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Looking for Learning in All the Wrong Places: The State of Insurance CE Today

Author: Bill Wilson
About 25 years ago, I attended an Education Committee meeting at the Southern Agents Conference in Atlanta. CE had really just gotten started in some states. At this meeting, legendary insurance educator Bob Ross of the Florida Big I literally climbed onto his chair in a Norma Rae-like stance 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 websites and signed up for a course entitled "Consumer Insurance." He registered as a new user in their system, perused their 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 website 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."
Afterwards, 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 they used what they 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.
It's sad that CE is regulatorily imposed yet so poorly regulated with regard to accuracy and quality. Online CE credit is based largely on word counts, with little or no regard as to whether the student is being taught (assuming they actually read the course material and don't just take the test) relevant and technically accurate information.
Shouldn't CE courses be presented at a level more advanced than a licensing school? Yet too many of these courses are presented at a consumer educational level at best. And what about the approval services that regulators employ to review CE course submissions? Are they just in it for the money too? Is there no accountability? Is there no desire to truly educate ourselves? Does anyone care? Is anyone listening?
In 2000, when online insurance education was just starting, I created a "bad CE" parody web site that earned some national attention in a number of education and training publications. For a number of reasons, I took the site down after a while, but public demand caused it to be resurrected and industry attorney Barry Zalma graciously offered to house it at his website:
I used the aforementioned “Split Screen Technology” angle as the inspiration for my “Monkey-Powered” courses and “Blank Page Technology.” Here’s the press release I did that garnered the media's attention:
Sadly, it wouldn't surprise me at all if I could get these courses approved for insurance CE today.
So what do YOU think? Do you believe that CE education now all too often caters to the lowest common denominator? Does it bother you that agents are buying this stuff just to comply with bean counting regulatory requirements? Can or should anything be done about either repealing CE laws or actually enforcing them?
In addition to more oversight on quality, should regulators require self-study and online course vendors to report their passing ratios? Should they shut down courses with passing ratios greater than X% and should a CE provider lose their license if their overall passing ratio exceeds that amount over a certain period of time?
Is there a solution to this mess? Again, 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 3 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 3-hour ETHICS requirement?
There is an online insurance forum with an ongoing discussion calledAny Suggestions on Best Online CE Site? It has comments such as:
“I use About $35 for 21 hours 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 posters 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” web site. No mention of the quality or relevance of the course material or whether there is any actual learning involved. They proudly proclaim a passing ratio of “over 98%.” What would regulators do if the passing ratio of their licensing exams were over 98%? I would 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.
All of this prompted me to write (with apologies to Johnny Lee and the movie Urban Cowboy) this article, “Looking for Learning in All the Wrong Places.” The best place to start looking is your own state Big I association which has a vested interest in providing you with the best education possible.

OldCodgerAnim.gifSo 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?
Email and we’ll post your responses (by name or anonymously) on this article.
P.S.  For another industry education rant, check out:
Subscriber Response
Bill, you may be a "grumpy old man" but I agree with you 100%.
Like many other laws in effect, CE requirements do not stop the “bad guys” from doing wrong, they only help the “good guys” be better. The very people who most need the training are likely the ones who are cheating the system, and themselves - the end result being that their actions make us all look bad by association.
Keep up the rant!

