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FAP Course Making Its Mark

FAP Course Making Its Mark

Although FAP is just one component of the SOA's Education Redesign, it is contributing in a big way to the universal goals of the project.
Jacque Kirkwood

Welcome to Fundamentals of Actuarial Practice (FAP)! is one of the first bits of information candidates see on the computer screen before embarking on this educational journey to membership.

The FAP course is a relatively new e-learning tool that was introduced about one year ago. It encompasses real–world applications and examples to demonstrate actuarial practice and to teach principles that help candidates make the transition from the preliminary examinations. Practical techniques are presented to students to assist them in their day–to–day study or work. This course also provides candidates with the opportunity to apply these principles, approaches and techniques in traditional and some non–traditional areas. And, with the fundamentals in their toolkits, they'll be better prepared to apply what they've learned through FAP to areas of practice that may emerge during the course of their actuarial careers.

How does FAP enhance the learning experience for candidates?

In the past, students would be given a reading list with simple course instructions. With FAP, students are led through materials in a very careful, well thought out way based on instructional design principles. This provides the students with total support. Everything is available online–automatic feedback mechanisms, discussion forums and module tests, just to name a few.

"It exemplifies the magic of e–learning," says Steve Eadie, a founding partner of Robertson, Eadie and Associates, and currently the member of the Oversight Committee for Education Redesign responsible for the FAP course. "Students get an enormous amount of hands-on experience in this learning environment. The end–of–module exercises require them to do practical work which was never a part of the SOA's education system before. These real–life applications enhance the learning experience for students, but it's important to note that all the enhancements do not lessen the rigor of the course. We need to dispel any perception that the FAP is easy–it isn't. Most candidates are taking the course very seriously and are spending a considerable amount of time studying, practicing, applying and working on end-of–module exercises."

And when they're ready to do an end–of–module exercise, Eadie adds, there's another plus to the FAP course. "We're not just grading on a pass/fail system. With FAP, the students are involved in actively assessing their own work. We're providing students with model solutions and explanations. In other words, we're saying to them, 'Here's an appropriate solution and here's how you get there.' Education is emphasized throughout the entire eightaspxmodule course.

"The FAP has been designed to assist students in their preparation for the multiple choice examination at the end of Module 5 and the final assessment at the end of Module 8. The students' work has been focused on the appropriate key concepts which will lead to a higher level of success," adds Eadie. "The results obtained by the candidates in the first sitting of the FAP multiple choice examination were exemplary. The combination of the students' hard work and the FAP design resulted in this tremendous success."

There are a number of other FAP course perks as well. Students:

  • Can take the course at their own pace, even while they're in college.
  • Work on modules simultaneously with the preliminary examinations.
  • Are prepared to apply actuarial concepts in non-traditional and emerging areas of practice.
  • Are equipped with the tools needed to understand actuarial practice, principles, approaches and common issues, problems, solutions and methods across the traditional areas of practice.
  • Practice skills that help them to prepare clear, concise communications related to their jobs.
  • Use their time better because the study/support materials have been well prepared and are excellent in quality.
  • Are introduced to the Control Cycle (see side bar "PDFControl Cycle–the Framework of the FAP"), the problem–solving framework for the FAP course.
  • Get a realistic picture of how actuarial work fits into the real world.
  • Are better prepared for their professional responsibilities.
  • Enjoy reduced travel time.

Why is shorter travel time so important?

Although FAP is just one component of the SOA's Education Redesign, it is contributing in a big way to the universal goals of the project including providing more practical, relevant and engaging education; better preparing candidates as employees; preserving the value of the ASA credential; and reducing travel time.

"If people start taking the FAP course while they're in college, they'll find out sooner what it's like to be an actuary and will be able to decide more quickly if they want this career," says Bruce Schobel, SOA's presidentaspxelect and vice president and actuary, New York Life Insurance Company.

"The fact that they can work on modules simultaneously with the preliminary examinations shortens travel time to becoming an FSA, which we believe will attract the best and brightest students to our profession. Many people with the intellectual ability and drive to become actuaries were discouraged by the process of becoming credentialed and opted for other careers where the path would be more predictable and quicker. If we can make our path quicker and more predictable–without sacrificing our traditional high standards–we will attract more and better people into our profession. That can only be good.

"The job of the SOA is clearly education and research. That's why the organization was created. This is not just about FAP, but about the SOA's e-learning platform as a vehicle to deliver effective basic education and, one day, continuing professional development. Improving actuarial education will result in better, more capable actuaries. Protecting and enhancing the reputation and value of our actuarial credentials is the job of the SOA, its Board and staff. In that way, we serve the whole profession and the public at large."

How does the FAP course rank with regard to instructional design and easpxlearning in general?

"From instructional design and easpxlearning perspectives, FAP ranks as 'best in class,' says Judy Powills, SOA's director of assessment and candidate affairs. "A 'best in class' course must provide a cohesive, engaging and motivating, and practical experience for learners and it must be grounded in best practices.

