Serving Two Masters: The World of Continuing Education

Okay. Your license renewal period is almost over and you haven’t met your CE requirement yet. You need to find a course on something you already know so you can breeze through the course and pass the exam. You have to get through it fast. You’re out of time. Next time you’ll plan better. Maybe there’s a course that could really give you something to grow your book of business. But that’s next time.

And next time never comes.

This is the challenge for people writing continuing education courses. You see CE as a blank canvas for your creativity. You could teach great things. Training directors are in total sympathy. If they are the ones footing the bill, they may actually prefer courses that teach deep things. But they know the score. CE time is not your most reflective time. You need the hours and you need them fast.

How do you design courses for learners who are, well, resistant?

CE hours are, of course, somewhat related to the amount of time a student is expected to spend in a course. Different states try different strategies to try to force students through the material. Other states are more laissez faire. But students who are resistant are not the eager faces you’d like to see.

In my mind, you need to be pretty modest about what you can achieve. You plan your course with solid instruction, but you lace it with a few compelling take-aways. The idea is: if they get nothing else from the course, this is it. They get the hours, but they get a little tidbit of knowledge they can use.

You got your hours, just in the nick of time, but you got something extra. Maybe you’ll set aside more time next time around.

And I served two masters well. I delivered the hours as painlessly as possible. And I served up a little bit of knowledge to boot.

Advertisements

Ethics Education Is Very Sticky. But Does It Stick?

This evening, I washed the dishes after a tasty meal of my wife’s lasagna. Naturally, my 20-something sons took the opportunity to take showers at the same time, so we all rapidly ran out of hot water.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me. Hot-water cleanup of sticky cheese tends to do little but spread and smear. Turn on the cold water and the cheese becomes more brittle and washes away without contaminating anything else. Hot water is good for many cleanup chores, but cold water has it’s place.

I don’t suppose that cold water was good for my son’s showers.

A sticky subset of financial education is ethics education. Most, if not all, licensing bodies in the financial professions require ethics education. The idea is that the public—consumers of financial services—are protected by teaching financial professionals about ethical rules. But does it? And does the run-of-the-mill ethics education stick?

Being able to recite rules is different from applying them in day-to-day practice. This is true in many areas of knowledge. And this difference is captured in a framework called Bloom’s Taxonomy of Learning Domains. Different learning strategies are required to be effective in teaching, say, application of ethical rules versus the ability to merely recite them. Just like hot water is good for some cleanups but cold water is good for others.

Ethics is situational. Now, I’m not talking about situational ethics, where the rules change depending on the situation. I’m talking about rules that are meant to be followed.

The situational part is where applying ethical rules gets difficult. When you are in the heat of a situation, you need to recognize an ethical problem and you need to decide how to act on the fly. The heat of the situation makes us forget the rules we learned to recite so well.

Unless we rehearse our responses. And, of course, we can’t rehearse our responses on real clients.

What we need is what many organizations use to train people with dangerous jobs: similators. Can you imagine a pilot being trained to respond to a flight emergency without a flight simulator?

The job of a financial professional may not be so dramatic, but people’s fortunes are at stake. Ethical lapses can wipe out a couple’s retirement savings or leave parents unable to send their kids to college.

So some sort of ethics situational simulator is required. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but the purpose is to put the learner into a situation, get them to respond, and give them feedback on whether their response was appropriate or not.

By giving the learner experience in solving ethical dilemmas in simulation, maybe we can keep them out of hot water when they’re out on the job.

Wall-Street Topics Can Be Written in Main-Street Language

Did you know that a wall-street topic can be written using main-street language? If your mission is to make a difference in the lives of your learners, you better figure this one out. 809’s founder Steve Froikin has made a career doing this.

Here, as an example, is a piece of writing about a financial concept called the “time-value of money” as it relates to an annuity.

An annuity is a stream of regular payments over a fixed period or over and indefinite period like a lifetime. Here are a few examples:

  • You win $1 million in the lottery, but they don’t pay it to you right away. Instead they send you 20 annual payments of $50,000. Your winnings are a 20 year annuity of $50,000. You get $1 million dollars, sure, but the state lottery commission only had to invest $743,874 at 3% interest to make this happen for you.
  • A particular kind of investment is called an annuity. You invest $200,000 and collect an annuity of $19,268 per year. This represents an annual interest rate of 5%.
  • You set up a regular savings plan through payroll deductions calling for $5,000 to be deposited into an account. The $5,000 payments are an annuity. At the end of 10 years, you will have $62,889 if the funds are invested to earn 5%.
  • You borrow $225,000 to buy that new home you’ve always wanted. You get a 3% mortgage that will require you to pay $11,479 per year over 30 years. The $11K is an annuity to the bank.

Did you notice the common features of all these transactions? Here they are:

  • Equal periodic payments
  • A time period
  • An interest rate
  • A stated value today or at some time in the future (known as present value or future value)

In this course you will learn a simple method for tying these factors together. This method is known as the time-value-of-money calculation (TVM). You can calculate an initial investment (like the lottery commission did). You can calculate payments you can expect to receive if you purchase an annuity product. You can figure the results of a regular savings plan or, just as important, you can figure how much your regular savings investments need to be to reach a financial goal. You can calculate mortgage payments. And much, much more.

. . . and so on . . .

The concepts discussed in this piece could be part of a college-level finance courses or part of a professional education program for financial planners. These concepts are a challenge when you first learn them, so why make the learning process more difficult with opaque language?

There is a neat online app called Hemingway that you can use to rate the readability of any passage of writing you want to put to the test. It’s not the be-all or end-all of good writing, but it is interesting. According to Hemmingway, the passage I just cited on annuities is rated at a 6th grade level of readability. Out of 28 sentences, only 2 are rated as hard to read and none are rated as very hard to read. Only 4 use the passive voice, while Hemmingway advises you to aim for 6 or fewer.

So, it is possible to write difficult topics in clear and understandable writing. Click here to access the Hemmingway App and compare other financial writing.