If You Wanna Remember It, Talk About It!

By Shelley A. Gable

To remember the name of someone you’ve just met, repeat the name as soon as possible in conversation. Most of us have heard this tip before, but why does it work?

It may interest you to know that this same concept can apply to what you’ve learned from an online course. Let’s take a look at why this is true and how you can make it work for you in conjunction with online learning.

Why Discussing It Helps You Remember It

TalkingWhether you’re repeating someone’s name in hopes of remembering it later or chatting about what you’ve just learned in an online insurance continuing education course, discussing new knowledge is an effective way to help you anchor the information in your memory. Below are a few of the reasons why this works.

Repetition. This is common sense. The more you’re exposed to something, the more likely you are to remember it.

Application of new knowledge in context. When you have a conversation about something you’ve just learned, you’ll likely present it in a way that makes sense to you. This in and of itself can help you recall that information later. Additionally, the person you’re conversing with may prompt you to think about that information from a different angle, which is likely to deepen your understanding of the topic (thus making it easier to recall later). And if you’re relating the information to your work or something personally relevant, even better.

Reinforcement of the information through another modality. Many learning researchers suggest that we learn through three modalities: visual (learning through seeing), auditory (learning through hearing and/or speaking), and tactile (learning through doing). Reinforcing new information through multiple modalities increases the likelihood of remembering it. Therefore, you can reinforce newly learned knowledge in this way by conversing verbally about something you read or conversing in writing (perhaps in an online discussion) about something you heard.

Making This Work for You with Online Learning

While completing training online, identify information that you want to remember later. Maybe it’s a sales model from an online insurance sales training course. Maybe some interesting facts from an online continuing education course for real estate appraisers. Or something surprising from online training on securities. You’ll likely benefit most from identifying information that will impact you on the job or that you expect to be tested on later.

Regardless of what kind of information it is, your next step is to find a way to discuss it with others. Consider initiating a verbal discussion with a colleague in the office or a contact at a networking event. Alternatively, you may be able to solicit a broad array of perspectives by facilitating an online discussion. For example, you might tweet a question to your followers on Twitter or start a new discussion thread through a relevant LinkedIn group.

So how do you get the conversation going? Try stating the information you’ve learned, then asking for someone else’s perspective on it. For example, you might ask how it has affected the other person’s work or interaction with clients.

Considering how connected our world is today, there is a plethora of ways to engage others in a conversation. Whether you favor online social media or a face-to-face interaction, take advantage of this strategy as a way to reinforce what you’ve learned through online training courses.

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Shelley A. Gable is an instructional designer and freelance writer. She has developed training for functions such as financial services, call centers, and engineering education. Shelley has written articles on topics related to training and management for print and online publications. Visit Shelley’s website at http://www.shelleygable.webs.com.


Do You Know What Makes an Annuity Suitable – NAIC Does

Model for Suitability in Annuity Transactions Adopted

By Cathy Miller, Business Writer

For many consumers, the bitter taste of investment fraud and a bad economy lingers. The times encourage increased scrutiny on investment products and advice. On December 21, 2009, the Life and Annuities “A” Committee of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) unanimously adopted a revised annuity suitability model.

Where It Started

With a goal of providing better protection for consumers, the NAIC organized a Working Group that reports to the Life Insurance and Annuities Committee. To improve the regulation of annuity sales, the Group worked on changing the 2003 version of the Suitability in Annuity Transactions Model Regulation.

By reviewing an individual’s risks and financial objectives, “suitability” measures if specific insurance products are an appropriate choice. The Working Group used many of the suitability requirements of Rule 2821 of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”). Rule 2821 requires a “reasonable basis” for concluding a variable annuity transaction is suitable and “reasonable efforts” in evaluating assets and the intended use of the annuity.

The following are some of the more notable changes made to the 2003 Model version and how those changes affect insurers and insurance producers.

Suitability Information

Much of the required information mirrors the requirements of FINRA Rule 2821, including age, existing assets, liquidity needs, liquid net worth, tax status, and the “intended use of the deferred variable annuity.” Something included that is not part of FINRA Rule 2821 is a requirement for information on the “financial resources used for the funding of the annuity.”

Impact of Change: At a minimum, the additional requirement may mean insurers need to change forms for recording all required information. The bigger question for insurers and insurance producers is if a securities license is required for annuity transactions.

Recommendations

Under “Duties of Insurers and of Insurance Producers,” the new Model adds requirements for recommending the purchase or exchange of an annuity. It adds disclosure requirements that “the consumer has been reasonably informed of various features of the annuity…” The revised model includes evaluation of the benefit to the consumer, the suitability of the annuity or an exchange of an annuity.