"Just as FAP enables candidates to apply a disciplined problemaspxsolving framework called the Control Cycle, all those involved in the development of the course focused on applying a disciplined problemaspxsolving framework called the Instructional Design Process. The similarities are noteworthy."

According to Powills, the SOA Education Redesign Oversight Team, Working Groups, staff and easpxlearning consultants planned and analyzed for hundreds of hours. They identified FAP's goals, created a project plan, analyzed candidate characteristics, requisite skills and knowledge to be learned, and planned a learning management system consistent with current technology, worldwide distribution and flexibility for the future. They identified specific and meaningful learning outcomes tied to effective performance on the job and chose the instructional approaches to achieve the outcomes.

Working with actuarial practitioners as subject matter experts, instructional materials were developed and the course was implemented in February 2006. Formative evaluation (e.g., review of draft materials by subject matter experts and practice area advisory groups) and summative evaluation (e.g., collecting candidate feedback) have been constants in FAP development as input to continuously improve the course. What's on the horizon? Future endeavors include measurement of learning transfer, return on expectations and perceived impact and value.

How has FAP fared after its initial year of rollout?

Quite well, say key players involved in the Education Redesign process. The commitment of the education group toward the effort and Education Redesign in general, combined with the attentiveness to critical success factors, positions FAP well. Consider the following features and characteristics of FAP:

  • A learning strategy designed to meet overall goals and key stakeholders' needs.
  • An organizational culture reflecting support from the Board of Governors, employers of actuaries and the general membership.
  • Effective volunteer leadership and a solid partnership among members, staff and consultants to foster a synergistic learning and development team.
  • Content that matches the course framework and instructional objectives, and blends existing, published material with newly developed content to close the gaps.
  • Engaging activities that accommodate various learning styles, are sufficiently challenging and empower candidates to learn by doing (practicing and applying), receive feedback and selfaspxassess within the context of authentic situations.
  • Incorporation of resources such as the FAP Discussion Forum to provide a supportive learning environment for candidates.
  • A custom Learning Management System (LMS) to create an effective learning, assessment tracking and reporting infrastructure.
  • Positioning FAP as a sustainable course–ASA level body of knowledge and desktop tool for use after completing the course for credit and as an easpxlearning platform for FSA modules and SOA educational offerings in the future.

"The FAP course reflects the commitment and outstanding contributions of well over 100 volunteers in various roles–leaders, subject matter experts, content developers, exercise developers, graders and reviewers," says Schobel. "The goals were aggressive. Volunteers made the vision a reality."

Questions about the FAP course or the Education Redesign can be directed to fap@soa.org.

Jacque Kirkwood is senior communications associate for the Society of Actuaries.

What Students Are Saying About FAP

More than 4,000 candidates have registered for the FAP course to date. Being new, there is still room for revisions and improvements, and the Education Redesign team has already begun implementing changes to the FAP course to make it better for candidates. In the interim, feedback from students thus far has been generally favorable.

"If I think back to my college days, there wasn't really any transitional phase going from my core curriculum to my major classes," says Paul Lupica, director, actuarial sciences at Uniprise, a UnitedHealth Group Company. "I believe that the FAP Modules are an excellent method of transitioning actuarial students from the core ASA exams to the practiceaspxspecific FSA exams. Collectively, the modules are a great process for learning about various actuarial concepts, from life to health to retirement benefits to property/casualty. FAP students are able to complete the modules at their own pace, and can discuss the topics via the FAP discussion forum. I think the SOA was wise to put more emphasis on the first "E" in "E&E"–namely Education, not just Examination. I look forward to completing the FSA modules later this year."

Avnee Parekh, actuarial intern with the New Jersey Department of Banking & Insurance Division of Life & Health, echoes Lupica's sentiments.

"I am amazed at how much I have learned from the FAP course so far," she says. "It is ideal for actuarial students with a good background in mathematics, but who still need to learn about what actuaries do and how they do it.

"Through case studies, I learned things like how health carriers project unreported claims when pricing their products. By reading articles about realaspxlife actuaries, I learned about the role that politics can play in the reports that government agencies publish. These are things I need to know for my job as an insurance regulator, that I don't think I could have learned as easily from the traditional upperaspxlevel exams. I feel really engaged as I work through the modules because they are interactive and are relevant to my career."

Here is a sampling of other comments received to date.

"I have really enjoyed the FAP course. I especially liked how the exercises progress from being calculation based to more communication based."

"I think the end of the module exercises will provide an invaluable tool for candidates to develop their communication skills through their studies. …The FAP will introduce students to the importance of all elements of the control cycle, not just the technical ones.

"SOA is definitely moving closer to desired educational goals with the new FAP. After future refinements to content and breadth, it will be an optimal vehicle for giving ASAs the right tools to perform effectively in a professional environment."

"As a result of the FAP learning, I have greatly increased my documentation skills. The practice approaching problems was also very useful towards improving my problemaspxsolving skills."

"I believe that I have a greater awareness of the entire scope of problems that we deal with. I can judge materiality much better. I also now see the relevance of many of the things which I was already required to do without really understanding their importance or relevance."