Three Keys to Designing an Effective Massage Therapy Workshop

Laura Putnam--founder and CEO of Motion Infusion, a learning and wellness company--recently led the session “Nuts and Bolts: Basic Elements of Instructional Design” at the AMTA 2010 National Convention. The session was part of the specialized Teachers Track and demonstrated how massage therapy instructors can design effective workshops that not only engage, but inspire learners. Below, Laura outlines three keys to pulling together an instructional workshop that is informative and will keep learners on their toes!


Engage Your Students! Three Keys to Designing an Effective Massage Therapy Workshop

By Laura Putnam

1. Start simple. When it comes to learning objectives, simplicity rules. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read learning objectives I can’t follow, and, frankly, I doubt if the instructor can either. Begin by simply asking yourself “What do I want my learners to know, do, think or feel by the end of the learning session?” 

Imagine that you and your learners will be traveling on a journey together, ask yourself, “Where do I want my learners to end up?”  Now, write out a “verb-object” for each learning objective. For example, here were the three learning objectives for our session: “Get background, design lesson and have fun.”  Yup – that’s right--super simple!

2. Make it fun. Never underestimate the importance of fun. The truth of the matter is: learning should be fun and engaging. No matter how important the material is, if it’s boring, your learners are going to check out. Here are some ways that you can make any learning session fun:

  • Tell stories. Make your point and then tell a story or give an analogy to make the point stick. The more you can illustrate your point by telling a story, the more your learners will not only enjoy the learning experience, the more they will remember. Here's an example: When I was in high school calculus, my teacher always referred to a parabola as a “doggy bowl.” Just that simple metaphor made me giggle and years later, I still remember the concepts.  
  • Make it multidimensional.  People learn in different ways. So, you need to engage multiple intelligence levels and learning styles. Include learning activities that challenge and engage your learners visually, auditory and kinesthetically. Visual tools include posters, flip charts, wall charts, cartoons, reading material, sticky notes, colorful graphics and other props. Auditory activities include music, small group discussions and video clips. Kinesthetic activities include “human graph” activity (participants respond to questions by moving to different parts of the room), palpation, experiential learning, role playing, and relay races.
  • Be yourself. The more you show your real self, the more your students will respond to you. I promise. 

3Use a template. Beethoven and Lady Gaga are worlds apart. Their music, their looks, their audiences--totally different. And yet, both use the exact same seven notes--think “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti!" The same concept holds true for instructional design.  Just like those same seven notes, instructional designers use nearly the same template every time. Here are my “seven notes” for instructional design:

  • Generate ideas.
  • Construct learning objectives.
  • Order learning objectives.
  • Identify learning strategy(ies).
  • Design learning activities that support the learning objectives.
  • Identify and embed assessments.
  • Put it all together in the form of a lesson plan.

Questions for Laura? Contact her at or visit

"It's nice to know that I am part of an organization that is backing me 100 percent."

Kristie W., AMTA member since 2011