e-learning in russia

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Implementation Of E-Learning In Insurance Organizations In Russia

Introduction

In the recent years, the Russian economy was on the rise among the fastest growing in the world. One of the reasons for the dramatic growth is that Russia is endowed with significant oil and gas resources, providing a lucrative source of comparative advantage, especially when energy prices are high. The other significant attribute that Russia inherited from the Soviet Union is in the human capital sector. The country has a well developed education system, and hence a large and skilled workforce. The global financial crisis has impacted Russia severely. Therefore, it is time to diversify the economy away from extraction sector and give attention to the human capital sector. The need for development of people is thus more important than ever.

Russia is the largest country in the world by the territory. The dispersed geography makes training and development a bigger challenge for companies which are present in regions across Russia, for a number of reasons. Different time zones alone can be a challenge. Additionally, regional offices often have limited access to the physical and intellectual recourses available in the central offices which are typically located in big cities (population of more 1 million people). Another challenge is that clients are located in far away districts, and employees can spend a significant amount of time traveling in order to reach them e.g. in far-away regions such as Siberia. This geographic anomaly creates a challenge for organizing training in the traditional understanding, and thus interests me in terms of whether e-learning can provide an effective and efficient means of training and learning delivery.

Lastly, I am Russian, and I would like to believe that my work could have some benefit in improving the development of insurance professionals in Russia.

The idea of this thesis originated for two reasons. Firstly, the Practice Project which I undertook with four fellow students for a global insurance company made me reflect on my previous experience working in Russian insurance organization's and the way learning and development was organized therein. I believe that the training in this industry is not as well developed and directed as it could and should be.

The second reason is that during my insurance industry career, I always felt the lack of access to professional knowledge and learning, and I often battled to convince my superiors that my development was a win-win for the company and myself personally. In most cases, the main argument put forward against learning was the cost. Therefore, I decided to discover whether online learning could provide as a cost-efficient method to help people in insurance, a very knowledge-based industry, to acquire knowledge and skills cheaper and more efficiently.

The main research questions of this thesis are: what are the opportunities that Russian insurance organizations can pursue by offering training and development through e-learning? And what challenges should they overcome?

The data gathering techniques used in preparation of this thesis comprise literature review, interviews with learning and e-learning experts, and people employed in the insurance industry, in Russia and other countries, conducting a survey of Russian insurance professionals, and through my direct experience.

In the course of undertaking the Practice Project I had an opportunity to talk to a number of experts in the field of e-learning who have had experience dealing with the Russian and other markets. In addition to that, , I had the opportunity to interview management and employees of the two affiliates of the global insurance company in Russia.. The questionnaires used to conduct the interviews are available in Exhibit 1(a)

To get a better understanding of how employees of insurance organizations in Russia perceive online learning I also conducted a survey among 70 people who are currently employed by various insurance organizations in Russia (survey questions are available in Exhibit 1(b). These people I contacted through my personal network and by means of the social network tool LinkedIn. The purpose of the survey was to understand whether Russian insurance professionals are familiar with the notion of online learning and how they perceive this approach toward learning. The information gathering was difficult as in many cases people were afraid (as they may be perceived to be critical of their employers) to answer questions, even though I explained the purpose of my survey in the e-mail Exhibit 1(c).

Learning In The Digital Age

Learning with the assistance of computers (E-learning) is not new. It has been available for many years. However, like any new technology, it is not a static solution, and development takes time and the means of e-learning training delivery continues to evolve. E-learning is not a quick fix solution, nor does it completely replace all other forms of learning and development. I believe that e-learning is merely one part of the learning process, and best fits into a blended learning environment, wherein learning includes different types of delivery mechanisms.

“The rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies in Modern businesses and their increasing use for educational purposes have brought about tremendous changes in the way we learn and communicate within and between organizations…Many companies have started to implement E-learning solutions as a source for flexible training for their workforce. But the first generation of E-learning turned out not to fulfill its promises to replace time-consuming and high-cost effective conventional teacher-led training. In a nutshell one can say if the earlier E-learning settings had a focus on individual training, it tended to see the learner as a passive recipient of information that could hardly be reflected in practice ” (Kudrik, 2009). There is thus a need to consider where exactrly e-learning fits into the whole learning process.

The Learning Process And E-Learning

The learning process consists of 4 distinct stages which are described in most literature on learning. Those stages are:

1. Assessment of learning needs

2. Design and development of materials

3. Delivery; and

4. Evaluation of impact/effect

I refer to the above stages because they are necessary for understanding traditional training practices as well as emerging trends that will soon become the reality of organizational learning.

Learning is a continuous process throughout a person's life. People learn in order to acquire knowledge and skills. In addition to that, learning can involve or require a change in attitude. E-learning is an approach which is used in order to deliver learning faster and more efficiently. However, “e-learning is not a one-size-fits-all solution for every problem, and will never replace classroom training.” (Rosen, 2009).

