Technology Is Not The Answer To Better Benefits Communication and Education

Not all benefits communication and education programs are equal. Some employers can afford to provide a highly sophisticated and glossy communication experience while others are strictly old school, providing paper handouts. Some firms have their own in-house benefit enrollment and decision support systems while others still collect paper enrollment forms. And some firms hire writers, videographers and graphic artists to create branded open enrollment videos, infographics, and glossy brochures. While their poorer counterparts provide none of this.

Using the latest technology makes a big difference in the look of benefits communication and education plans. It can also mean the difference between a streamlined and efficient program versus a labor intensive one. But does a high-tech benefits communication and education program increase understanding of the benefits offered more than a low- or no-tech program? Not really.

Technology is really good at helping us get things done. It is also good at communicating a lot of information. However, it’s debatable if it helps us to understand and act on that information. This is my take on it... Learning requires you to reflect on the information you review, but using technology is mostly about getting the task over and done with. These goals seem somewhat at odds with each other. This may explain why despite the advent of online courses, webinars and training videos,
face-to-face communication is still the best way to train and learn.

Benefits Communication Gets Real

Employee benefit professionals have always used the latest technology to communicate their benefit plans. Initially they used props like flipcharts to highlight the most important aspects of the plans. Later they used overhead projectors to display plan information. Then came computer-based projectors, video, whiteboards, etc. Meanwhile, as communication and education technology methods expanded, benefit plan information became more complex.

To deal with this increasing complexity, the technology as communication and education camp went totally digital. They thought people would respond to video presentations starring talking pencils or other animated
Benefits Know It All characters. They also thought that creating videos that look like PowerPoint presentations was a new, smarter way to explain complicated benefits material. And they were kinda right… The technology is clever and entertaining, but still not conducive to real learning. Because after you take the online quiz after viewing the video, chances are you still don’t know how to use the information to make real world decisions. It was simply a fun an entertaining digital experience…

The Problem With Benefits Technology

First, let me say that I love employee benefits technology. I also love taking any type of online health insurance or retirement plan quiz. And I prefer taking care of all of my health insurance and retirement savings needs online. But that’s because I spent my whole career performing health insurance and retirement plan administration tasks, and I like it. Benefits communication and education technology appeals to people like me. Which is the number one problem with using technology to communicate and educate people about benefits. You have to have an interest in learning about your benefits to get the most out of this technology.

So What Is Benefits Technology Good For

There is a role for technology in benefits communication and education. It is a good supplement to face-to-face group or individual education sessions. And it is also a good-to-have for people motivated to use it to its full potential. Also, it is a must-have in collecting large amounts of enrollment data. However, its greatest use may be in educating the next generation about health insurance and retirement plans before they have to make an actual enrollment decision.

Doesn’t a talking pencil or a Khan Academy 401(k) plan video seem more appropriate for a junior high to high school setting? Start using these tools in schools and we may have better benefits education outcomes in the future. Maybe.

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