because they didn't allow a certain amount of online education for continuing education requirements. In my mind, there's a lot more to developing yourself professionally that can be done that doesn't necessarily have to involve learning to do something different with your hands.

12:26 WL: A lot of the stuff that's very relevant for developing yourself professionally might be cognitive activities of learning more about particular types of challenges or problems, or developing specific types of skills of better understanding anatomy things. There's all kinds of things that can help develop yourself more professionally that may not necessarily involve having to do something physically with somebody. And those kinds of things can certainly be advocated and advanced a great deal in this particular type of environment with online education.

13:01 TL: I'm right behind what you're saying. I would maybe... That not having to do things physically has to be in there, but not with another person always but with ourselves. That's the challenge. Because we can get so disembodied in this medium, we can forget about our bodies, get distracted by all the amazing visuals and concepts. I know you put out in your trainings too, Whitney, that keeping the body engaged is such an intrinsic part of it.

13:25 KC: Absolutely. And I wanna also jump in and just clarify too for our listeners, I think that... And please confirm, Whitney and Til, if I'm on the right track here. I think we're talking about online education or live versus not live in ways that relate to both the core massage therapy programs and also continuing education, and how those have evolved and changed. It's interesting to think... We think that the learners are so different, but they're really not. And I love the idea, Til, when you were saying with the situation we're in right now, trying to give people a way to feel that work themselves if they're alone and isolating. I think that translates for the future too, because we so often are... In a massage school setting, we're trading. But oftentimes, if we're doing online learning as a continuing education course, we're learning how to give but we don't feel that piece. So I think that's a really fascinating way when we think about the learner, the core program learner and the continuing education learner, how a lot of these concepts will translate for both. Does that resonate with you?

14:29 TL: It's huge philosophically, and it makes sense. Most of us understand that our instinctual understanding, our instinctual knowledge about the materials, what comes through in our work. That's really an important part of our work, that we gotta feel it, we gotta know it in our bodies in order to do it. But the truth is that, by and large, body workers are not really good at taking care of their own bodies or moving a lot. If you just do a cross-section... And it's true across a lot of helping professions, we tend not to be the ones who take care of ourselves, get the body work, do the things we know are good that we recommend to our clients even. Both statistically and anecdotally in our certification program, we actually do require people to get a couple of sessions. Frequently, that's the last requirement people check off in this whole process, they put that off to the end. And we've stuck by our guns 'cause it's so important, but it's...

15:20 TL: This situation is forcing people... It's basically take care of yourselves or go crazy. It's like, you gotta do something for yourself. And you can't just hold your breath and get through it. It's been months and it may be much longer as well, so it really is about staying sustainable and bringing this into a lived experience and an embodied experience, not just a cognitive one.


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16:23 DB: Over the past three months, have you noticed a spike or increase in users or attendance or people wanting more of your material?

16:30 WL: I would say for us what we noticed, what I noticed at least, was there was a spike near the beginning for people wanting to do more online stuff. What I saw, interestingly, was a lot of the people who had, for example, purchased online courses and never gotten to get started finally saying, "Oh, now I've got time to do this," and jumping in. And then it has begun to taper off a little bit as people are starting to get back into work. And I think those were some of the, at least the minor trend lines that we see occurring there, but I wouldn't say that there's been a huge jump.

17:07 DB: And then, Kristin, can you tell me a little bit, did you notice a spike in ABMP's learning management system as well?

17:16 KC: Absolutely, yeah. We really saw the similar trend to what Whitney was referencing, were in March and April we saw almost tripling of use of our normal use in the Ed Center of people going in and taking classes and earning CE certificates. And then that started to taper off a little bit in May as some of our states started to open up and people started thinking about going back to practice. So, absolutely. And what I heard back from a lot of members through feedback was they were so excited, they felt like they finally had the time to focus on even going to explore what they had available and then actually taking time to take the course.

17:52 KC: So I think that echoes back to what Til was saying about, "We really need to make sure we're practicing self-care." We also really need to make sure that we're always carving out a little bit of time to continue to advance our skills and learn something new. And hopefully this will have given people that reminder that, "Oh yeah, this course is just an hour. I can carve out that time, even when life feels like it's more back to normal."

18:16 TL: This was a big question for me because we saw a huge rush when we rushed to market this course we were working on anyway, this first prototype of the one I described. Saw a lot of enrollments, and a lot of people said, "Yeah, I got the time, I'm not doing thing. Let me do this." So we finished that round, which was a little over a month, and started a second round just last week, so really it was... An open question for me is, "Was this circumstantial that a lot of people are doing online things all of a sudden, or is this a trend?" And the trend line is, we got a whole lot more even the second round. In other words, it's growing still for us, the line is still going up.