Wendy P. Lawlor, CISR, CIC, NcAM
The Burns Agency
Clinton, NY
Subscriber Response
35+ years ago, my employer required that I acquire an Agents License to do specific work for them.  I jumped at the opportunity. 
Two weeks later I was at the Success School of Insurance (actual name) having been enrolled by the Company's VP.   One and a half days of school, followed by a written test across the hall, and I was the proud owner of a Property Casualty Insurance Agents License.  My study partner, who showed up to both classes stoned stupid, also passed the test.
Fortunately, my employer needed me to have a license for compliance reasons, not for selling insurance.  Having been a underwriter, I realized why so many Insurance Applications I received were so poorly completed, and why simple questions to many Agents were met with ridiculous answers.  I wondered how many Agents had acquired their license in the same state of mind as my study partner.
Several years later, the requirement for bi-annual training was implemented and I looked at the opportunity to continue learning.  Each of the Courses I took, required you to study the books then take the examination.  You receive a notice whether you passed or failed, buy not how many answers were right or wrong.  I did not like not knowing what I may have gotten wrong, but I understood their reasoning.
Each time the continuing education requirement came up, I spent more and more time, learning different lines of coverage.  As you probably guessed, I like to learn.  However, the last time I took a new course, I studied at night (4 to 5 hours) for three weeks straight.
Upon telling one of my Agent friends of the amount of time I was spending every two years, he laughed and told me that all I needed to do was pay the fee, and list my name on their Agency training roster.  As Log as I showed up for both secessions of the lecture, I would be Certified. 
I was no longer in a position where I needed my License and did not plan to work for an Agent in the future, and let my license expire.  To this day, I am amazed by the simple questions put to me by Agents with whom I work.  I know there are excellent people in the business, like yourself and others who continuously help others learn and grow.  Sadly, the system also allows many in that should be selling burgers and sodas.
Jim Backus
Subscriber Response
What is wrong with being a grumpy old man.  I resemble that remark.  Of course you are right.  When certification replaces education, the mess we have now should be expected.  Governmental authorities required to enforce the letter of the law but with no capacity to enforce the spirit of the law are helpless when CE becomes predominately a commercial exercise rather an educational endeavor.  Content evaluation must be invested in a not-for-profit entity with the expertise to judge the quality of the content versus the quantity of the content.   We need to return to conveying concepts and understanding and stop selling hours of credit which meet a minimum standard but may be unrelated to the educational needs of the student.
E. Stuart Powell, Jr., MA
Vice President of Technical Affairs
Independent Insurance Agents of North Carolina
Subscriber Response
Another 100% agreement with what you've said. I've been in insurance and insurance related business since 1965 -beginning with an insurer.  During all those years I have taught insurance in one aspect or another, always feeling that I was helping someone learn. Even teaching in college was rewarding in that half a dozen went on to insurance careers. Now it seems like everything you have talked about is very commonplace. A designation -- for a raise -- not for 'learning' something. I've even overheard CIC participants, who have failed an exam, discuss contacting the instructor prior to the next course to see if they could 'persuade' them to grade more easily! It's no longer about enjoying what you do - it's about being a 'paycheck collector'. Makes me wonder if I want one of these agencies handling my insurance when I do call it quits!!
Dennis Gambill
Insurance Litigation Consultant
Subscriber Response
I am actually on the young end of the spectrum as an insurance professional. I have been in the insurance industry since 1999. Most of my prior employers will pay for CE which makes it even easier to take. I have had employers that don’t pay for it and do not provide you the time to complete your CE requirements (even though you need it to maintain the license that you write their business with). The ones that didn’t pay or didn’t allow you the time typically didn’t see the value in it. They thought taking a class on installing a car windshield 5 times over was sufficient. I refuse to take these types of classes. In fact I get pretty irrate when I get mailings or emails from these “junk” CE providers. What a waste of time and money.
I like the types of classes that I do learn something from, get my CE, and fulfill any other career enrichment I can find. Although my current employer pays and provides me the time they have no rules or guidelines as to what we should take for CE, just make sure you do it.
I think as an employer it would be important that you know what your staff are taking or not taking and encouraging specific types of classes based on the employees position in the agency. In fact don’t E&O carriers have some requirements for credits/discounts on E&O insurance for agencies?
My state did create certain CE requirements based on your specialty and they have been very strict about compliance with the requirement. However, you would think the state would have some qualify criterion for CE providers to qualify as a legit CE provider. Like a college or university…
Pamela J. Dodge, CISR, CPIA
Personal Lines Manager
United States Insurance Services, Inc. & Tidewater Insurance Associates, Inc.
Linthicum, MD
Last Updated: April 3, 2015
March 12, 2015
​127 South Peyton Street
Alexandria VA 22314
​phone: 800.221.7917
fax: 703.683.7556

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