There are types of training that organizations offer to their employees for which e-earning can fully susbstitute traditional instructor-led training. Examples of such training can be induction training or product training. For other courses, such as leadership and personal development, e-learning cannot fully substitute but can complement face-to-face training, resulting in more efficient and time-saving delivery of learning.

Solutions to learning needs are often not well thought out and/or addressed. I particularly like the quote of Kenneth Fee who said “that e-learning is not just a different approach to learning but a new and different way for organizations, and people within them, to think about learning” (Fee, 2009) Fee also identified three conventional distinctive ways of thinking: “one of the most popular being to identify problems that require training solutions, and then pass them on to the training department so that the training specialists in that department can arrange a course. A better way (but not much better) is to pass the problem on so that the training “experts” can identify the appropriate training intervention: if not a course, then some coaching, or guided work-based learning, or an action learning set, or perhaps some distance learning or online learning. Of course, another way, sadly still common, is simply to ignore learning issues untill they become too urgent to ignore any longer”.

Fee also asserts that “more forward-thinking organizations have recognised that the three ways are not adequate.” Such organizations encourage learners to take responsibility for their learning and development which allows the former to attain a learning culture and build a learning organisation. E-learning provides a particularly useful and effective tool to empower individuals to learn what they want, when they want. This fits into a notion called Self-directed learning (SDL), which is becoming more popular in organizations. SDL is important for organizations because it is can produce better and faster results in terms of skill transfer. Speed is crucial for the constantly changing marketplace.

Latest Trends In The World Of E-Learning

Technology-based training used to be a relatively static process, whereby the user went on-line and completed a program of study and possibly answered a series of test questions. This is now being replaced by “on-line learning” or “e-learning” which I will use interchangeably further. A lot of new technologies such as mobile technologies, virtual classrooms, simulations, adaptive learning environments became available in the recent years, which allowed making e-learning experience more interactive and efficient.

One of the most accepted methodologies is “blended learning” which can be described as combination of e-learning and other traditional training methods. E-learning as an integral part of blended learning has proved to be an efficient mechanism of learning delivery in many organizations. Blended models, which incorporate the traditional distance learning principles, are more interactive and include a wider vision of internet-based training, including:

1. Pre-test

2. On-line learning process

3. Case studies, development of client service plans

4. Live tutorials with facilitator

5. Discussion groups

6. Workshops to reinforce learning, which could be physical meetings or virtual classrooms

7. Post-test

In addition to that, there is a tendency to self-directed learning which facilitates development of self-managed solutions. People naturally learn from other people, they know what they want to learn, they want to connect to experts.

Businesses have understood the need to change from the traditional learning approaches. Nick van Dam, Global Learning Leader, Deloitte stated that their organization is now “moving to a self-directed learning culture; in the old days somebody at the centre of organization would say what is good for employees and what career steps should be taken. However those days are over” (Dam, 2009)

In this sense, knowledge sharing features such as blogs, wikis, discussion boards and collaboration tools have all become very popular. More and more organization across the world are ready to embrace these new technologies in order to support self-directed learning.

Advantages And Challenges Of E-Learning: Theoretical Perspective

E-learning emerged as a very efficient and quick way of delivering learning in the fast changing world. There are some clear benefits that can be achieved in organizations as long as e-learning initiatives are aligned with the business goals.

Nick van Dam distinguishes two types of benefits from using e-learning in an organization: hard and soft benefits. Hard benefits are benefits that can be easily measured in monetary terms. For example, a reduction in expenses for travel, the training function, classroom instructors and so forth. Talking about soft benefits he mentions, for example, better educated employees, improved employee morale and reduced turnover rates, faster time-to market than competitors with products and services, and leverage of pre-meeting time through virtual learning and collaboration.

Another learning expert, Dean Davey, Learning Director for Deloitte CIS summarized the key advantages of applying e-learning as follows:

1. Improved consistency and quality of training.

The best trainer for all participants; everyone receives the same level tuition; eliminates multiple training initiatives and/or delivery of variable quality; more focused through top-class preparation.

2. Flexibility.

Participants can undertake training at times convenient to them; record interactive training aspects to view at convenient times; applicable for global companies as time zones are not relevant.

3. Economies of scale - design and develop once, roll-out across an organization; content may be re-used as many times as required.

4. Cost effectiveness - Design and develop once, only updates require additional investment; cost can be spread throughout a global organization; eliminates the need to travel to training.

The overall benefits of e-learning initiatives should have an impact on all types of stakeholders of the organization, and as a result improve shareholder value.

However, from my interviews with users and literature review I note that there are certain challenges that organizations should consider and be prepared to face.

Among them:

1. Limited personal/social interaction - although this can be partially catered for with interactive sessions

2. Reduces ability to develop personal networks/contacts

3. Generation gap - possible older employees may not adapt to or embrace this style of learning

4. Technology access

5. Cuts on travel may not be seen attractive by employees, who previously thought it was a “perk”

6. May need to provide levels of support that may be challenging e.g. 24 hour tutor response time

7. Lack of motivation to use e-learning

I could list additional challenges that can arise with the introduction and implementation of e-learning in organizations .