18:58 TL: Now, of course, this is short to medium term, long-term is a big question mark for everybody. We were really wondering... None of us really know what the future holds, and there's a lot of uncertainty. There's gonna be a lot of adaptation, whatever that means. So who knows in the future, but I am sure that this model of learning and connecting and supporting each other online is gonna be part of that.

19:17 DB: Whitney, actually Kristin and I reread an article, your cutting edge article from 2006 in Massage & Bodywork magazine titled "E-learning and Massage Therapy", and I'll make sure to share that with listeners on the show notes. And I was wondering, that article was specifically about the promise and potential of online learning, can you tell me what's changed since then or to what extent those observations that you made back then are being realized or not today?

19:43 WL: Yeah, so probably the very first thing that comes to mind is technology has just changed tremendously, making so much of this stuff a lot easier to accomplish than it was back at that time. So I think what we've seen now is the potential for different types of things being a lot easier to do. Now, that's a double-edged sword, because one of the things that I say to people all the time is, "It's really easy to create an online course. And it's really hard to create a good online course." And so that's the big challenge. Is we made it even easier for people to just throw some stuff up on the web and call it a course.

20:24 WL: So that's helping the proliferation of online education, but it's not necessarily helping the quality challenges that we often have. And that's been one of the big things that's been sort of an impediment to broad-scale adoption, is this perception that online education is not as good as classroom education. And the outcomes aren't as good because there's so much sub-standard stuff that's up there. One of the things that's really important that I emphasize frequently with people is that because all of us grew up both chronologically and sort of professionally in traditional education environments in a classroom, we kinda know how that works. So when the transition from becoming a non-teacher to becoming a teacher in a classroom is a lot easier because we've seen it modeled from first grade on to how to do this.

21:18 WL: That's not true with online education. And it's a very different animal in terms of how you teach well in an online environment. And most of us didn't have that modeled for us, so a lot of people who wade into that are just doing it off the cuff and trying to experiment with how that works. And that's why I really think that learning some things about online education methodologies and theories is really valuable to help you create a good online or distance education experience for people.

21:50 DB: Are there any other concerns or hesitations, challenges or objections you can think that are arising because of the situation right now in online learning?

22:01 TL: Yeah, I can say something to that. It's the learning curve, and the medium is inherently frustrating. And that's why some people have avoided it for a long time and never have really been interested in online learning. 'Cause it's a hassle to have to figure out your login, to keep track of your password, the little ball sits there and spins, nobody can hear you on your mic. All that stuff is just frustrating. And one of the biggest barriers is, honestly, login and password issues. We spend hours every week helping people navigate that, and we do pretty good. I think we're way ahead of the curve, we get a lot of compliments too. But still, it's part of the game. It's like this new learning thing. And my approach is... I was getting frustrated with it, too. I was spending so much time with tech support with my faculty.

22:51 TL: Even we'd have faculty meetings and they couldn't find the link where we're supposed to meet or something. And I'd say, "Well, check your email." And they'd go through all that usual stuff. But at one point, I got it. I go, "Okay, wait a minute. I'm an educator and I'm helping people learn how to do new things. This is a whole new world that I'm helping people navigate. And frustration is part of being in an unfamiliar environment where you don't know how to get around, don't know what to do." That made it a lot easier for me.

23:18 DB: Kristin, do you notice that as well, some of the problems that Til mentioned?

23:22 KC: Oh, absolutely, sure. It's a whole new world, Brave New World, learners. To try something new, especially if you don't feel like technology's your best bud and your friend and you feel very comfortable with it, it's really brave for some of these learners to go and try an online course for the first time. And I applaud them for that, and I hope, I truly hope that if we've got a whole group who has navigated the challenges, they've learned their login and password, they feel comfortable navigating whatever platform they're using, and have had that moment of benefit, that reward of getting some great education after maybe it took a little while to get there, but that they got there, they arrived, they're in the class, they get a great nugget. I truly hope that that then will inspire them to keep coming back. And if you haven't tried yet, if you're out there listening and you feel like that's a big barrier for you, please know that all of us as educators and those of us who create platforms do our very best to make it as easy as possible for you. So hopefully, fingers crossed, you'll have a really smooth experience.

24:28 KC: And if not, we all have customer support teams to help you if you need a little bit of assistance getting in and getting started. So don't let that be a barrier, please. Every once in a while, we've got a technical glitch, you may have to reset your browser, close a tab and open it back up, but you can do it.

24:45 TL: Thank God for those customer support people. I know you have an amazing team there at ABMP. And you need thick skin to be a customer support person. Boy, people get really mad. I don't get much hate mail, but it's usually about passwords. "Why do you make me have a password? I resent that." So it's like, "I'm sorry, we'll make it easy." But that is part of the learning curve, it really is part of knowing this territory.

25:12 DB: What lessons have you learned about teaching online that might be useful for practitioners looking to integrate online interactions into their work?

