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June 13, 2015

The Sad State of Continuing Education

Summary:

Should it really be possible to spend minutes on a continuing education course and get hours of credit? One that's open book? On ethics?

Photo Courtesy of GotCredit

About 25 years ago, I attended an education committee meeting at the Southern Agents Conference in Atlanta. Continuing education (CE) had really just gotten started in some states. At this meeting, legendary insurance educator Bob Ross, of the Florida Big I, literally stood on his chair at the conference table and declared that mandatory CE would be the death of quality education. Has his prediction come true?

Four years ago, I posted the following on a LinkedIn discussion:

“A colleague related a recent experience to me last week. He went to one of the best known online insurance CE web sites and signed up for a course titled “Consumer Insurance.” He registered as a new user in the system, perused the course catalog, signed up for the course, skipped the course material, took the test, and earned 3 hours of CE credits. All in 16 minutes.

“He was also able to save the exam and email it to me (and, of course, anyone else taking the course). The test was loaded with vaguely worded questions and misspelled words and insurance terms (like “vessals” and “ordinance IN law” coverage). For some test questions, no right answer was listed or more than one answer was correct.

“In the spirit of one-upmanship, I told him about my experience 11 years ago when online CE was just getting started. I registered at a vendor’s web site and, like him, went straight to the test. I forget the exact total time required to register and take the 50-question test, but it was around a half hour I think and definitely less than an hour. The CE credit for this personal auto course? 25 HOURS. To quote the late Jack Paar, ‘I kid you not.’

“Afterward, I browsed the material, and it was full of general consumer-type information taken directly from the Insurance Information Institute. The hours of CE credit granted by the state DOI were based on a word count with complete disregard to the difficulty level.

“One thing I remember about this vendor was that it used what it called “Split Screen Technology.” What that meant was, while you were taking the test on one side of the screen, you could view the course content that went with that test question topic on the right side and browse for the answer to the question. Browsing for the answer was easy, given that the relevant information was highlighted.

“So where are we 11 years later? Apparently in the same boat, except that online insurance education is much more pervasive than it was then. You can get two years of CE credit for as little as $39.95. A great bargain if your interest is in regulatory compliance and not actually learning something that will benefit you, your agency and the consumers and businesses you serve….”

“Is there no accountability? Is there no desire to truly educate ourselves? Does anyone care? Is anyone listening?”

Flash forward to 2015….

An agent and friend I know – good agent, CE course instructor, upstanding guy – waited until the last minute to complete his biannual CE requirement last year. So he went online, found the course he wanted, signed up, went straight to the exam, and in 23 minutes had completed three hours of CE credits. As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And, did I mention that the course was to comply with his state’s three-hour ETHICS requirement?

There is an online insurance forum with a discussion called, “Any Suggestions on Best Online CE Site?” It has comments such as:

“I use XXXXX.com. About $35 for 21 hours of credit. Takes a few hours (maybe two) to finish and is open book.”

My tongue-in-cheek response (recalling my agent friend’s experience a few months earlier) was, “I hope it wasn’t an ethics course!” The poster’s response:

“Huh? I guess you think each hour of CE should take an hour? Unless it’s a LIVE CE class… CE courses don’t take that long. I get unlimited CE from [provider’s name] for $39.95 per year… including a 16-hour Ethics CE course… that takes me about 15 minutes to complete. And, yes, they are open-book courses, too.”

On another discussion board, someone was touting a “Fast, Easy, and Affordable Continuing Education” website. No mention of the quality or relevance of the course material or whether there is any actual learning involved. The site proudly proclaims a passing ratio of “over 98%.” What would regulators do if the passing ratio of their licensing exams were more than 98%? I suspect they’d insist that the exams be made a little tougher. Is any exam a legitimate test of learning if the passing ratio approaches 100%? Then why do regulators allow online CE programs that take a half-hour to get 20 hours or more of CE credit and include exams with passing ratios near 100%? The web site in question has 91 reviews…NONE of them mention whether the reviewer actually learned anything.

(If you’re actually looking to learn, the best place to start looking is your own agent association, which has a vested interest in providing you with the best education possible.)

So what do you think? Am I just a grumpy old man? Should anything be done about the diploma mills that have proliferated? If so, what? If not, why not?

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About the Author

William C. Wilson, Jr., CPCU, ARM, AIM, AAM is the founder of Insurance Commentary.com. He retired in December 2016 from the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, where he served as associate vice president of education and research.

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