Insurance associations and insurers are beginning to use the Internet as a learning tool. For the Florida Association of Insurance Agents, it's a way to get more people to take its ACSR course(Accredited Customer Service Program), which leads to a designation issued by the Independent Insurance Agents of America.

“We've been able to grow both our live, on-the-road seminars and our online courses,” says Lisa Harrington, FAIA's director of education. “It has proved to us that online learning doesn't detract from our in-person seminars.”

Joe Crumbacher, CEO of Learnsomething.com, the company that develops the FAIA courses and puts them up on the Web, points out that by targeting its online courses to teach relatively easy skills, FAIA has freed up its classroom training staff to work on higher-priced, hands-on training.

Not only that, but the online program is actually profitable. “We get positive cash flow out of this,” says FAIA's Harrington. “In fact, by a very small margin, our profits online are greater than for our on-the-road product.”

Over time, Harrington predicts the e-learning profit margins will increase, because she can put a course online and run it with minor updates for a few years, as opposed to the 15 to 22 times she's able to use her live courses.

A big reason for the FAIA's online success is that Harrington made a detailed study of members' needs regarding the use of e-learning. Among the important details that surfaced from her research was the fact that members would be taking the ACSP course during their lunch hours. Consequently, the course, which is 40 hours long, was designed to be taken in 15- to-20-minute increments.

Another reason the FAIA is doing well with e-learning is that it went to the Florida legislature to get the rules altered to accept the ACSP in its online version. Many states still base their mandatory continuing education programs on classroom hours, or, as Crumbacher puts it, “seat time vs. competency in training.” The FAIA experience shows that legislators are willing to consider changing the rules if organizations can show the legitimacy of online learning.

On the corporate side, companies like Chubb and Aetna have made use of such online learning vendors as Serebra (formerly known as FirstClass Systems). “The big insurance companies tend to buy from multiple vendors, then package the courses on their own sites,” says Bruce Stewart, Serebra's president. “They'll buy our information technology, sales training, and project management courses to fill in their existing line of offerings.”

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