The American Institute for CPCU and the Insurance Institute of America (the Institutes) have been certifying the competence of American insurance employees since 1909, but they are doing a number of things to educate today's hard-pressed insurance practitioners that they didn't dream of doing even five years ago, according to the Institutes' new president and ceo, Terrie Edward Troxel.

Looking at a recent issue of any insurance trade publication quickly reinforces the feeling all of us have that the insurance business, like almost everything else in our lives, is changing rapidly. The change is so fast and constant that we would sometimes like to yell STOP! and try to slow things down. But, of course, we cannot stop the mergers, acquisitions, increased competition, new technologies, and heavy workloads that shape our hectic days. We have to acquire the skills to help us make sense of our changing environment and deal with its challenges.

The Institutes have remained focused on our mission - to respond to the educational needs of people in risk management and insurance to help them provide professional service to the public - for nearly 90 years. As we approach the year 2000, however, we have repositioned ourselves to meet the needs of today's and tomorrow's insurance employees.

We believe that today's insurance practitioners have the following educational needs:

1. Gaining knowledge they can apply immediately to make them more effective on the job.

2. Using technology to acquire information efficiently.

3. Specializing without losing sight of the big picture.

4. Acquiring skills and know-how to "do more with less" but at the same time prepare them for new challenges and opportunities despite today's business environment.

Meeting need 1: gaining knowledge to use immediately on the job

The Institutes' greatest strengths have always been our technical expertise in property/casualty insurance and our ability to test and certify people's grasp of insurance material. Our textbooks, which now number nearly 100 volumes, serve as the foundation for numerous insurance courses and as reference books consulted daily by insurance employees. Our designations certify that people have mastered a specific body of insurance knowledge. To meet changing educational needs, however, we are redistributing and reformatting our huge body of material to meet immediate learning needs.

As an example, earlier this year we introduced the Focus Series. This new offering consists of 14 self-contained courses, each of which concentrates on a single topic, such as business auto insurance, commercial general liability coverage, or homeowners underwriting. Each course is designed to be studied independently. A new employee or an employee with a need for specific information can immediately apply what he or she has learned.

Each course is also designed to be filed for four hours of continuing education (CE) credit by state CE providers. The educational activities of most agents and brokers are driven by their need to meet state CE requirements in order to retain their licenses to do business. The Focus Series courses meet this specific educational need.

Meeting need 2: using

technology to learn

The computer has drastically changed the way most of us do our jobs and communicate with others. The internet, e-mail, electronic spreadsheets, and word processing have made us more efficient and less patient with snail mail and slower technologies.

The Institutes are using the computer to offer people new options for acquiring the information they need. We are piloting two online, internet-based classes this fall. One is CPCU 9-Economics, one of the courses in our Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter program. The other is INS 22-Personal Insurance, a course in our Program in General Insurance.

The instructional format, often called computer-mediated distance learning, links an instructor with students across the country. The instructor and students communicate through internet software that creates a virtual classroom. The software provides a means for the instructor to post class announcements, present lessons, conduct discussions, assign projects, and give tests. The software also allows private electronic messaging between class members. Assuming the pilot is successful, we plan to expand our online class offerings each semester.

We are also using computer technology to supplement our textbooks and give students additional options to test their knowledge. We have developed computer-assisted review disks for CPCU 2-Personal Insurance and Risk Management and CPCU 5-Insurance Operations. The disks construct questions to which students type in their own answers; then the disks provide suggested answers. We developed similar study disks for the three courses in the Program in General Insurance. Surveys of students reveal that those who used the review disks had a considerably higher pass ratio on the national exam than those who did not.

We have developed two interactive math study disks to help students learn the quantitative aspects of the Associate in Risk Management (ARM) 54 and 55 courses (Essentials of Risk Management and Essentials of Risk Control). Using the two-disk set, students can insert numbers into formats for mathematical procedures presented in both courses or experiment with their own numbers.

Our first multimedia project on CD-ROM is available this fall. "Writing That Works!" is a stand-alone instructional tool that addresses common problems all business writers face. Students choose areas in which they think their writing could improve, or they take a diagnostic test that helps them identify their writing weaknesses. Each of the CD-ROM's sections has a set of rules. After reading the rules, students can apply the principles they have learned in a set of exercises. They can check their answers by comparing their sentence revisions to those that "Writing That Works!" provides.

Meeting need 3: specializing without getting tunnel vision

We have balanced our broadly focused programs such as CPCU and INS by developing highly specialized courses and programs for numerous insurance specialties. Our newest course, which will debut in 1999, is Risk Management for Public Entities (RMPE). In co-operation with the Public Risk Management Association (PRIMA), we developed RMPE to focus on the distinctive features of public sector risk management. The course builds on the content of our Associate in Risk Management (ARM) program, which helped establish risk management as a distinct discipline more than 30 years ago, but holding the ARM designation is not a prerequisite.

We have also recently introduced a program for people specializing in personal insurance and for those working in surplus lines insurance. Our other specialized programs include reinsurance, research and planning, insurance accounting and finance, and insurance information technology.

Meeting need 4: handling today's demands with an eye to the future

People coping in a merged organization or dealing with ever tougher competition face a two-headed dragon. They have to work harder and more efficiently than ever, but their job security may be in doubt. Today's employees have to keep an eye on the future and prepare themselves to take advantage of opportunities for people with advanced skills. They have to show a commitment to the business and set themselves apart as continuous learners. The idea of continuous learning comes up again and again among insurance leaders with a vision of the future.

One way for practitioners to prepare themselves for tomorrow is to keep up to date by earning a respected designation and to apply the knowledge they gain to solve job-related problems. The Institutes are committed to keeping our programs current and relevant. Our competent, well-educated staff of insurance education specialists strives to ensure that our courses reflect the latest trends, policy forms, and developments in the property/casualty business. Insurance employees who take one of our programs and earn a nationally recognized designation can be sure of the quality and relevance of the course of study they have chosen.

We at the Institutes are working to deal with the challenges the insurance business poses for us. The Institutes' greatest challenge is to efficiently meet people's needs for risk management and property/casualty insurance skills. We are using our expertise in insurance education and our ability to employ new technology to deliver the most useful and effective educational products possible.

Terrie Edward Troxel was named president and ceo of the American Institute for CPCU and the Insurance Institute of America in June 1998. Previously, he was executive director of the Insurance Research Council, Inc.