Impact of Change: The model requires a “reasonable basis” for recommendations. Insurers and insurance producers must determine how they will establish compliance with disclosure and evaluation requirements. Supporting evidence for regulatory audits is a major consideration.

Compliance Oversight

Provisions of the new model include requirements that prohibit an insurer from issuing “an annuity…unless there is reasonable basis to believe the annuity is suitable…” and notes “an insurer is responsible for compliance…”

Impact of Change: The model requires insurers to have a tighter rein on annuity sales including a review of recommendations prior to issuing an annuity, and training and compliance oversight of insurance producers. It transfers much of the ultimate responsibility of insurance producers’ actions to the insurer. Individual states may have different interpretations of the responsibilities of insurers and insurance producers.

What’s Next

The next step for the Model is a final vote by the full NAIC at its spring meeting in March. If finalized, each state must adopt the Model for it to be effective in that state. Considering the impact on insurers, insurance producers can expect administrative and process changes when selling annuities. Unless (or until) required to do so, the decision for obtaining a securities license is an individual one. Stay tuned to the actions of individual states in determining what’s next in annuity transactions.

The amended model and additional information is on the NAIC’s website.

Cathy Miller, Business Writer/Consultant has over 30 years of professional writing with a specialty in health care, employee benefits and wellness. Cathy also has an active Life/Accident/Health insurance license. Visit Cathy at her business writing blog, Simply stated business to Keep it simple, clear & uniquely yours.

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Corks Went Flying With Extension of COBRA Subsidy

By Cathy Miller, Business Writer

In a previous post, we were watching the clock run out on the federal subsidy for COBRA coverage. In the nick of time, Congress approved an extension on the original December 31 deadline. A report from Hewitt Associates released immediately after the extension illustrates the impact of the subsidy.

Show Me the Money

Prior to the subsidy, eligible terminated workers paid the full COBRA premium – plus an administrative fee – to continue coverage under their former employer’s health plan. With the original legislation, eligible individuals received a 65% federal subsidy for nine months. Their COBRA eligibility had to start by December 31. Without an extension, many faced huge increases in what they paid for COBRA coverage.

The new bill from Congress made two changes to the original COBRA subsidy. First, it extended the eligibility period to individuals who lose their job to no later than February 28, 2010. Second, instead of the original nine months, the federal subsidy now continues for 15 months.

As a recent publication from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows, the subsidy makes a big difference in the average cost of coverage for individuals and families. For an unemployed worker, the extra savings is a welcomed relief.

Enrollment’s Up

Since the introduction of the original subsidy in March 2009, the Hewitt report shows a 20 percent increase in COBRA enrollment. The study looked at enrollment for 200 large employers with eight million employees. Between March 2009 and November 2009, 39 percent of those eligible for the subsidy enrolled in COBRA, as compared to 19 percent who enrolled between September 2008 and February 2009. The report showed some interesting industry-specific results.

The industries with the largest overall increase in COBRA enrollment were:

  • Industrial Manufacturing – from 7% to 67%
  • Aerospace & Defense – from 30% to 63%
  • Pharmaceuticals – from 20% to 44%
  • Media – from 13% to 36%
  • Business Services from 20% to 42%

The Insurance industry enrollment increased from 23% to 40%.

A New Clock Ticking

For insurance agents’ clients that either dropped coverage or paid full premiums, there are important new deadlines and provisions. The following describes some of the provisions for those caught in the transition.

  • Individuals who received full nine months of subsidy – are eligible for the full 15 months (an additional six months) provided they pay all of the reduced premium amount within 60 days of the enactment of the extension – or – within 30 days of being notified of the extension (whichever is later)
  • Individuals who paid full COBRA premium – after receiving the nine months of subsidy, receive a refund for the amount overpaid – or – can have that amount applied to future premiums. No timeline was set for reimbursement; however, agents should instruct clients to contact their COBRA administrator.

The subsidy is a band-aid that creates a temporary fix for maintaining health insurance coverage in these tough economic times. More than ever, clients need the sound advice and industry knowledge their insurance agent can provide. Additional subsidy information is available at the Department of Labor’s website at dol.gov.

Cathy Miller, Business Writer/Consultant has over 30 years of professional writing with a specialty in health care, employee benefits and wellness. Cathy also has an active Life/Accident/Health insurance license. Visit Cathy at her business writing blog, Simply stated business to Keep it simple, clear & uniquely yours.