Conclusions

By citing various benefits or advantages of e-learning and then challenges I wanted to show that any of those items can be converted into challenge. Therefore, it is very important to make sure that challenges addressed in due course in order to reap the benefits after all.

In the next chapter I will refer to the Russian reality and will describe in more details all the challenges and benefits that are Russian insurance industry specific.

Current Russian Environment

In this chapter I am giving a short overview of the Russian insurance market business reality. In order to provide a better understanding of the industry I cited some key facts and milestones which had an impact on the industry's development. This background is given in order to provide an understanding of how the insurance business has evolved since the 1990's and how that evolution impacted the learning needs of the various stakeholders.

For the sake of this research, I identified five groups of stakeholders who I think are crucial for any Russian insurance organization: employees, customers, business partners, insurance and business associations, and supervisory and tax authorities. The interests of these groups play a very important role when devising a winning learning strategy, as they are the people on whom the success of an insurance organization depends.

I will also provide an overview of how training is currently delivered (and what are the gaps) and finally I provide suggestions where e-learning can fit and create an opportunity. Lastly, I identify the challenges that need to be addressed before turning e-learning implementation into opportunities.

Insurance Business In Russia: Some Facts And Peculiarities

The “Russian insurance market is one of the fastest growing markets in the world. It has been rapidly expanding over the past few years on the back of regulatory developments, government support, economic growth and rising income level” (ReportLinker, Russian Insurance Industry Forecast to 2012, 2009).

One of the milestones in the development of the insurance industry was the introduction of the new law on compulsory motor liability insurance. With the implementation of this new law, hundreds of new insurance organizations have been incorporated in Russia, which resulted, first of all, in a significant increase in the amount of agents and brokers, and second of all in the demand for skilled insurance specialists such as underwriters, claim handlers and so on. Another milestone was the amendment to the law on insurance which stipulated new requirements in order to hold the license to practice insurance.

According to the report on the state of the Russian insurance market prepared by Nadzor, the 10 top insurance companies accounted for 56.1% of overall written premium in 2008, and the top 20 accounted for 40.6%. The forecast also points out that “foreign insurance companies have a number of advantages compared with local insurers, including higher credibility with customers, solvency supported by larger capital resources, and experience with best international practices”. This last factor implicitly is referring to practices which have been learned by the workforce, and thus suggests that foreign entities learning processes are more developed than those of more traditional Russian insurance companies.

The insurance market grew dramatically, and it was inevitable that there would ultimately be some negative ramifications of this speedy growth. According to the register of the Federal Insurance Supervisory Authority (Nadzor), in 2004 there were more than 1500 insurance organizations registered in Russia. Currently, the number of insurance organizations decreased by half, as a lot of companies registered lost their licenses or were declared bankrupt (around 700 insurance companies currently registered in the territory of the Russian Federation). The market continues to be very fragmented and the competition for existing and new business is tough.

With the unprecedented growth of the insurance industry referred to above, there was a strong demand for a skilled and educated workforce. Many specialists relocated from other industries into the insurance sector as it was seen as an “attractive” employment option. This resulted in an increased need for training of these people, many of whom had no previous insurance knowledge or experience.

What Role Does Learning Play In The Russian Insurance Industry

Context For Learning In The Insurance Industry

Insurance is a “people intensive” industry. Human capital is the main source of intellectual property that any insurance company possesses. Human capital is an internal resource or stakeholder.

However, referring to the Stakeholder Model I would like to distinguish the four most important outside stakeholders who affect the insurance business in Russia:

  • Business Partners
  • Supervisory and Tax Authority
  • Insurance and Business Associations
  • Customers

Partners: the nature of insurance business is such that risks have to be insured and co-insured, especially in the Russian reality where market capitalization still remains low compared to the international standards. Therefore, there is a need for insurance organizations to work in colloboration with each other. As a consequence, there is a need for networking and building relashionships in the market place. Strong ethical behaviour plays a pivotal role in ensuring long-lasting cooperation, as does the ability to develop relationships, and to negotiate effectively, and these skills can be reinforced through training solutions.

Tax Authority: changes in the laws and regulations happen so fast that it is crucial to make sure that the finance and accounting department of an insurance organization is up-to-date. Therefore, there is a great need for professional certification and compliance training.

Supervisory Authority: There are some improvments in the area of regulations such as “the revision of the organisational structure of the Russian insurance business, improvement of solvency and capitalization requirements for insurance companies, liberalisation of the market, and enhancement of supervisory oversight with the establishment of the Federal Service for Insurance Supervision” (OECD, 2004). However, Russia still has a long way to go to comply with internationally accepted norms, and again training on best practices may be a valuable tool in assisting employees in this area.

Professional Insurance and Business Assosiations: in terms of improving the legal and regulatory framework, the role of professional assosiations is pivotal. By participating actively in the law making process, they can facilitate adopting best practices from established overseas markets and increasing credibility among customers, which is crucial for further market development. Learning of best practices can be achieved effectively, in particular, using e-learning tools.

