Virtual learning produces cost savings and more flexibility in scheduling as compared with classroom training, so why would anyone choose the old-fashioned, low-tech method? In part, because classroom training provides interaction and collaboration, which is still not replicated with online technology, carriers and education vendors say.The design team at Allstate Insurance Co's claim adjuster training facility in Wheeling, Ill., was aware of the limitations of virtual training when it redesigned one of its classroom workshops into a virtual workshop to accommodate employees who were reluctant to travel following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

As a result, the team worked with its training facilitators to ensure that all students participated in virtual telephone discussions, and reduced class size to four or five participants-a much more manageable number for teleconferences.

"One of the opportunities people have when they attend a workshop versus the virtual setting is collaboration-the chance to share their thoughts with other colleagues in the same position across the country," says Mike Kasper, design team leader at Allstate's Tech-Cor Research and Educational facility.

Attempting to replicate this element of the classroom in its virtual workshop, Tech-Cor organizers gave students open-air time during teleconferences to share and discuss their experiences among themselves.

Several carriers, including Allstate, The St. Paul Cos., and The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., are using "blended learning" to combine the advantages of both classroom and distance learning.

Using this approach, students receive coursework -either online or in hard copy-to study before attending a classroom portion of training, where they practice the principles and techniques they've read.

"I don't think we're going to see classroom disappear from programs completely," says Lee Saxton, manager of claim education at St. Paul. When the main purpose of the course is to provide factual information or teach in a linear process, then online technology can be very effective, she says. "When you're dealing with judgment-sensitive issues, nonlinear processes or applying knowledge gained in an online course to different situations, classroom training seems to be most effective."

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