In 2003, my company faced a critical challenge: how to effectively deliver training to a nationwide field force. The solution, we found, lay in supplementing in-classroom instruction with educational content provided via the Web.

Securian Financial Group is a Minnesota-based financial services company that distributes its products through a career agency system–the Securian Financial Network–comprised of 1,800 advisors nationwide. When members of the network needed training, the company flew them into the home office in St. Paul. The number of trainees flying in from around the country had increased by 60%, while the facilities and equipment required for hands-on training remained steady.

Instead of the typical 20, schools of 50 or more financial advisors would spend 3 or 4 business days at the home office. As trainers, my colleagues and I had an hour and a half to deliver hands-on instruction to the people who sell our products, but the space no longer allowed us to provide useful face-to-face interaction.

We looked to the Internet for a solution, thinking that posting pre-recorded training sessions online would better prepare advisors for classroom instruction and improve the quality of class time at Securian. After searching for and finding an easy-to-use program, we provided students with prerecorded online training presentations, which included built-in tests to help retain audience attention and identify areas where additional training was needed.

Students were required to complete the activities before coming to St. Paul, allowing trainers to spend face-to-face time addressing students’ questions. We could even assign follow-up work after they went home. Advisors reported a high level of satisfaction with the training and liked the opportunity to study at home on their own schedule.

The next step was to implement a live e-learning capability to make the training even more interactive. Other business units in the company were facing similar training challenges, and we partnered with them to buy a joint license for live, Web-based meeting, event and training software. Some of the divisions even created their own user interfaces to customize their training. This year, Securian hosted more than 3,000 Web-based presentations for their customers and field personnel–a 300% increase over 2005.

My division, Securian Advisor Services, delivers from 15 to 20 interactive sales and marketing classes to firms and advisor groups every month. We use a variety of tools, such as quizzing, polling, and animation, to ensure the sessions hold the audience’s attention. Every 3 minutes, we make sure students are engaged by asking them to draw on a white board or type answers.

Other features, such as breakout sessions and hands-on labs, further enhance the e-learning experience. We make recorded sessions available for people who can’t attend so they can stay current with their training when it is convenient for them.

Instant sessions and desktop sharing allow advisors to call in and receive hands-on answers to urgent questions. We can help advisors with last-minute issues before client meetings by immediately launching an online training session. Not only do we solve the problem quickly, but we turn the whole situation into a learning experience.

We also use the program for podium-style presentations and broadcast meetings to announce new products or deliver information to business partners, vendors and firms. Web-based training also helps with compliance training. Attendance-tracking tells us who registered and who actually attended a session. We use viewing times and testing to determine whether attendees sat through the entire presentation and are truly compliant.

Web-based training saves our advisors time and helps them get up to speed on important programs quickly. We launched a client data management system with many capabilities called Client Connect. Web-based training was not available at Securian when we first rolled it out, and we spent 6 months traveling to firms around the nation, training staff and advisors on the system. Now we can complete the same amount of training online in 30 days or less.

Our advisors and the managing partners of the 50 firms that market our products are as happy with the Web-based training as we are. We now offer them the opportunity to piggyback on our license and gain access to the service at a significantly reduced rate. They use it to conference with clients and colleagues in satellite offices.

Like us, they are saving money and–especially important for advisors–valuable time that previously would have been spent in transit.

Web-based training has enabled us to significantly improve the efficiency, quality and cost-effectiveness of our advisor training programs. In-person firm visits will always be important to our training program, but by using the Web, we can deliver a lot more information with much less travel.