Deliver Just-in-time Training Through CD-ROMs

July 28, 1999
American Family Insurance Group, based in Madison, Wisconsin, is in a growth mode. By the end of this year, in fact, the company plans to hire 200 additional insurance agents to service markets in the 13 states in which it currently does business.

With such rapid growth under way, the company needed a quicker, more effective way to train new agents than the expensive, time-consuming classroom-based instruction used in the past. New agent training includes education on complex procedures such as how to determine accurate home-replacement costs and how to identify onsite property hazards. Both activities are vital in the insurance-selling process because they determine the amount of insurance required, and thus, the cost of a policy.

In searching for a more effective training solution, the company turned to computer-based interactive training technology. Working with The Human Element, Inc., a multimedia vendor in Bloomington, Minnesota, American Family spent $30,000 to develop a self-paced training program on CD-ROM that could be mailed to each agent's office. The first program covers how to conduct replacement cost estimates.

The new program visually walks agents through various types of structures—garages or two-story homes, for example—that are made with different construction materials. The features of each structure that add to the replacement cost are identified by both on-screen display and a narrator's voice.

How does the program improve training? In the past, when agents were trained to conduct replacement cost estimates, they and their district managers would have to personally visit several different sites to review dwelling types and construction materials, explains Keith Katers, American Family's project manager for audio, video and multimedia development. "This would sometimes take several days and a lot of the district managers' valuable time," he says. Furthermore, because the training relied on the knowledge of individual district managers, it tended to be very inconsistent.

Today, using CD-ROM, agents receive uniform training in just four hours at their own computers and in their own offices. More than just training, however, the disk continues to serve as an online reference whenever agents have questions in preparing a policy estimate. This first project is just one of many multimedia training projects that will be developed around different product lines. "Our vision is to create a library of multimedia programs for training and reference on different insurance products," says Katers.

In developing the program, American Family relied on an internal committee of representatives from marketing, media, information systems and underwriting. Surprisingly, no trainers were involved in the effort. "Our trainers are only responsible for training internal employees," Katers explains. "Marketing is responsible for developing the agents."

What advice does he have for other companies considering the use of technology-based training? "Work with an experienced vendor," he says. "Even though we have a wealth of in-house experience in traditional media project management, we had no experience with this new technology. Outside vendors have been through the process before. They know the pitfalls and hazards to avoid."

Personnel Journal, June 1996, Vol. 75, No. 6, p. 128.