25:20 WL: For me, I would say that the most important things that I have tried to pay attention to are the capability of attempting... Well, here's the thing. The potential for what I see that you could feasibly do with online education, this is where I think the cutting edge of online education is going to go, both in the CE world as well as in entry-level education, this is where I really wanna see things happening in the future, is the capability and the potential for personalized learning.

25:51 WL: What that means is you take a typical continuing education course. And we have people who come into this course who just got out of massage school, and they are relatively fresh and green and they're excited and they're learning, and sitting next to them is a practitioner who's been in this field for 24 years. And you're teaching the same class to both of these people. And it's gonna be over the head of one person and underwhelming the other person sometimes, 'cause you kinda gotta shoot for the middle because in the classroom it's one experience and one pace fits all because that's how you have to deliver that. So the potential that I really see for this is the capability to design personalized learning experiences.

26:34 WL: So at the beginning of an online course, for example, you identify, "Where is a person's skill set at this point?" And Person A goes down this track, Person B goes down a separate track. And they both get a great learning experience that's tailored for what they're trying to do and where they're trying to go. So that kind of stuff is a whole lot more complicated to build, obviously, and it also takes a lot better understanding of learning processes and learning theory to do it right. But it also has the potential for much, much better outcomes for a lot of the kinds of learning experiences that we're trying to create for people. So that's where I'd like to see us take some of this and really move forward significantly in the direction of doing something like that.

27:18 WL: There is the potential... When you were asking, "Where is this going and what does the future hold?" I think there is the potential that both Covid-19 and online education's reaction to Covid-19 might potentially be a midwife that will help usher in a greater emphasis on competency-based education. And what that means... Lemme just kinda in a nutshell here. We have always had these educational models that are based around time and hours. So for example, in the entry-level programs, you have a program that is designated as 500 hours, or you have a CE course that's designated as an eight-hour course because we measure education by the clock. In reality, that's a big mistake because education should be measured by competencies and what people learn or achieve in that time. Because you can have one 500-hour program that it is very different than another 500-hour program, or a 1000-hour program that's not as good as a 600-hour program.

28:23 DB: Do any of the three of you have any final or closing thoughts about our topic today?

28:29 WL: I would just say, I think what we've seen is this is a good example of a lot of great innovation of people attempting to adapt to the situation, both the students and the educators, both along these lines. And I would commend everybody who's made efforts to try to do something new and do something different. And I would just say, reach out. For those educators in particular, reach out and try to find some good resources about how to do some things better in this environment, and remember that distance or remote education does not have to be technologically complex. You can do types of things in remote educational things that might be relatively low-tech and relatively simple if your educational methodology and your instructional design and what you're doing is appropriate for what you're trying to get across. It's tempting to look at all the bells and whistles and feel overwhelmed sometimes at all of the technological hurdles and things like that. But just do keep in mind, sometimes the good educational processes don't have to be that technologically complex.

29:37 TL: Yeah, I think that's right, Whitney. I think some of it is, too, the offline time is what makes it work, is the time to reflect or process or talk about with somebody else what you learned online. It's easy just to keep feeding content in your brain, have the pods in when you do your run and get the podcast, turn on the computer so you can see the class while you're cooking dinner. But there's really the offline digestion time that really helps it sink in and helps it be something that you actually embody and can use.

30:08 KC: Absolutely. And I would just add too, even if you traditionally prefer and gravitate toward an in-person workshop, let yourself be surprised by what you can learn and gain and the experience you can have from an online education opportunity. I think you'll be surprised.

30:26 DB: I wanna thank Til and Whitney for joining Kristin and I today. And where can listeners find out more information about you and your podcast?

30:34 WL: Our podcast is over at TheThinkingPractitioner.com. We should say that in tandem.

30:41 TL: Right.


30:42 WL: Just like our intro thing does.

30:45 TL: That's right. Have you ever tried to sing on Zoom? It's really hard 'cause of that lag thing. There's gotta be some art to it, but we haven't mastered it yet. So yeah, TheThinkingPractitioner.com. You can go online or you can email us there. My website, Advanced-Trainings.com. Or social media, just at my name, Til Luchau. How about you, Whitney?

31:02 WL: Yeah, no, I can also be found over at the AcademyofClinicalMassage.com and also on social media through my name, etcetera.

31:11 DB: Alright, thank you so much for joining us today.

31:17 DB: This has been a production of Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. ABMP is the leading association for massage therapists and bodywork professionals in the United States and beyond. From liability insurance to professional advocacy, award-winning publications to the world's largest continuing education library for massage, to this podcast, no organization provides more for its members and the profession than ABMP. ABMP works for you.

31:49 S1: Thank you for listening. If you haven't already done so, please subscribe to the ABMP podcast on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.


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