Distributors looking to do everything possible to ensure they have the best, most qualified talent in place may be interested to hear about a nearly year-long partnership between the Institute for Supply Management and white label online learning platform BenchPrep. Since May 2018, the professional supply management organization has used BenchPrep’s technology to provide its 45,000 members with a personalized digital learning system to prepare for ISM’s rigorous Certified Professional in Supply Management exam.
Known as the CPSM Learning System, ISM uses the BenchPrep platform to provide interactive content that is accessible across web and mobile devices. There are thousands of practitioners worldwide — ISM has members in more than 90 countries — currently studying for the CPSM exam, says Nora Neibergall, senior vice president and corporate secretary of ISM.
A few years ago, ISM began an internal conversation about improving the way the organization helped candidates prepare for the exam. “We knew that today’s student increasingly wants everything mobile, wants everything when they want it,” she says. “They don’t want to haul around books, attend class necessarily. We knew that we needed to streamline, just make it simpler for the candidates to understand what they needed to do, how they could do it and then make it easier for them to access the study prep.”
Adds Ashish Rangnekar, CEO and co-founder of Chicago-based BenchPrep, “When we think of engaging today’s professional in their pursuit for continuous learning, we have to think very differently. How do we actually engage this kind of modern learner?” There are four core design principles of the BenchPrep learning platform, he says, that contribute to the success of digital learning:
- Structured and adaptive study plans, to help users identify where to focus their study time and progress through the course at their ideal pace. “Helping the learner figure out what to do next [rather than] just throwing a lot of content at them,” Rangnekar says. “Help them to create personalized learning pathways so that they can be focused on the single most important activity at a given point and not worry about the plethora of learning resources ahead of them.”
- Games, flashcards and other interactive study tools, so learning is more enjoyable and users stay engaged longer. “We just don’t think of games but we think of creating incentives or rewards so that the learner has a goal they can work toward today — not three months or a year from now — to get some instant gratification,” says Rangnekar.
- Seamless syncing across all devices, so users can study on the go and instantly pick up where they left off. “Omnichannel delivery: Everything we do is right out of the gate optimized for web, mobile and tablet because we want to provide very democratic access to the learners so that we can actually meet them where they’re at,” says Rangnekar.
- Authentic practice questions, to help users prepare for the real CPSM certification experience. “Analytics: It’s getting cheaper to collect data but the challenge now is how do we actually share the right insight or recommendation back to the learner? We spend a lot of time helping the learner figure out where did they come from, where they are today in terms of their performance and where are they headed in terms of their direction,” says Rangnekar.
ISM members taking the course vary in how long it takes them to complete it, some can do all three modules in about three to six months, others take longer, according to Neibergall. Overall, the organization is “very happy” with the BenchPrep collaboration, she says.
The platform allows them to learn at their own pace by letting participants choose the date they’d like to take their first exam and work on a study schedule to meet that goal, or study in a more traditional fashion, working through the material from A to Z, with positive reinforcement throughout. “That is something that did not exist with our previous products,” says Neibergall. “We are happy with the results from a business perspective, but also we are happy with the results it’s providing to our candidates — and that’s critical. It really gives people a lot more structure, but in a modern and adaptive way.”
While the purpose of ISM’s tools is not to specifically address talent shortages or retention efforts, Neibergall says, “It’s important to connect the dots.” She says, “The tool is a hand and hand program to help employers see who can make it, who has the competencies that are generally accepted in today’s marketplace as being necessary.”
ISM regularly hears that talent issues can be a huge challenge for its members. “When you’re talking about addressing that skills gap or talent challenge, having a tool like this that allows professionals to study and prepare while they’re working, having their fulltime life outside of work, is critical in today’s world,” Neibergall says. “Because employers are constantly assessing and expecting their employees to up-skill to meet the ever-increasing demands of the marketplace.”