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Avoid Forgetting What You’ve Learned from Online Learning

By Shelley Gable

Remembering what you’ve learned from an online continuing education course allows you to more easily pass any needed exams and apply your new knowledge on the job. That’s pretty obvious, right? What isn’t always as obvious is how to do that.

Learning psychology suggests three surprisingly simple reasons people forget new information. Understanding these reasons, and being aware of the online learning characteristics that feed them, can help you be proactive in making sure you remember and learn.

Failure to Encode

Failure to encode means that you never learned it in the first place. Encoding is the process of committing information to memory. Blankly viewing words on a screen will rarely result in learning. In order to encode that information into memory, you must put some thought into what you’re viewing.

Have you ever drifted away while reading, only to realize that you don’t remember anything from the last couple of pages? If you’re not actively thinking about your learning, this can happen when you’re taking an online training course that requires you to read the content. Have you ever spaced out during a presentation, suddenly realizing at some point that you have no idea what has been said for the last few minutes? This can happen while listening to an audio narration of an online course as well.

Research suggests that if you relate new information to knowledge you already possess, you’re more likely to remember the new information later. To help you continuously encode new information into memory, ask yourself questions like the ones below throughout an online course.

  • How does this relate to what was discussed a moment ago?
  • What questions does this raise?
  • How will I apply this information on the job?
  • Do I need to do something differently now that I know this?

Failure to Retrieve

Have you ever tried to remember someone’s name, and while you felt like it was on the tip of your tongue, you just couldn’t quite recall it? This is failure to retrieve. This type of thing happens to all of us from time to time. You know you’ve fallen victim to failure to retrieve when you can’t recall something that you should know.

Assigning meaning to newly learned information can help prevent this form of forgetting. Many online learning courses include slides that are packed with facts, which you’re expected to recall later for a quiz or exam. If the information seems straight-forward, you may find yourself progressing through course quickly, assuming that the information will be easy to remember. However, information that’s easy to understand can also be easily forgotten. The key is to give that information context. When taking courses online, think about the newly learned information from the perspective of the last two bullet points from the list above. Finding ways to make the information personally relevant can make it easier to recall later.

Interference

Interference is another word for distraction. In other words, you’re diverting at least some of your attention to something else. And that “something else” will likely interfere with your learning.

Like many, I’m guilty of occasionally talking on the phone and scanning through my email simultaneously. In doing so, I’m usually figuring out which emails I can just delete, which need a quick reply, and which to revisit later. And I seem to pull it off quite well. But learning is a different kind of mental task.

We have a limited amount of brain power that we can use at any given time (psychologists refer to this as working memory), and we can attempt to distribute that brain power any number of ways. That’s what happens when you multi-task – you’re divvying up your working memory. Some tasks don’t require a lot of brain power (e.g., skimming my email as described above), which makes it relatively easy to give some of that brain power to other tasks (e.g., talking to someone on the phone). However, learning new information typically demands most of your working memory.

To avoid forgetting new information due to interference, minimize distractions and multi-tasking while taking an online course. If you take a phone call, don’t assume that you can continue to read content at the same time and remember what you read. If you’re listening to an audio narration, don’t surf the web or check your email at the same time. Give the course your full, undivided attention. Considering that online courses are available to you whenever and wherever, attempt to complete the course at a time and place where you’re least likely to be tempted by distraction.

The reasons we forget newly learned information are quite simple. Fortunately, methods for overcoming them are also simple. Armed with this knowledge, you can proactively engage in these methods during online courses to help you avoid forgetting the information you need to learn.

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Shelley A. Gable is an instructional designer and freelance writer. She has developed training for functions such as financial services, call centers, and engineering education. Shelley has written articles on topics related to training and management for print and online publications. Visit Shelley’s website at http://www.shelleygable.webs.com.

Senate Health Bill Curbs Cadillac Health Plans

By Cathy Miller, Business Writer

While representatives from the House and Senate work on merging their two health care reform bills, one major sticking point is the Senate’s proposed tax on “Cadillac” health plans. Supporters view the proposed tax as vital to controlling health care costs. Opponents include House members that proposed an income tax on high earners as an alternative for paying for health care reform. The strong opposition of labor unions is behind a scheduled meeting this week between the President and union leaders who oppose the tax.

What Makes a Cadillac

Health plans with high premiums are what create a Cadillac health plan. Specifically, the senate bill defines the high-premium plans as those with a total cost of $8,500 or more for individuals and $23,000 or more for a family. Included are total premium costs for health and dental benefits and total contributions (employer and employee) to flexible spending accounts (FSAs) or health saving accounts (HSAs). The bill proposes a 40% excise tax on the amount over those individual or family costs.