Customer: there is still a lack of a developed insurance culture in Russia. Insurance organizations should take an active part in the education of the (potential) customer. In order to do so they need to firstly deliver key messages to their emploeyees and make them active agents in transmitting such messages to potential clients in the outside world. It is crucial to decrease the credibility gap that currently exists. Insurance companies in Russia will certainly benefit from more educated customers (for instance, currently fraud is prevalent in Russia, and as a result insurance companies suffer a lot and have to increase premiums in order not to make losses). Increasing knowledge of employees on the products available and the ability to develop relationships, and to sell and negotiate effectively can be delivered through training.

I referred to the Stakeholder Model in order to show the close link between an insurance organization and its outside stakeholders. Here we can clearly see that training and development plays a significant role in Russia as this is not only about educating employees but also education of the outside parties in order to ensure success and profitability in the fast developing market.

To achieve the effective communication with the outside world, insurance companies should make sure that their workforce is compliant with certain standards of knowledge, competence and attitude.

Currently, in Russian insurance organizations there is a lack of qualified insurance specialists. Universities do not offer a sufficient quantity of appropriate courses or to a satisfactory level of quality. Therefore, insurance organizations face the challenge of finding ways of delivering training solutions to their employees using their own resources.

Furthermore, insurance companies are also highly dependant on their distribution channels. These are mainly insurance agents and insurance brokers. Insurance agents in Russia are normally tied to a particular insurance company and act on behalf of the Insurer, whereas brokers act on behalf of the Client.

Training for agents and brokers can be organizide effeciently by insurance companies because the success of their products is measured by amout of sales and client retention rates. Agents and brokers are people how make a link between an insurance firm and a client. Therefore, it is important that intermediaries receive all the necessary training such as product training, on-boarding, ethics, negotiation skillsetc.

In the fast changing Russian environment, insurance organizations are required to react accordingly to all the changes, therefore, they have to train their staff including freelance agents and brokers in order to succeed in the marketplace.

A well educated and trained workforce will surely be more effective than one that is not. Therefore, training of the existing personnel is crucial in the current Russian environment as this creates a strong foundation for developing and retaining talent and sends strong message to the outside stakeholders. Indeed, more and more insurance companies are coming to realize that human capital is the main intellectual capital which drives competitive advantage.

Where E-Learning Fits

In the previous section I gave a context for learning in the insurance industry in Russia. As mentioned, it is a people intensive industry, thus training is crucial. More precisely, I distinguished a few functions specific to the insurance industry which are as follows:

Underwriting and risk analysis

  • Actuaries
  • Claims handling
  • Re-insurance
  • Customer relationship/Sales/Marketing
  • Agent/broker relationship (as major distribution channels)
  • Policy administration

All the above functions would be existent in most insurances firms in Russia as they constitute the essence of the insurance business. The names can be different as well as some of them might be united or divided further. However, people in these functions are crucial for the business.

In addition to that, there are some other areas which can be standard for any firm:

  • Finance
  • Legal
  • HR
  • Training
  • Distribution (agents, brokers, banks etc.)

Looking at these functions we can identify what type of learning these people need and where e-learning can fit.

The tick boxes reflect what type of training is crucial for which function. E-learning method can fit in any of the training. In some cases it can be a pure online solution (e.g. on boarding, compliance) whereas on other cases it can be a part of blended solution (negotiation skills, project management, time management and other types of leadership trainings).

Here I would like to reinforce that role of E-learning is not to substitute traditional methods completely but facilitate the fasterк and in some cases more efficient delivery of learning.

How Is Training Currently Delivered In The Russian Insurance Organizations

In order to get an updated picture of how and at what extent training delivered in Russian insurance organizations I conducted a survey among 70 people who currently reside in Russia and work for an insurance organization

Empirical Findings

There is a lack of available of statistics on the topic of training delivery in Russian insurance organizations. For that reason I will present below my empirical findings. The data that I gathered consists of interviews with learning professionals and employees of insurance organizations as well as results of the survey of employees of Russian insurance companies that I conducted online.

The survey that I conducted had two clear objectives:

  • to understand how many hours yearly and in which form people undertake learning;
  • to find out to what extent people are familiar with the concept of online learning and what is their attitude towards this method of training delivery.

It was not my objective to prove whether the results can be applied to the whole population of the Russian insurance industry employee's. Therefore, I do not claim in this thesis that the 70 respondents who I surveyed constitute a representative sample. However, I did my best in engaging people of different age groups, and from different functions. Overall, employees of 17 insurance organizations, including 15 insurance companies from top 30 and 2 insurance brokerage firms, took part in the survey.

My survey consisted of 6 common questions for everybody. 9 questions were designed for people who answered that they use online learning in their insurance organization, and 7 questions were designed for those people who answered that they do not use online learning (Exhibit C).

