College of Insurance: Insurance and Pensions Training Without Borders

College of Insurance is a professional training institution that specializes in insurance and pensions training, providing official certification for agents primarily in Kenya, Eastern Africa. It’s the only college of its kind in the country, with two main campuses, one in the capital city of Nairobi, and another in Mombasa, a coastal city. The college administers exams—in-person and now online—offering certifications for professionals to sell insurance or act as trustees in the pensions industry. 

While the institution had begun its journey to digital transformation in 2016, COVID-19 presented an opportunity for the college to expand its offering across the continent and globally through the power of eLearning.

COI’s Digital Transformation Journey to Offer Coverage Across the Country and Africa

College of Insurance (COI) began offering eLearning courses in 2016, with content hosted on Open LMS EDU, with the objective of reaching students more effectively across Kenya.

By implementing the LMS platform, COI primarily aimed to:

  • Better reach its markets
  • Improve course accessibility and flexibility to students
  • Reduce delivery costs associated with the physical infrastructure needed to deliver learning
  • Have the ability to update content easily
  • Provide students with the ability to access courses and interact from anywhere in the country and across the continent

The Journey to Digitization

COI’s digital journey truly began in 2015 when the College completed a needs analysis, followed by a program to train lecturers the following year. “During those years, we had to train our lecturers quickly on how to use the equipment. Because there are professors that were used to delivering live lectures and providing physical assignments, we worked to first get them to provide the content to digitize it, and then to train them to reach their students through the platform,” shares Abiud Ogechi, Head of ICT at COI.

In 2018, the College began offering its official certification program, Certificate of Proficiency in Insurance, online, slowly incorporating more certificate programs as an online option. By the end of 2019, eLearning accounted for 20% of its revenue and students.

In 2020, due to the pandemic, COI transitioned fully online. “It’s been quite the journey, especially in terms of change, because the biggest challenge in digitizing is adoption by those that use the platform. We really had to train faculty and convince them that eLearning was not going to take away their jobs, but that it makes them more efficient and reliable to their students and can reach a bigger audience, rather than having a class of 50 or 100 within premises,” recalls Ogechi.

(Left) Abiud Ogechi, Head of ICT at COI and colleagues at College of Insurance.

When the pandemic hit Kenya in March 2020, COI closed all its premises as the country went into lockdown. Most students at this time were registered for in-person classes so the College quickly pivoted to converting all classes to an online format. “Luckily for us, the infrastructure was there and our lecturers already had the training,” affirms Ogechi. This allowed COI to make a relatively smooth and quick transition to fully online learning in a very short period of time.

The initial training the institution had provided its lecturers was focused on how to effectively interact with students online and how to send assignments. By March 2020, COI went a step further by fully using Blackboard Collaborate, a tool that integrates into Open LMS EDU as an activity module and makes it easy for educators to incorporate virtual classroom sessions into their courses.

Ensuring Academic Integrity with e-Proctoring

The College has also adopted e-Proctoring and this tool is proving to be a success. While the Kenyan government typically requires institutions to administer in-persons exams only, the regulation was extended to digital exams due to the pandemic. The first batch of online exams was completed without e-proctoring software, with the institution opting to trust the students to behave ethically during their examination. Understandably, this posed its own set of challenges.

With the recent partnership of Open LMS and SMOWL, an online proctoring solution based on AI that captures student activity throughout a learning session or exam, COI was able to pilot e-proctoring successfully with an initial test group. “I performed my first test with a group of 50 students and it went very well. SMOWL quickly identified the students that were unethical,” shares Ogechi.

The institution has been so impressed with the e-proctoring tool that it’s working with its channel partner, Silitech, to obtain the full version of SMOWL (currently, they have been using the 1,000 free licenses it obtained from SMOWL’s partnership with Open LMS EDU). According to Ogechi, using the e-proctoring software has received an acceptance rate of around 80%, and the institution is working to convert the other 20%. In fact, he has received feedback from the client it used the pilot on and they are happy to continue using the software with the second batch of upcoming students.

COI is hoping to roll out all examinations fully online and ‘on-demand’ for the entire country, where students can complete certifications at their own pace and present their online exam when they’re ready—within a set timeline—with the intention to offer full flexibility for students who are typically busy working professionals.

