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The Future of Agent Training - TODAY!
by Bill Pomakoy

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The training paradigm is shifting fast. eLearning is here to stay. In 2000, according to OnLine Learning magazine (Aug 2001), more than $1 billion was spent on eLearning "and that figure is projected to increase tenfold by 2003…". Technology firm IDC sees the eLearning industry continuing to grow at a 50% annual clip, topping $18 billion in 2005. What does that mean for insurance agents and corporate training departments? For agents, it means less time out of the field to get the information they need to be successful with a product line. For corporate training departments it can mean a variety of things. One of the obvious benefits of web-based training is that it can practically deliver agent training 24/7/365 without a training department.

But the most successful companies already using the web for training have recognized that a blended learning approach works best. Blended learning incorporates the best of both worlds. It's using both methods of teaching -instructor-led and web-based - to get the best results. Corporate training departments have all they can do to conduct product training throughout their company footprint. Historically, corporate trainers have had the unrealistic charge of not only educating agents on company products and promotions, but also inspiring them to reach corporate sales goals - with limited budgets and staff. Simply unrealistic! Now, with the evolution of web-based training, corporate trainers can spend their time conducting things like product rollouts while agents receive their basic training via the web. A perfect solution to a compound problem. And, the next generation of eLearning is already starting to appear with the evolution of eCoaching. eCoaching is a great way to keep the momentum going in an organization using email and the telephone.

Will agents hear the web-based training call? They'll simply have to. Many large corporations like McDonalds, GE, GM, Motorola, Cisco and Microsoft have already recognized the value of web-based training and the insurance industry is beginning to follow. In a recent management training initiative, eLearning delivered a 2284% ROI to IBM (Nucleus Research, Oct 2, 2001). You simply can't get that type of return on investment with on-site training because of all the ancillary costs involved. It is estimated that agents spend an average of between $500-$600 to attend a two day training class if you consider the tuition costs, travel costs, hotel and expenses. And that doesn't include the loss of productivity for the time out of the field.

With web-based training, most of those costs are eliminated. Some companies are already saving upwards of 80% by implementing eLearning programs. According to U.S. News & World Report, "Even before the 9/11 attacks, which left many employees reluctant to travel, some experts predicted that 80% of corporate training would be delivered electronically in three years." And, corporate America is catching on. In a recent survey of 223 corporate training, HR and business execs, "84% said senior-level management has become committed to eLearning in the last 12 months" (Netg survey, April, 2001). Companies are going to web-based training for a variety of reasons including:

· Overall cost savings vs. instructor-led classes
· Consistent delivery of information
· Ability to track agent training progress and knowledge proficiency
· Immediate production for new agents
· Improve core competency of existing agents

Another reason companies are embracing eLearning is because most college students who are being recruited are used to learning via the web. Many schools make it mandatory to complete web-based training courses to prepare students for the corporate world. Those companies who have eLearning programs are more apt to keep their recruits if they are cutting-edge in the eyes of the new employees.

What could be the most important benefit of an effective eLearning program may be reduced exposure to E&O claims. Think about it. If XYZ Insurance Company is able to roll out new products with consistent training, coast-to-coast, agents are more apt to sell the right product the first time. And what about those agents who have failed to bring up LTC insurance to their clients, for example, because of a lack of education, aren't they cruisin' for an E&O claim?

A great web-based training program allows companies to get training to the field quickly and efficiently while reducing the chances of E&O claims. OK, I did say "great web-based training program" didn't I? That is the most crucial part of the eLearning process. There are many ways for companies to get started with an eLearning program. You can build one from scratch by purchasing an eLearning chassis (Learning Management System) from a variety of manufacturers like NinthHouse or DigitalThink, to name a couple, and build the content into the chassis. Or, you can buy a program from a third-party vendor that specializes in specific content that your organization needs.

My company, LTC Consultants, has spent three years developing our web-based training for long-term care insurance and I can tell you from experience that it is not an easy task. We formed a relationship with a company that is headed by an academy-award nominated producer who partners with a cognitive scientist so we could be sure that there was just the right mix of entertainment and knowledge transfer. Studies prove that your eLearning program MUST be interactive so agents become engaged in the learning process. Whatever you do, don't make the mistake of putting pages of text on the screen with a quiz at the end and expect people to complete the course. Your course completion ratio will be in the tank along with your investment.

So, agents and companies, get on the eLearning train. It will take you to places you've never been before. Enjoy the ride.

Bill Pomakoy
Vice President of Marketing
LTC Consultants

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