From the interviews with HR and learning professionals of Russian insurance companies I concluded that the most common ways of delivering learning are:

  • face-to-face training in a classroom;
  • conferences and seminars;
  • on-the-job;
  • published materials (magazines, newspapers)

On-line learning is also pretty usual form for many organizations in Russia however it is a relatively new approach, and not well developed. This is supported by the survey results below.

In terms of the population of survey respondents, it is clear that the large majority of insurance company employees are relatively young, with 88% of respondents being less than 40 years old. This is in line with my own experience and knowledge.

First of all I wanted to identify how many hours on average both full-time employees and agents undertake yearly.

40% of respondents replied that they undertake les than 10 hours yearly, 38,6% -between 10 and 29. The main message that I received is that simply people do not get enough training.

In my survey I asked people in which of the above mentioned forms they receive training and how often (Exhibit C). The results of the survey revealed that 43.5% of respondents most often receive training “on-the-job”. 35.5% answered that conferences and seminars would be the most usual form for them to receive training. Regarding classroom training, 29% of respondents said that they never get trained this way. Regarding online learning, 40.3% said they use online training sometimes, 14.5%-most often and 3.2% always. Almost 43% stated they very rarely or never receive online training, which is indicative that this form of training is either not favoured and/or not available.

I regrouped the results regarding each form of training into 3 categories:

1) always or most often

2) sometimes

3) very rarely or never

Such regrouping I made in order to identify whether on-line learning is used more often or less compared to other forms of training.

Those respondents who answered that they never use online learning in their current organization were asked a question whether they would like to use it (Exhibit C) and they were given three choices:

1) definitely, specify why

2) no, specify why

3) never thought of it

If a respondent chose the option other than “never” regarding online learning, I asked 3 additional questions.

The purpose of my first question was to identify courses people take by means of e-learning most often. The results of the survey showed that all types the courses that I named in options can be delivered through e-learning.

The most popular among all the types of online training appeared to be technical training (e.g. product training), second -personal development and leadership skills.

One interesting observation was that some people who chose option other than “never online learning”, when asked the question which courses they have left comments in the field Other, please specify left the following comments: no, nothing, online learning is not used in our organization.

In my interpretation, such comments mean than some of them probably use online outside their work environment but never took any online courses

In the next question I asked respondents: What prevents them from using online learning more often? The respondents who do not use online learning predominantly commented that courses are not relevant to their professional or personal interests, or that they cannot allocate the time to this learning during working hours. This is set out in the figure below.

Challenges And Opportunities

In order to identify opportunities and challenges of implementing e-learning in Russian insurance organizations I considered the following items:

  • Organizational culture of Russian insurance companies
  • Geographical spread
  • Computer literacy of sales force
  • Relevancy and quality of courseware
  • Power distance
  • Credibility gap
  • Key stakeholders

By taking these items into consideration, I managed to summarize the key challenges which can be turned into opportunities for Russian insurance organizations.

Where The Challenges Lie

In chapter 2 of this thesis I cited a few challenges that may arise when companies implement e-learning. Here I tried to identify what are the challenges specific to the current Russian environment and explain in more detail why it is so. I supported my arguments by extracts from interviews with HR and learning professionals as well as employees of insurance companies.

Among the challenges are the following:

Organizational Culture Of Russian Insurance Companies

The latest findings in the field of e-learning indicate that ultimately, one of the prerequisites of applying e-learning methods is an organisation with a developed learning culture, or a so called learning organization. This is the environment in which employees understand and take responsibility for their own learning and development.

In this instance, an organization takes the role of a facilitator in the learning process and provides its employees with all the relevant methods and approaches. People understand the value and necessity of learning, and are ready to embrace the technology.

In this sense, Russian insurance organizations are lagging behind. I have worked in the insurance industry talked to employees in the leading Russian insurance organization's and asked them whether they have any sort of learning academy or centre, and only a few said yes. The main focus of those centres is providing induction training and product training for their sales force.

Geographical Spread

All the big insurance companies (top 30) try to be present in as many regions of Russia as possible not to miss an opportunity to win a bigger market share. As a rule, central offices of such companies are located in the big cities, mainly in Moscow and St. Petersburg (the most densely populated cities of Russia).

Technology is not equally well accessible in far-flung regions. Wireless internet and bandwidth are still considered as a big privilege in smaller cities and regional centres. Another example is the availability of PC's. As an example, in one interview an agent (Sergey, 34) of one of the three biggest insurance organizations in Russia who works for a branch located in a town 20 km from Moscow, stated:

“In our office, which we are assigned to, only the director and administrative personnel have PCs. There are no PCs available for public use. If you want to go on the Intranet and check some latest changes in regulations, you should either use your own PC (which not all the agents have or know how to use) or they will provide you that in a form of a print out. It is very difficult to keep track of all the changes. In the central office (in Moscow) though you can come and have an access to a PC in specially assigned agent's office”.

As a result, the technology that people take for granted in central offices is not always seen this way in far-away districts. Therefore, an e-learning approach cannot be applied in the same fashion across all the offices of an insurance organisation without significant additional investment.