5 Practical Tips to Start Your Digital Transformation Plan

Here are five recommendations Ogechi offers to institutions looking to plan or enhance their digital transformation plan:

1. Behavioral and cultural change: When it comes to driving a digital transformation plan, Ogechi believes it’s not just about the LMS you choose but about a deeply rooted behavioral and cultural change towards digitization. Adopting eLearning is part of the plan. 

2. Update your content: After migrating your course content online, ensure it’s regularly updated. Just as faculty would update their personal lecture notes, so too should they update online course content for cohesiveness.

3. Ensure top management is fully aligned with the digital strategy: If decision-makers within your institution aren’t aligned with your plans and goals, resistance will occur from the top when you ask for financing, which is fundamental to acquiring the software needed and to motivate staff to adopt it.

4. Choose a stable LMS: When choosing your LMS, ensure delivery will be stable and that you have the right support from your provider and channel partner, if applicable. A cloud service provider that handles delivery and support takes away the pressure from your IT team and ensures 100% delivery for your users.

5. Internalize implementation plans with your IT department: Before cascading implementation plans to faculty, make sure your IT department has been properly briefed to ensure a smooth and successful implementation.

“Open LMS has been fantastic, to say the least. This is because being in the cloud means we didn’t have the headache of trying to stabilize servers or trying to ensure the connection would serve over 1,000 users. All of this was handled by the LMS provider.” – Abiud Ogechi, Head of ICT, College of Insurance, Kenya.

Fully Transitioned to eLearning in 2020

In 2020, the College made the shift to online learning during lockdown periods, running the institution 100% through its LMS and adopting eLearning as the main way to deliver training, examinations, and certification.

A key relationship in the success of this transition was its work with Silitech, COI’s channel partner, who helped the institution retrain its lecturers and assisted in helping it use other tools and features available within the platform more effectively. “In terms of support, Silitech has been very helpful. We´ve journeyed with them since the time we decided to go fully online,” says Ogechi. When implementing new tools such as SMOWL, Silitech worked as an intermediary between the college and the service provider, helping them work through implementation challenges, to successfully piloting the solution. “It’s been a fulfilling relationship with Silitech and that’s why we’ll continue working and getting support from them,” says Ogechi.

Ogechi believes there’s no going back, as COI plans to continue using eLearning going forward and to maximize its efficiency. In fact, while in-person classes resumed at the beginning of 2021 as per Government instructions, the institution plans to continue with a hybrid model going forward, with all classes offered both in person and online. eLearning will remain the contingency plan should the institution need to close down again.

The college now has students as far as Uganda, Ghana, and South Africa, something that’s been made possible through eLearning, where students can access the most up-to-date version of the content, no matter where they are geographically. So far, COI has 1,650 active online students, a figure that increased by 20% between two semesters, due to the uncertainty of COVID-19.

Infrastructure and Hardware Challenges and Opportunities

For COI, one of the biggest challenges it’s facing today is having its students become fully comfortable with the technology in terms of infrastructure. By the time they sign up to one of their online courses, students must ensure they have a reliable internet connection and proper equipment. Many must use their mobile devices to learn but using the same mobile device to type out their assignments is a challenge. COI is working with the government to ensure that desktop computers and laptops are part of the requirement for students to enroll, as well as with internet providers to reduce internet costs.

Additionally, many regions within the country don’t have access to proper internet, representing 2% of COI’s student population that isn’t able to access the online platform by virtue of lack of internet where they are. Finally, the double challenge to onboard lecturers virtually on how to use the online platform can represent a delay, as some can take time to learn.

In terms of opportunities, the institution has been able to reduce operating costs significantly and has even identified more ways to reduce costs. Reducing costs related to maintaining physical infrastructures, as well as cutting back in traveling costs for lecturers via allowances are some of the ways the institution plans to save even more. In fact, the training center plans to capitalize on the time lecturers used to spend either commuting or traveling on other activities related to teaching and learning effectiveness.

Most importantly, COI no longer feels restricted by physical boundaries and the institution no longer considers itself just a ‘Kenyan college’.

“We are now a global college and you can see it in our vision statement—we are striving to become a global center of excellence,” concludes Ogechi. The pandemic has brought the college the opportunity to reach learners across their region in East Africa, throughout the wider Africa continent, and worldwide. That is the power of eLearning.

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