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Got a few minutes? Why not attend class?

Within a year, it could be that easy for risk managers to take part in continuing education programs sponsored by the Risk & Insurance Management Society Inc.

That's the goal of RIMS' new director of professional development, Amy Geffen.

Ms. Geffen took over the vacant position for the New York-based organization earlier this month and plans on using technology to make it easier for risk managers to attend classes whenever they want.

Although she is familiar with insurance by virtue of a previous job as a vp at The College of Insurance in New York from 1986 to 1990, Ms. Geffen is an expert at bringing continuing education into the cyber age.

Under her guidance as an assistant dean at Westchester Community College in Valhalla, N.Y., for the past four years, Ms. Geffen developed the school's distance learning project. Distance learning involves education in which student and teacher communicate from different locations, such as by computer.

Before that, Ms. Geffen was the national director of training for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society from 1991 to 1993.

One new way of holding a class is over the Internet, Ms. Geffen said. This works by conducting parts of the class online in "discussion threads," where the instructor and students exchange questions and answers in a virtual classroom discussion. Also online will be course syllabi and assignments.

Students can submit assignments and take tests online as well. As in a traditional class, however, students will read, research and perform projects and field work on their own.

Online discussion groups can be held either in "synchronous" mode, where the participants exchange messages in real time, or in "asynchronous" mode, where the teacher and students post messages others can read and answer at any time.

Virtual classrooms have a number of advantages over regular classrooms for the busy risk managers, she said. These classes, especially asynchronous ones, do not have a fixed time and place. Therefore, a student can "attend" class at his or her convenience to keep tabs on the discussion and post his or her own thoughts. So, she said, someone can go to class 10 minutes a day for five days rather than one day for 50 minutes.

"People are not bound by time" with the virtual classroom, Ms. Geffen said. "People can get on when they can and are not forced to be at a certain place and at a certain time."

"Most people are busy, not just with work but with families and other activities. So people find it more difficult to be at one place at one time," she added.

Ms. Geffen plans to introduce a pilot project for RIMS continuing education by next year's national conference in April. Shortly thereafter, more classes will be developed for RIMS members.

"It will take longer to develop the first one," she said. "Once you do the first one, the rest take less time to develop."

Another use of technology is holding classes by videoconference. This allows each participant to see and talk to the others without having to travel to the same location.

Using new technology "is a great idea," said David Mair, risk manager for the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the vp-industry liaison and treasurer for RIMS.

"It's a way to bring education to the risk manager instead of making the risk manager pack up and go to where the education is," he said.

Steve Hewitt, director of risk management at L.L. Bean Inc. in Freeport, Maine, said the easier access to the classes is useful and might lead him take a class in the future.

"If this can provide more flexibility, it certainly can be an alternative," he said.

Ms. Geffen also will help in the development of a previously announced new risk management designation, the Fellow in Risk Management.

RIMS Executive Director Linda Lamel has made the FRM designation one of her top priorities (BI, April 14). Attaining the FRM will require passing seven classes in addition to the three required for the ARM certification.

Ms. Geffen said RIMS plans to offer the first FRM classes sometime next summer. Universities will provide the classes, and RIMS will provide the delivery system, Ms. Geffen said. RIMS currently is looking for schools that want to offer the classes.

Besides the new designation, Ms. Geffen plans to expand the range of courses that RIMS offers. One plan is to hold seminars jointly with brokers to discuss risk management topics.

She also will talk to RIMS members to get their input on what kinds of classes RIMS should offer. Currently, two classes have been added, with more to come in the future.

All of Ms. Geffen's initiatives lead to her ultimate goal: more people attending more and better classes. "I want to increase participation in our programs by our members and by those not members of our organization," she said.