Computer Literacy Of Sales Force

Historically, in the Soviet Union mainly women of middle age worked as insurance agents. With the market growth, younger people joined the industry. The profession of insurance agent or insurance broker has become more and more popular among men and women of different ages. However, it is not a high-tech industry. In addition to that, this profession does not require computer skills. If an agent has such skills it is considered a bonus. Hence, there are still a significant number of agents who have either no computer skills at all or have very basic skills and who are intimidated by technology.

This creates another challenge for implementing e-learning. Companies need to teach people how to use a computer first, which makes e-learning mechanism much more expensive than it would otherwise be.

Irina, an insurance agent, 54, pointed out in the interview:

Most of the time I get training through face-to-face approach and even that doesn't happen regularly. Occasional product and compliance trainings (are taken) due to the frequent change in regulation. However, I would like to obtain knowledge more regularly at a flexible time. My problem is that I'm not very confident in using a computer as I represent older generation and was not in school or university how to use PC. I think if my company provided desk-top training I would definitely use on-line sources more often as that would help me to react to customers requests in a faster way.

Relevancy And Quality Of Courseware

“Content is king” is the motto you can find in most books on e-learning.

One of the challenges thus lies in ability to make e-learning content relevant to specific needs to employees. Dean Davey, the Learning Director of Deloitte CIS stated in the interview: “you need to create the right bucket in order to make people use these courses” (Davey,2009)

Training courses must fit into a wider, more holistic, development program for employees. Such a program should take account of their current job responsibilities, and what skills they need to carry out their functions effectively and efficiently, and also should take account of their development needs in order to ensure they grow as professionals. Russian insurance organizations do not have a history of adopting this approach to personnel development, and are not used to identifying and assessing learning needs. In most cases, people are imposed with training courses which management believe are useful. My survey showed that often times people find courses are not relevant to their professional and personal interests (Exhibit D)

Another point is that courses should be developed with the help of professional instructional designers if they are to meet minimum quality levels. This may result in increasing development costs or indeed be outside the capability of organisations if they do not have such skills in-house. In many cases, where instructional design is done in-house, it is usually done by a person who maintains the Learning Management System. This person may or may not be suitably qualified and experience to develop effective programs, and therefore the quality is often cannot be assured.

One of the learning professionals currently employed by the Russian entity the large global insurance company explained in the interview that “ scenario of the course (product training for example) is developed by underwriters from different departments, then specialist who maintains a system does a technical work such design, HTML, and uploading to the LMS”. T

his company has 12 000 registered e-learning users. That means that only one persons serves the needs of this huge company regarding instructional design of the courseware.

Instructional design is very important in developing content as that is what people see on their screens and that is how they decide whether e-learning is an efficient way of learning.

Regarding technical training, subject matter expert's involvement is required. That means that the dedication of resources is crucial in content development. Development of content may not be necessarily done in-house . Especially regarding courses which are not Company specific. There are a lot of providers that offer you off-the-shelf content of good quality. In this sense organisations should be prepared to invest good quality content.

Power Distance (Disconnect Between Decision Makers AndUsers)

Russia is rated as a high-power-distance country which means that power in institutions and organizations is distributed unequally. That also means that “people ... prefer champions to work closely with those in authority to approve innovative activities before work is conducted on them” (Robbins, 2008).

Any change that is going to happen or happening as a rule has to be initiated from “ top down”. In case of e-learning, it is especially tricky as this approach is oftentimes get implemented in Russian organizations as a cost cutting measure. It becomes imposed on employees and therefore, perceived as something that they have to do to accomplish certain trainings.

I talked to a number of insurance professionals after they completed a survey and got back to me with some comments, and I heard opinions that "e-learning is absolutely useless and basically waste of time, we only do it because we have to" or "it distracts from work. Obviously, these people are not motivated as they do not see the purpose and perceive this mechanism of delivery negatively. In this sense, there is a big challenge to drive e-learning initiatives from “bottom up” which in the Russian reality is not always understood.

To support that, I structured my research in a way that I first interviewed HR and learning professionals to hear their point of view, and then surveyed employees of different levels and in different functions. On my questions about attitude users have towards e-learning one person said that “the attitude of employees is very positive and people find online learning useful” . However, the reality was somewhat different according to my survey. Some employees relied that they do not have on-line learning in their organization where as other employees of this particular organisation recorded answers such as “they cannot allocate sufficient time to the training, the courses are not relevant, they do not see the point of the training”. These comments prove thus there is a big disconnect of how people on different levels perceive the training solutions being provided.

Credibility Gap

Argument In Favor Of E-Learning

The growth of technology-based training is in general driven by two major reasons: costs and efficiency. However, there are some other benefits of implementing online learning in Russian insurance organizations which I consider below:

Organizational culture of Russian insurance companies

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, it is important to build a learning organizations. E-learning methods can assist in this process by empowering individuals to develop their own skills choosing the time and pace which are most convenient for them. In learning organizations people become more open and ready to share the knowledge.