Typically, plans with high premiums have lower deductibles, lower copayments and higher benefit levels; thus, the name “Cadillac.” Opponents of the bill argue, however, that there are other reasons for higher premiums, such as the demographics in a group plan. Groups with older employees or employees with ongoing health issues generally have higher premiums.

Unions Assemble Opposition

According to the October 2009 Notes issue of Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), union workers are much more likely to have employer-sponsored benefits (83%) than non-union members (58%). Union leaders see a threat to their long-fought battle for better benefits that they say were in lieu of higher wages. They contend the tax will not hurt the intended target of high-paid executives as much as it will older workers and employees of small companies. Since health care costs outpace inflation, opponents of the excise tax warn of an increasing number of employer-sponsored plans qualifying as Cadillac health plans.

Early reports indicate resistance from the administration to back off on the excise tax. Union representatives hope for a compromise with, at a minimum, a higher limit for qualification as a Cadillac health plan.

Employers Bracing for Change

Although the excise tax is on insurers, at least some of the costs are likely to be passed on to the employer. Other employers self-insure their health plans in which an excise tax would directly impact the employer.

According to a recent Mercer analysis of 3,000 employers, up to 19% of the health plans would qualify as a Cadillac health plan when the tax goes into effect in 2013. Employers predict future changes to their health plans to avoid the tax. Possible fallout includes the elimination of contributions to FSAs, HSAs or termination of dental plans.

In addition to employers and union members, insurers and agents watch not only the President’s meeting on this issue but the entire health care debate. It is far from being over.

Practical Tips for Using Online Learning Technologies

By Shelley A. Gable

You can learn about an amazingly broad array of subjects through online learning courses, from online insurance sales training to online learning for how to sketch people…and just about everything in between. Regardless of the topic, the technologies used for these online courses tend to have many characteristics in common.

As a general rule, online courses are designed to be intuitive so that you can focus on your learning instead of how to use the technology. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be aware of the common traits shared by these courses. Even if you’ve taken several online continuing education classes over the years, take a moment to read through the pointers offered here. You just might learn a handy trick for your next course.

Navigation

Basic navigation in an online course is almost always straight-forward. Buttons for moving forward and back are usually located somewhere across the bottom of the screen. If a course has an audio narration, you’re likely to find play and pause buttons in the same area. Below is a list of other common buttons (usually located across the bottom or top of the screen) that can be helpful.

  • Menu or Lessons: Clicking this button typically displays a list of all the slides or lessons in the course. This can be useful if you’d like to skip around. Since many online courses “quiz” you on the content periodically, this button can be handy for referring back to an earlier slide when answering a question.
  • Attachments or Resources: This button often leads you to additional reference material about the topic of the course.
  • Bookmark: This button functions much like the “Favorites” or “Bookmark” options in internet browsers. It allows you to bookmark individual slides in a course, so you can easily find them later. This feature can be especially advantageous for longer courses with many slides. Consider bookmarking slides that are packed with facts that you’re likely to be quizzed on later.
  • Show All: Have you ever viewed a slide in an online presentation where the content appears one line at a time? If this is slowing you down, look for a Show All button, which displays all of the slide’s elements at once. Alternatively, there might be a progress bar for that particular slide, which would allow you to quickly advance and display all of the content.
  • Instructions or Navigation or Help: A button like this usually launches a window that explains how all the features in the online course work. This can be handy for identifying navigational tricks or quirks that may be unique to that course. You’re also likely to learn whether you can easily stop partway through the course and continue later where you left off.

Audio Narration

Some courses include audio narration. If you’re an auditory learner, you may be more likely to recall information later if you hear it (as opposed to reading it only). It can also help you progress through the course at a reasonable pace, preventing you from skimming the content too quickly to actually learn it.

Alternatively, if you feel that the audio narration is distracting, you can turn it off.

To turn off the audio within an online course, the steps below usually apply.

  1. Click the icon that looks like a speaker or megaphone (usually somewhere across the bottom of the screen, among other buttons).
  2. Slide the volume control all the way down. If an “X” appears, click that.

If these steps don’t work, look for an InstructionsNavigation, or Help button within the course. Or, simply turn off the audio on your computer.

One more thing about audio – if you turn it off, be sure to turn on a transcript feature. Often, an audio narration will provide explanation beyond what’s printed on the slides, and this may include information you’ll be tested on later. A Transcript or Notes button, or a file icon, can often be found somewhere across the bottom of the screen.

