The incentive for insurers to explore online learning, beside the low travel costs and reduction of lost agent and employee productivity, is the fact that carriers can turn around training relatively quickly. This is essential with so many new products, regulatory compliance requirements and other liability issues nipping at their heels.Larry Duckworth, president of, an Atlanta-based provider of online learning and training technology, believes insurers have become extremely concerned about liability, particularly errors and omissions.

"E&O costs are huge today," says Duckworth. "An insurer can get sued because a product was not sold correctly by an agent. A plaintiff lawyer will go after a carrier in a heartbeat because that's where the money is. But if the insurer has proof that the agent passed a continuing education course, the burden is off the insurer and on the individual."

Duckworth says that most insurers regard e-learning as a way to reduce costs associated with travel expenses, such as not having to send employees out of town to participate in training. Duckworth believes travel costs can be reduced two-thirds if traditional training is replaced by Web-based training.

He also indicates that e-learning can help stimulate new-business volume.

"My belief is that four-to-six percent of a producer's time can be freed up to sell more because they are not attending training in an out-of-town location, but doing the training either in the evening at home on their own time," says Duckworth. "Or they are doing the training during work hours where they split their time between training and their workload."

One crucial element to engaging e-learning for insurers is to implement a strategy that emphasizes open and non-proprietary systems and standards.

"XML architecture and plug-and-play features have become necessary. What standards do is provide scalability and flexibility so an insurer can add software to an e-leaning program without a lot of effort, and they can opt for new platforms whether they be Unix or NT and can be implemented without many or any code changes," explains Duckworth.

How should insurers go about adopting online learning programs? One third-party provider, San Francisco-based Ninth House, meets with company executives to first determine if there is a good level of sponsorship throughout the organization.

"You have to have multiple executive sponsors and push it forward," says Charles Orlando, director of marketing for Ninth House. "Then, you have to account for technical integration and run a very small pilot. We got 100 people up and running on one of the courses and we walked them through the process fairly quickly."

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