In years past, many people landed their first jobs thanks to their education and perhaps some industry knowledge. Companies offered a long ramp-up time for employees to learn the organization, presented chosen candidates with a clear path to leadership, and conducted training via seasoned workers, written materials, or formal classes. A “new person” had a cocoon of time to develop in a company, learning about its people and processes.
Today, expectations for both newly hired and long-time employees have changed. Companies want everyone to understand standard software and be familiar with an array of technology. The pressure is on to skill-up quickly, maintain competencies in changing environments, and accept learning delivery in many different forms. Binders have given way to databases. The human element is still present, but has been enhanced through social networks and informal learning.
Learners have changed, too. Employees in today’s multi-generational workforce range from those who are used to teachers and classrooms to others who prefer to tweet and blog their way to information and knowledge. A one-size-fits-all approach no longer applies to training in any organization that needs to reach learners of many ages and experience levels.
Like virtually every business, the insurance industry is undergoing changes in its approach to training and development. Three trends in particular are creating challenges, but also offering opportunities to advance the way the industry helps its employees learn.
Trend 1: Infusion of New Technologies
Poll colleagues on the number of devices they use in an average day, and it quickly becomes evident that hopping from PC to smartphone to tablet happens with the greatest of ease. Each appliance has its purpose based on such factors as available applications, power source, proximity to a network and the need to share materials or print documents. Today’s workforce has become a multi-device population and has developed a comfort with – indeed, a need for – fingertip access to just the right amount of information, delivered at exactly the right time.
In line with those preferences, learning and performance support also have become technology-based. Given the variety of devices and applications available, many learners are asking for access to information via all forms of technology and through small bites or nuggets of knowledge.
Aside from employee training, many insurance companies have recognized the demand for and benefits of customer self-service and have developed a host of consumer-based applications accessible in real time, without human intervention. Most such applications or portals are easily mastered and will allow consumers to manage payments, update accounts and review quotes and claims. Some offer other, more sophisticated features that help customers handle additional aspects of the insurance process.
Applications for the adjuster that turn the smartphone into a mobile classroom, office and toolbox also have emerged. These apps provide just-in-time learning and performance support solutions. They streamline the estimating process and allow for complete documentation and submission of claims, doing much to improve efficiencies and accuracy of estimates.
Trend 2: Changes in Workforce Demographics
The workforce has evolved into a multi-generational environment often representing four to five age groups. This broad distribution of workers creates many challenges for training because of disparate learning styles and preferences in methods of interaction between those groups.
Baby Boomers are currently in the majority, but are expected to cede that dominance to the Millennials by 2015. At the same time, Gen Xers will have a diminished spot in the working population. This shift in demographics may put pressure on organizations to focus development and promotion opportunities on Millennials at the expense of Gen X. Another interesting phenomenon is that unlike any other time in modern history, half of the workforce will be over the age of 40 and one quarter will be over the age of 55.
These factors mandate the need for flexibility in learning solutions. Traditional methods of scheduling will not suffice for Millennials, who are eager to learn and are used to seeking knowledge on demand. They will not wait to be assigned to classes, as they are true proponents of real-time learning. Millennials typically need training that is:
- Immediate – offering access to knowledge nuggets at the point of application.
- Specific – targeted to needs and focused on practical application rather than theory.
- Validated – with user ratings and feedback to establish the value of learning.
- Multi-channel – providing content in multiple formats, accessible from multiple appliances.
- Collaborative – offering the ability to supplement information with additional feedback and observations.
As a cohort, Millennials will lead the exploration of technology as a learning solution and may offer the greatest asset to an organization as technology ambassadors.
At the other end of the spectrum are Boomers who are staying actively engaged in the workforce. Rather than retire, many are working into their later years because of good health, economic necessity, and the desire of many organizations to retain and share the intellectual capital they have amassed during their working lives.
Boomers have grown up with education that includes scheduled events and classes, supplemental materials and quick tests as the means for assessing knowledge transfer. They generally prefer training that is:
- Structured – conducted through classroom or group settings, particularly for applications training.
- Supplemented – with printed handouts and laminated cards, for example.
- Repetitive – learning through layered and progressive delivery of information.
- Reinforced – including feedback mechanisms and continued support outside the classroom.
Online training tools Boomers may be familiar with are really just variations of courses they previously took in the classroom. Just-in-time learning and searchable knowledge databases are solutions they are only slowly embracing.
Trend 3: Growth in Informal Learning
“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” – Commonly attributed to Mark Twain
Learning is a continuous process that can occur anywhere. Today, with the explosion of web resources, opportunities for sharing and learning far surpass those of 20 years ago. As an industry, insurance has recognized the power of distributing content through websites, applications and consumer resources, creating more opportunities for education for both professionals and consumers. These shifts in access and targeted needs have established the importance of informal learning, which, according to current research, constitutes 80 percent of learning today.
Moving beyond the classroom and workshops, informal learning can take the forms of on-the-job experience, mentoring, and collaboration. Informal learning is characterized by flexibility and empowerment, allowing learners to set their own pace, personalize the experience, and determine the amount of information required to meet their needs.
Informal learning has been fostered by technology. Like those DIY home makeover shows on TV, technology has changed the traditional approach to creating educational materials. People now use free tools to share tips, techniques, information, and opinions, developing and nurturing a rich DIY resource of learning solutions. Wikipedia is probably the greatest example of a comprehensive resource created and maintained by a community of collaborators. Web-based social media such as YouTube and blogs also have allowed individuals to offer an array of information to others in an informal, collaborative environment.
From an insurance industry perspective, little training-focused content is available via web-based tools and social media. A recent search on popular social media sites shows that the industry—at least the claims component—appears to be underutilizing resources that could attract, retain, and develop talent and offer a near-term solution for a mobile learning platform.
A Future State of Learning
To move towards a future state of learning that fully leverages technology, demographic, and informal learning trends, insurance organizations need to consider:
- Deploying technology and applications that encourage engagement and learning. Technology has been infused into the daily lives of both consumers and insurance professionals and has removed many of the physical barriers for learning. Insurance organizations need to take full advantage of it by introducing devices and applications that continually increase the speed and efficiency of learning.
- Offering a broad spectrum of learning solutions, including classroom, self-paced online courses, and mobile applications. Nothing needs to be eliminated; the focus is on distributing information across multiple channels to effectively reach all learners.
- Encouraging multi-generational teaming and mentoring. Turn demographic challenges into opportunities to connect generations and advance learning throughout the company. Senior associates can coach new recruits regarding technical skills, processes and company history and culture. At the same time, Millennials and Gen-Y employees can reverse-mentor others in the area of technology—a less common arrangement, but potentially very effective.
- Considering social media platforms as a viable option the next time rapid deployment of information is required. Informal learning is growing. For financially constrained training departments, informal training via web-based tools is available at a relatively low cost: an investment in time to become familiar with tools and develop content. From an author and user perspective, established contribution standards are in place and all learning styles are addressed: read, write, watch, listen, and try.