According to the results of my survey, 57% of online learning users pointed out that discussion boards would be a good feature as a part of learning tools , 56% said that they virtual class room would be a good feature, 20% said that wiki would be useful. That means that people in insurance organization are ready to embrace technology-based learning given that it will be more interactive so they could learn in a more natural way

In today's world people need formal training in order to acquire competence and specific skills, however they also need “ the availability of “learning environment”” (Mallon, David 2009)

Geographical spread

For Russian insurance organization the reach is one of the success factors. Rossgosstrakh, one of the top 10 Russian insurance companies managed to capture significant market share in 2003 when the law on compulsory motor liability insurance was introduced just because they reached every single village and town in far-flung Russian regions. Currently their agents network consists of 60 000 agents. Unfortunately, they could not sustain that success. In my view, their success could be even bigger if they could provide their agents they could provide the access to technology and offer technology-based training.

Another company, also one of the biggest Russian insurance companies (top 5) managed to implement the learning management system and provide certification training programmes through e-learning to 12 000 agents across Russia. The e-learning specialist of that companies said in the interview pointed out in the interview that, “even though e-learning courses are available for all employees in the company, e-learning is mainly used by sales people/agents (there is mandatory certification of agents which requires e-learning)”.

Therefore, e-learning can be of avail for Russian insurance companies with overspread agencies and subsidiaries. Apart from the reach, consistency and quality of training can be improved. Learning solutions developed in the centre can be rolled out across all the affiliates. Time-to-market can be decreased considerably which defiantly is one of the major success factors in the fast changing Russian insurance market.

Computer literacy of sales force

E-learning solutions can in fact help to resolve a problem of computer literacy as desk-top training can also be delivered through online courses. The main challenge here to overcome is make people want to embrace technology. This can be achieved through motivating people to learn, and then e-learning solutions will help to progress in the learning process.

  • Relevancy and quality of courseware
  • Power distance
  • Credibility gap

Conclusion

In Russia there are many factors that one should take into account before implementing e-learning in organizations. In many cases, this is a change which should be managed step by step.

One HR specialists working for a Russian entity of the global insurance company pointed out in an interview:

In our organization there are no personal development plans, and no culture of doing that. People only now learn how to do that. There are no statistics of what people learn? People are normally sent to Head Office for technical training (among those are underwriters, lawyers and HR). Very rarely is there training regarding soft skills. Personal development planning procedures are not in place. There is no unified format of establishing goals and evaluating tasks.

Normally employees choose the training they would like to attend and discuss that with the management. If management approves, they can go ahead.

The above extract very well reflects the reality of learning and development in Russian insurance organisations.

People oftentimes feel that they want and need to learn, but they do not know what and how. The reason is that people in many cases do not see their career path in an organization and they do not know what competences or skills they need to acquire in order to progress.

E-learning is definitely a good way to deliver knowledge, skills and even change behaviour. ”In the digital age companies that do not embrace digital technology…including learning, will fail” (Fee, 2009). However, the success of your e-learning initiative will always depend on how you manage to align the e-learning strategy with the business needs of your organization.

For Russian insurance organizations it is important to spend more time on identifying those needs and looking at the most appropriate ways to deliver accordingly.

Bibliography

Mallon, David. “Next-Generation Blended Learning.” www.bersin.com. 5 6 2009. http://www.bersin.com/Lib/Rs/Details.aspx?docid=103310224&id=103310224 (accessed November 19, 2009).

Astutix. Industry Solutions. 2007. http://www.astutix.com/industrysol_Insurance.html (accessed November 15, 2009).

Dam, Nick van, interview by Team Allianz. e-learning as a part of learning in Deloitte (2 November 2009).

—. The e-learning FIELDBOOK. Implementation lessons and case studies from companies that are making e-learning work. McGrawHill, 2004.

Datamonitor. Insurance in Russia. Datamonitor, 2008.

Donaldson., Thomas. “The StakeholderTheory of the Corporation: Concepts, Evidence, and Implications.” The Academy of Management Review, January 1995: pp.65-91.

Fee, Kenneth. Delivering E-learning. London and Philadelphia: Kogan Page Limited, 2009.

Karimov, Timour. “Liberalization of the Russian Insurance Market in Light of Russia's Accession to the World Trade Organization.” MACD Project. MIIS, Spring 2002.

Kudrik, Yulia. “A case Study of Blended Learning in a Nordic Insurance Company: four issues for E-learning in the workplace.” Master Thesis. University of Oslo, Spring 2009.

OECD. Policy Issues in Insurance: Reforming the Insurance Market in Russia. 2004. http://www.oecd.org/document/46/0,3343,en_33873108_36016497_35837806_1_1_1_1,00.html (accessed November 22, 2009).

ReportLinker, Russian Insurance Industry Forecast to 2012. 2009. (accessed November 16, 2009).

Robbins, Stephen P., Judge, Timothy A. Essentials of Organizational Culture. Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.

Rosen, Anita. E-learning 2.0: proven practices and emerging technologies to achieve results. USA: AMACOM, 2009.