Course Structure

When you were in school, do you remember picking up on patterns from your instructors? After completing a couple of assignments or tests, you probably developed a sense of what they looked for when grading. Or maybe each class period had a predictable flow. And doesn’t this make it easier to figure out what to focus on for the class?

The same principle applies to online courses. Catching on to structural patterns quickly can help you glide into a rhythm and complete the course more efficiently. This can really benefit you when taking longer courses or a series of related courses. Below are a few examples of patterns to watch for.

  • How often are you prompted to answer a quiz or review question during the course?
  • Are there cues that suggest what information you’re likely to be quizzed on?
  • How do quiz questions during the course compare to a test or exam at the end of the course (in terms of difficulty, question structure, and content)?
  • Are slides grouped in a way that clearly indicate when you’re transitioning from one topic to another?
  • Is terminology defined when it is introduced? Or, are you expected to reference a course glossary to learn new terms?
  • Are there videos embedded in the course that require time to buffer before they can play?
  • Can additional explanation on a topic be accessed by clicking or hovering over a specific icon on a slide?

The suggestions above are relevant whether you’re taking online sales training, an online life insurance continuing education course, or an online course on real estate appraisals. Although basic navigation within an online course is almost always easy to figure out, an awareness of common but lesser-used options can help you get the most out of your online learning experience. And if you’ve noticed a helpful, common feature that’s not described here, please leave a comment and share it with the rest of us.

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Shelley A. Gable is an instructional designer and freelance writer. She has developed training for functions such as financial services, call centers, and engineering education. Shelley has written articles on topics related to training and management for print and online publications. Shelley can be reached at Shelley.Gable@yahoo.com.

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Online Learning

Are You Taking Full Advantage of Online Learning’s Advantages?

focusBy Shelley A. Gable

If you’re used to taking your continuing education courses in a classroom setting, you may feel reluctant to take a course online. However, online learning offers a host of advantages over classroom lectures. You just have to know how to make online learning’s advantages work to your advantage.

Advantage #1: Online learning is available on-demand,
so you can access it anytime.

I recently attended a lecture that started at 7am, and my attention came and went throughout the first hour. And like many, I’ve sometimes struggled to maintain my focus when attending a presentation after lunch. Take advantage of the flexibility to complete a course at a time that’s optimal for you. When are you most alert? If you’re a night owl who thrives on that second wind, it might be easiest for you to concentrate on your learning in the evening. Is there a time of day when distractions are least likely? Consider these factors and plan to complete a course at a time that allows you to be fully engaged in your learning.

Advantage #2: Online learning is accessible anywhere you have internet access.

Where are you least likely to encounter interruptions? It might seem natural to complete a course in the office, since it is a work-related activity. But given that most of us face frequent interruptions in the office, consider moving to a different locale so you can give the course your undivided attention. You might benefit from taking the course over a cup of joe in a quiet cafe or in the comfort of your home.

Advantage #3: Online learning can be adapted to your schedule and attention span.

What is your attention span for learning new information? If you find that your focus tends to fatigue after 20 minutes of learning, consider completing a longer online course in smaller chunks. Most online courses allow you to stop at anytime and then pick up later where you left off. So if you notice that you’re drifting off during a course, take a break and continue again later when your mind is refreshed. Or maybe your schedule just won’t allow you to set aside an entire workday to attend a class. You can progress through an online course in smaller sessions, between other appointments on your schedule.

Advantage #4: Online learning is self-paced.

In a classroom, the pace of the course is controlled by the instructor. In an online course, the pace is controlled by you. To take full advantage of this, slow down your pace when the information presented is complex. If a cluster of slides leaves you with a fuzzy understanding of a topic, go back and review the slides again (a second look can often work wonders!). Likewise, take the liberty to pick up the pace when the information presented is familiar to you. And of course, if you receive an urgent phone call, online learning will always wait for you…most classroom instructors will not.

In a nutshell, the primary advantage of taking courses online is convenience. While there are certainly additional conveniences offered by online learning, the items listed here tend to be among the most attractive to busy professionals. To ensure that you’re getting the most out of your learning opportunities, follow the suggestions provided here to make the advantages of online learning work to your advantage. And let the learning begin!

Shelley A. Gable is an instructional designer and freelance writer. She has developed training for  financial services, call centers, and engineering education. Shelley has written articles on topics related to training and management for print and online publications. Shelley can be reached at Shelley.Gable@yahoo.com.

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Online Learning