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Although the initial shock of the pandemic-driven pivot to virtual learning is over, the past two years have resulted in a permanent shift in how education to new and experienced advisors is delivered, according to some post-secondary institutions and professional education providers.
There are now innovative approaches taking hold and even more advancements in the pipeline.
Moving away from the previous model in which education was often delivered in one format, the “new normal” has digital learning tools taking centre stage and advisors and students favouring a choice-driven approach to accessing courses. That’s also allowing them to learn the skills they need to work with clients in their preferred meeting space.
Like most post-secondary institutions, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology shifted to online learning in spring 2020 within its programs that meet the initial requirements on the pathway to certification for the qualified associate financial planner or the certified financial planner designations, including the bachelor of commerce – financial planning degree and the financial planning graduate certificate.
Driven by both industry trends and student feedback, many of the changes implemented that allowed students to participate in online lectures during COVID-19 and also learn how to meet client needs in the digital world are now permanent parts of the program alongside in-person skills, says Ryan Laverty, chair of Seneca’s school of accounting and financial services in Toronto.
“What the industry has shown us is that the hybrid work model for advisors is probably here to stay,” says Mr. Laverty. “We’re there to help students prepare to meet industry needs when they graduate and we’re trying to make sure they have that comfort level with technology and building a rapport with clients over a virtual modality.”
For example, Seneca College has integrated further technology into practice management courses, including building the use of videoconferencing software into the curriculum, allowing students to develop skills and comfort with leading online meetings and using technology and social media to communicate with and market to clients. The aim is to improve efficiency in their practices.
Although students are beginning to return to in-person classes, the college has made it clear that they favour varied models of instruction, Mr. Laverty says.
As such, the program is adapting the method of delivery for certain courses this coming fall, offering a flex learning approach in which students can choose how they engage in their class on the same day – whether in-person or streamed online – or by watching recorded lectures.
Virtual reality and gamified learning
With a hybrid approach in mind, Mr. Laverty is also looking into further innovation with the development of virtual reality tools along with interactive in-person lab space to provide students with several ways to focus on technical and professional skills.
“There are all sorts of ways that people are getting in touch with advisors and how advisors are engaging with clients,” he says. “We look to not only follow suit but try and stay on the cutting edge of it to make sure that we’re leading.”
Following a live, online learning environment during the pandemic, the British Columbia Institute of Technology’s (BCIT) financial planning program will also be taking a hybrid approach in the fall, says Chris Gresat, program head, finance and financial planning, at its School of Business in Vancouver.
In addition to the use of recorded lectures, online meetings, and digital recruiting via LinkedIn meeting rooms, BCIT has also gamified learning, especially lab components, which provides students a more interactive experience and allows instructors to assess results live.
Beyond flexibility in the delivery of advisor education, Mr. Gresat says the most important lesson out of the pandemic is that the curriculum needs to reflect that prospective advisors be able to perform in an online work environment, which also requires self-motivation, communication skills, and extra initiative on their part.
“Thirty-three per cent of our students were hired for remote work or partially remote work. So, they need to have experience with it,” he says. “They’re going to have to do it on their own, with their teams, in a remote environment, somewhat.”
The push for an online experience
Indeed, as digitally savvy advisors recognized that they need to enhance their offerings to connect and collaborate with clients through shared technology, they have also turned to professional associations in search of support, says Barbara Riddell, vice-president, learning and development at the Financial Advisors Association of Canada – known as Advocis.
While delivery of programs began with a rapid shift to videoconferencing and webinars in 2020, Ms. Riddell says Advocis is now looking at additional ways for advisors to access curriculum such as through mobile learning platforms accessible anytime, and engagement strategies specific to a “learner choice” model – like breakout rooms, curated webinars and live drop-in sessions. The methods all favour a blended approach to learning with in-person, remote, and hybrid options.
For candidates in its professional financial advisor designation program, Advocis is also exploring further innovation via new software applications that enable advisors to practice soft skills in peer-to-peer situations.
“Whether that’s a virtual or an augmented reality, that is something that we are looking at actively in terms of encouraging peer-to-peer role play,” Ms. Riddell says. “That allows them to gain confidence and to get better at communicating with clients and prospects.”
Ultimately, she says, there’s a significant opportunity for education providers to explore what the hybrid model can mean in terms of further enhancing learning and engagement from a technical perspective.
“[There are] a lot of ideas we have to research, check out and do our due diligence [on], but it’s an exciting opportunity to continue the innovative spirit that we all saw during the pandemic,” Ms. Riddell says.
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