Rosett, Allison. The ASTD E-Learning Handbook. USA: McGraw-Hill, 2002.

Skillport. Skillport. http://eval7.skillport.com/skillportfe/SbJaSummaryPage.action?id=KNOW0114_sbKNOW0114001001&time=22&lpName= (accessed November 18, 2009).

Exhibits

This questionnaire was used in interviews with HR and learning professional of the Russian entities of the global insurance company

Current situation: traditional learning and e-learning

1. Do you use any e-learning system to carry out learning and development activities? If so, what is the split between e-learning and other learning methods?

What kind of learning management systems do you have in place?

2. Average number of full-time employees in your OE? How many employees are currently using e-learning system?

3. What types of training are managed through e-learning? Who is getting training?

4. Who maintains/ manages the system and are they dedicated to the task?

5. Is e-learning mandatory or voluntary? If voluntary, then how do you motivate employees to participate?

6. Do employees face difficulties using the LMS? If so what kind of issues do they encounter? What are the employees' attitudes towards e-learning?

7. How flexible and easy is the system to update?

8. How is the content developed? What are the typical processes involved in developing a new course?

9. How do you assess quality and relevance of content?

10. Do you have standard way of assessing results of the training? How do you measure the effectiveness of programs? What specific criteria do you use in evaluating those?

11. What kind of system do you use for knowledge sharing currently? Do you use social networks, discussion board, and blogging?

12. Are there any additional features that you are planning to add to complement e-learning?

13. To what extent should the head office be involved in learning management and are there any specific areas where it can be helpful?

14. How important is it to have learning management systems to be in the local language?

Financial Impact Of E-Learning

1. What is overall spending on training? How much of it is towards e-learning?

2. What are the costs of developing new course for LMS compare with traditional learning?

3. Where do you see savings from using e-learning and to what extent? Do you measure the ROI of the learning initiatives?

Implementation

1. Can career map be linked to e-learning?

2. Can performance evaluation be linked to e-learning?

Evaluating And Assessment

1. Do you adopt best practices of e-learning from other Allianz entities?

2. To what extent does e-learning help in adopting the operational best practices from other Allianz entities?

Exhibit B

This e-mail-invitation to take part in the survey was sent to various insurance organizations.

“Dear colleagues,

My name is Ekaterina Lobanova. I am currently completing an MBA in ESMT, Berlin.

In order to complete my Master Thesis, I am undertaking research on learning and development in insurance organizations in Russia. In order to obtain an understanding of the current learning environment in
Russian insurance companies, I am undertaking a survey to gather some key information.

I would very much appreciate if you could spend 5 minutes of your time to answer a few simple questions in the survey in relation to the learning environment in your Company. Please be assured that your responses are
completely confidential and anonymous, and will not be shared with anyone.

Thank you in advance for your support. I will really appreciate it!

Follow this link to the Survey:

http://esmt.qualtrics.com/SE?SID=SV_3rAC9Xn4eBWGn0o&SVID=Prod

I will also appreciate if your forward my message to you colleagues who currently work in an insurance organization in Russia.

http://eaces.liuc.it

In Russia big cities are normally those with population greater than 1 million people

SDL means a learning design where learners take responsibility for mastering performance-oriented content at their own pace without a traditional instructor. SDL's most important characteristic is that the learner will be responsible for getting the learning done. With SDL, the job of learning is up to you, not a trainer, or a teacher, or your manager. You can get help, but the ultimate responsibility for the learning is yours. Some adults respond better to SDL than to traditional training classrooms. There is a sense of control over their own learning and over their own futures. With SDL, you can use your own learning style. Kinesthetic learners, for example, can make sure they design lots of hands-on projects. http://eval7.skillport.com/skillportfe/SbJaSummaryPage.action?id=KNOW0114_sbKNOW0114001001&time=22&lpName=

Dam, N. van (2004). The e-learning FIELDBOOK. McGraw HIll

CIS stands for Commonwealth of Independent States. It is a regional organization whose participating countries are former Soviet Republics, formed during the breakup of the Soviet Union

Personal liability of vehicle owners became compulsory in July of 2003, according to the Law of Russian Federation # 40-F “Ob obyazatelnom strakhovanii grazhdanskoy otvetstvennosti vladeltsev transportnyh sredstv” (About compulsory third party liability insurance of vehicle owners) (signed by President Putin on 25.04.2002).

Report available in Russian on http://www.fssn.ru web-site of Federal Service for Insurance Supervision (Nadzor)

http://www.fssn.ru Web-site of Federal Insurance Supervisory Authority (Nadzor)

(Donaldson., 1995)

Datamonitor, 2008

(Datamonitor, 2008)

Russia is a federation that consists of 83subjects.

Interview with an insurance agent

(Robbins, 2008)

Interview with employees of Russian insurance organizations

Interview with the learning professional of a large Russian insurance company (name is kept anonymous).

From interview with e-learning specialist of one of the Russia's largest insurance companies

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