Financial regulatory exams are not exactly what most people dream of doing in their spare time. The thought of sitting in a draughty classroom after a full day's work and trying to make sense of the coursework doesn't fill many people with joy.
New London-based company Absolutely Training is looking to make the process of studying for exams a little less painful: it is offering people the option of working through their coursework online.
Its interactive online training programme, available at absolutelytraining.com, will offer six regulation exam courses from April:
The people behind Absolutely Training used to work at BPP Financial Training. They know from experience how difficult it can be for people to find set times to devote to studying.
Lisa Clement, Absolutely Training's business development manager, says outside commitments would often interfere with the studying.
“When we were dealing with traditional classroom training, people would disappear and not be able to attend classes,” she says. “It was a difficult way for people to study.”
Clement set up Absolutely Training last year with Paul Fegan, who is now managing director, Shaun Walsh, who is course development manager, and Carl Crisostomo.
Clement, Fegan and Walsh have a background in training, while Crisostomo was BPP's IT manager. There is a total staff of 14, including market practitioners and IT specialists.
Clement says the process of setting up online courses began last year. “It started last summer,” she says. “We spent from last summer until now developing the infrastructure that sits at the back of the website.” The system is a bespoke one, designed for Absolutely Training by computer software company Felspar.
Ready to go ahead
Clement says the infrastructure has already been tested and most of March will be spent further testing the system. She says there has already been interest from a number of big insurance companies in using the system, with some looking to take part in the testing process.
The company's targets for this year are, according to Clement, “fairly modest and fairly realistic. We are trying to aim for a small percentage of the market by the end of the year.”
The company is also hoping to get future business from recommendations from those who have successfully studied online.
Clement stresses that the great advantage of learning online is its flexibility. “The whole point of the internet is that it's available wherever you are in the world,” she says.
Where and when training will take place will depend to a large degree on the employer and the nature of the job, Clement says. Some companies will have training rooms and
allocate time for employees to study. Other companies will not be so generous and will expect the work to be fitted into employees' spare time.
But, Clement says, as the system is purely online and nothing needs to be downloaded, people will still be able to study at home using an old PC with a basic modem.
On the system there are preferences to personalise the training. For example, students can choose whether they want to receive email reminders of things they need to do.
Students can enter when they are planning to take the exam and how they would like to study and a work programme is then developed for them.
This programme can work out if people haven't been as studious as they claimed they were going to be and will point out to them that they are falling behind. Clement prefers not to define this as bullying on the part of the system. “It offers them a gentle reminder,” she says.
Those who already have knowledge of part of the syllabus don't have to sit through the bits they know to get to the bits they don't know. Clement says the company didn't want the system to be like a slide show with people having to plough through the whole lot.
“Each course is broken down into sections. People can work through the sections in the order presented or look to the end of the section and fast-track to the test,” Clement says. Once the test has been successfully completed students can go on to another section.
The system also continually monitors the students' progress and assesses whether the current standard of work would lead to a pass or a fail in the final exam. A question bank lets people do mock exams.
As well as taking people through the course itself there is access to options such as being able to contact a tutor. The site will say which tutor is available online and students can email questions to them. The programme itself is also able to expand on areas that students find unclear.
Students can also chat to other students and form study groups that tutors will respond to. Clement says that with traditional distance learning “you get the flexibility but it can be harder to feel part of a group”.
She says it was the idea of bridging the divide between set classes and isolated home study which led to the setting up of Absolutely Training.
“It really was filling a gap in the market that brings together the best of both worlds and addresses the personalisation of training,” she says.
But Clement refuses to compare her new company to her old employer. “We are different from BPP. BPP obviously has a reputation. What we can offer is a greater degree of flexibility. That's what we are all about.”