Customer Service Focus
By Donna Loughran
TRANSFORM YOUR CSR INSURANCE EDUCATION EXPERIENCE
Strategies for long-term learning and meaningful CE
More than 2,000 years ago, carvers inscribed a maxim into the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The message is probably a familiar one: Know thyself. But with so many modern-day distractions and so little free time, knowing thyself—and knowing what we need to achieve our professional goals—are more challenging than ever.
In our society, employees spare, on average, about 1% of their work week for professional development. That means they dedicate a total of 24 minutes each week to learning. That’s not a lot of time for professional growth.
We adults learn better when a subject is something we know we need. … Selecting a topic that has meaning because of its recognized necessity can provide opportunities for mastery and is not only motivating, but enhances productivity.
Today, there are more opportunities for insurance education than ever before. Given those choices and knowing both what you need to know and how you want to learn it, you can choose the course that suits you best. I spoke with Katie O’Malley, CIC, CISR, online administrator at The National Alliance, who offered the following ideas to help insurance professionals build a highly relevant learning plan.
Consider course formats and personal learning styles. Do you prefer listening to a dynamic speaker in a classroom of your peers, or do you prefer participating in webinars? In either case, a lively and experienced course presenter can deliver important information supported by real-life examples. The result may be a “light bulb” moment for you. Live presenters also give you the opportunity to ask questions and receive immediate responses. Plus, fellow students provide additional opportunities for learning as they seek answers to their own questions. Classroom interactions, whether in person or in shared digital spaces, can deliver professional development in new and memorable ways.
Your testing preferences also influence your professional development decisions. Many one- and two-day classroom courses test shortly after a presentation ends. For employees who have only a short time to complete a course, this can be an enormous benefit. But this situation reinforces the importance of knowing yourself. Do you do well with a same-day exam? Or do you need more time for information to sink in? In other words, would it be better to have more time between the presentation of material and the test?
If you want more freedom to direct your own learning and more time to study, then online study can offer breathing space. Online courses often include short self-testing opportunities to help you check your progress. Participants in online CISR courses at The National Alliance, for example, have up to 60 days to complete a course, and each course allows participants to test their learning along the way.
Many courses help learners “get” the material by building educational methodologies into the curriculum. But you can make the course information a part of your “insurance DNA” by using some solid study strategies. Real learning requires effort. Rote memorization stays with you briefly but not for the long term.
Prime the pump. If you prefer classroom courses led by instructors and you know an exam will be given immediately after the course, you can prime yourself for learning. You can become familiar with learning materials that accompany the course—a strategy that supports learning no matter the course format.
Here are a few tips for priming the pump:
- Read the table of contents.
- Read titles and subtitles. Turn them into questions. Then, as you learn, look for ways to answer them.
- Review the learning objectives.
- Read the “Knowledge Checks” or other self-tests ahead of time to know what you will ultimately be expected to know and do.
- Pay attention to “Introductions” and “Summaries.” The first giveyou a glimpse of the important ideas you will learn about. The second summarize those important ideas.
- Look for tables, diagrams, charts, and other visual tools. Read titles, labels, and captions. Think about what purpose they serve; what are they there to help you learn?
Take a short intro course. Another way to prepare yourself for an advanced course is to take an introductory online course that covers the general principles, words, definitions, and concepts of the more complex material you will encounter in the upcoming classroom course. These intro courses usually are inexpensive and not overly long, and often they have no test component. The National Alliance has ten online courses in its “Introductory Series” that are designed to introduce participants to the language and key concepts of the different areas of insurance.
Invest in a good reference book. Get your hands on a reliable reference book that takes a deeper look into insurance and risk management subjects. For example, Property & Casualty Insurance Essentials, Risk Management Essentials, and Life & Benefits Essentials are three books The National Alliance Research Academy publishes that every insurance professional should have at his or her fingertips.
Microlearn. A microlearning app is a mobile app that familiarizes you with a subject by first identifying what you already know on a specific insurance subject. It then identifies gaps in your basic understanding and grows your knowledge base with adaptive questions, answers, and feedback that slowly prepare you for the bigger concepts you will cover in class. The National Alliance is piloting a course to test its own microlearning app that will have a limited release later this year.
Using study tools, in a group or flying solo
There are basic study tools that work well in a group or in an individual setting. Practicing recall and elaboration are keys to success. Many account managers (AMs) and customer service reps (CSRs) within agencies and companies band together to form study groups. These groups provide a fantastic way to incorporate the social element into your study. You are more likely to put in effort and have opportunities to elaborate on what you are learning when you study with others in a professional peer group.
Engage in retrieval practice. Some important neurological studies reveal that “cramming” or rereading text indiscriminately is not conducive to true down-to-your-toenails learning. However, recalling facts and concepts from memory is an effective learning strategy. The old standby of creating and using flashcards—with a question on one side and an answer on the back—reinforces memory, recall, and understanding.
As noted before, you can create your own questions by looking for bold titles, headers, and subheads and by reading the learning objectives in your course workbook. For instance, if a bold header in your study material reads: Parties in a Life Insurance Contract, make a study question of it, translating it to: “Who are the parties in a life insurance contract?” Collect the answers as you read. A short self-test after reading a section of information results in deeper learning than a hasty review of the text does.
Space your learning. Rest or go on to another topic when you tire of studying. When you leave and come back to a subject, you may feel less sure of what you really know, but the effort of retrieving and brushing up on the information actually makes for lasting learning and helps you to be more conversant with the application of the material. Take breaks and then use your recall of the subject before returning to reading or rereading.
Connect subjects. When you study more than one topic at a time, you may notice unifying attributes or underlying principles in the material that bring the big picture into focus. For example, look at the first four sections of the personal auto policy; there are similarities within these that, if identified, can help you remember main ideas across all four sections. Identifying likenesses and differences within the sections of the policy can also give you a facility for picking the right solution in an unfamiliar coverage scenario. Draw a chart that identifies similarities and differences; the act of drawing and organizing the ideas cements the structure and purpose of a policy in your mind.
Elaborate. Talking about what you are studying helps you connect and apply the material to what you already know. If you can write or speak about what you are learning without referring to a text, you are on your way to developing an innate facility with the subject. Putting your words and ideas together on the fly incorporates the material into your personal knowledge base.
Ownership and mastery
We adults learn better when a subject is something we know we need. Therefore, when employers encourage their professionals to have a voice in choosing course subject matter, it is a very good thing. Selecting a topic that has meaning because of its recognized necessity can provide opportunities for mastery and is not only motivating, but enhances productivity.
The National Alliance instituted the Advanced Continuing Education Series (ACES) program to offer courses tailored to business and employee needs. Employers can work with their professionals to identify the curriculum that is most advantageous for them. These courses can be held on-site at the business location to create a positive group learning experience.
Become a student of the industry. Insurance professionals have always undertaken training as a matter of pride in their craft with the goal of improving their professionalism always in mind. The old phrase “becoming a student of the industry” recognized the fact that the insurance field and its products and provinces are always changing, requiring lifelong learning.
This sense may have been supplanted somewhat by the necessity of meeting prescribed requirements, but AMs/CSRs are known as professionals who are committed to serving their clients not only with compassion, but with dedication and excellence. Education requires effort, but it is also enjoyable, stretching and deepening for us. Take time to consider the course formats and the study strategies and tools that work best for you.
Donna Loughran is a writer at The National Alliance for Insurance Education & Research. Katie O’Malley, CIC, CISR, has been with The National Alliance for 19 years. She has developed innovative online learning products for the organization and has helped many CICs navigate their online learning.