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Internet or In-Person: The Pros and Cons of Online CEU Courses

While there’s no across-the-board right answer as to whether online or in-person CEU classes are better, there may be a right answer for you.

Erica McDermott
5 min read
November 14, 2017
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If you’ve got a professional license, then continuing competency requirements in the form of continuing education units (CEUs) or contact hours are a fact of life—if you’d like to keep that license of yours, that is. Because so many professionals are required to complete CEUs—healthcare providers, psychologists, and lawyers, to name a few—the debate as to whether to take those courses online or in-person is alive and well. While there’s no across-the-board right answer as to which class type is better, there may be a right answer for you. So, read on to learn the pros and cons of online CEU courses for physical therapists (adapted from this resource and this one):

Online CEU Pros

1. They’re convenient and cost-effective.

Not only are online courses more accessible—I mean, you can complete them from your office or your couch, on your own time—but they also tend to be less expensive (especially when you factor in the cost of travel). That’s an important pro for busy professionals who would rather not invest a hefty amount of capital (or time) into their continuing education. Just be sure to stay away from truly cheap physical therapy CEUs. After all, you get what you pay for.

2. Quality online courses are available in a wide variety of subjects.

Because online course-takers aren’t limited to classes available only in certain geographical regions, they can access quality courses on a number of interesting subjects—all taught by expert teachers based in a variety of locations around the country. That means you can study just about anything you’re interested in—and enhance your clinical or business skills in ways that truly align with your professional goals.

3. You’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate your learning in the form of an assessment.

Many in-person CEU course credits are based on attendance, which means you won’t necessarily come away with a concrete assessment of your learning. If you want to test your understanding of a particular topic, then you may benefit from completing an online CEU course and its assessment. That way, you can feel confident that you’ve actually retained the information that matters most.

4. You may have access to more in-depth materials to ensure a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Most online courses come complete with additional study materials to help you not only prepare for the class, but also further expand your learning after the course is over. Access to readings, videos, online webinars, and other resources can help you gain a deeper understanding of any given subject matter.

5. You can track your learning and course completion against state and industry requirements.

Depending on the CEU platform you use to complete your online CEUs, you may be able to easily track your progress toward state and industry continuing education standards. That way, you always know how many more courses—in which categories—you must complete in order to retain your license.

Online CEU Cons

1. Online courses aren’t well suited to hands-on learning.

According to this resource, “the basic rule of thumb” for deciding whether to take a course online or in person comes down to how “hands-on” a topic is. Generally speaking, the more hands-on the subject matter, the more important it is to learn about that topic in an in-person setting where you can:

  1. perform and practice the associated processes and techniques, and
  2. receive real-time guidance and feedback from your instructor.

2. It may be harder to stay focused outside of a classroom.

According to the author of this article, “Fans of in-person education will tell you that the complex, layered world of questions, spur-of-the-moment thinking, shared problem-solving and enthusiasm for learning can never be replaced by the flatter world of online learning.” And that may be true. The focused learning environment of a classroom setting may keep “learners engaged and on-task and lead to spontaneous learning during breaks.”

3. You may miss out on opportunities to connect with other professionals.

We know that cross-pollination of ideas among individuals with different backgrounds and experiences can lead to great innovation—something both the rehab therapy profession and the general healthcare industry are ripe for. Unfortunately, sitting in front of a computer doesn’t offer course attendees the degree of networking opportunity that in-person classes provide. In a classroom, you never know who you’ll sit next to or strike up a conversation with during a break.

The Bottom Line

According to this resource, “regardless of the learning format, it is the course content that deepens practitioners' learning, helps them stay abreast of the latest developments in [their field], and, ultimately better treat their patients.” Furthermore, “when practitioners advance their own learning based on well-planned goals, they build thriving practices and this moves the entire profession forward.” And who doesn’t want that? So, before you select a particular course, take some time to get clear on your goals. That way, you can be sure the course will benefit your professional development.

If you’re having trouble deciding which courses to take, this resource suggests putting each one to the purpose-population-passion test. In other words, ask yourself the following three questions—and only select classes that warrant a resounding “yes” to all three:

  • “Purpose: Is there a good reason you are choosing this specific course? Will you have good use for the materials you learn?
  • “Population: Will the skills you learn benefit the population you want to work with, or are currently working with?
  • “Passion: Do you actually enjoy this topic?”

Finally, before you line up your annual—or biannual—CEU curriculum, be sure to check in with your state’s licensing board to ensure you know the rules for license renewal. Many states have specific requirements regarding how many credit hours you can obtain in certain course categories. And, for a CEU easy button, check out WebPT CEU. With WebPT CEU, you can easily find approved courses by state and profession, which means you’ll keep current with changing industry demands while also staying up to date with continuing competency requirements. Plus, you can track your progress on an easy-to-read transcript, so you’re always prepared to demonstrate course completion in the event of an audit. Other WebPT CEU benefits include:

  • Automatic grading and certificate generation
  • Progress tracking
  • Up-to-date license requirements by state and speciality
  • Forever access to completed coursework
  • Assessment PRO Specialty Tests access

What experiences have you had with online—or in-person—CEU courses? Are there any pros or cons you’d add to the lists above? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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