There is no question about it, sales training is imperative for personal and career development within the company. The traditional method for training is to gather as many students as possible into a training session and fill them with as much information as possible. Time is money and companies want to get the most bang for their buck.

This mass learning approach is not nearly as effective as using spaced learning. I will explain the benefits of spaced learning in a moment but first, let's take a trip down memory lane.

OH YES, THE COLLEGE YEARS

Think back to your first year of college. You had a new-found freedom with nobody to answer to and you were the master of your own destiny. Doing homework and studying were no longer a requirement imposed upon you by your parents. All was great, then it hit you.

Final exams were in one week!!!

Time to do what most freshmen college students do... cram for the test!

This technique might have worked to help you pass the course. To be honest though, how much do you actually remember from your freshmen biology class?

If your goal was to pass the class, cramming for the test worked. If your goal was to remember what you were taught, your last minute "all or nothing" approach to learning proved to be futile.

OH NO, THE REAL WORLD

Now that you are living in the grown-up world, you realize that cramming at the last minute is not a good method of operation for long-term retention. A quick refresher before going on a sales call is a great idea but should only be that: a refresher.

The pressure of the moment can easily allow loosely gained information to disappear when needed if it is not stored in long-term memory. As a corporate trainer, how can you move the information your sales reps need into their long-term memory for later retrieval?

Using spaced learning and repetition is the key to unlocking this potential.

BUT THAT IS NOT HOW WE DO IT

Unfortunately, corporate training is usually done in one-off events that overload learners with information. During these one to two day sessions, it is impossible to retain all the information that was taught.

At an ASTD International Conference Exposition in Washington, DC, panelist Robby Halford beautifully explains that "sales trainers should try to counter the "pasta" method of training: let's throw training at the participants and see what sticks."

If you are responsible for L&D, you do not want to merely hope to hit the mark. That would be like throwing darts with your eyes closed, hoping to hit the bullseye, and being glad that you even hit the board. This does not sound like a recipe for success.

SPACED LEARNING AND REPETITION

The spaced learning approach takes information from the traditional one-day training blitz conferences and spaces it out into smaller sessions over longer periods of time. As Director of Learning at LEO, Imogen Casebourne succinctly explains:

If you are designing a learning program with spacing in mind, you will present learners with a concept or learning objective, allow a period of time to pass (days, weeks, or months) and then present the same concept again. This might involve a few repetitions, or many, depending on how complex the content is.

Spaced learning is effective because it balances the amount of time spent learning with the amount of time spent between learning. In his research "Spacing Learning Over Time", Dr. Will Thalheimer outlines the benefits of spaced learning and repetition in detail.

Spaced learning and repetition is not a new teaching method, but one that has been around for many years.

IT IS ALREADY BEING APPLIED OUTSIDE CORPORATE TRAINING

Becoming an accomplished musician requires daily practice of what was previously taught while adding a new concept to the repertoire. Anyone involved in music, arts, sports, or other learned activities realize that proficiency does not appear after the first attempt.

Classroom teachers from kindergarten through college regularly apply spaced learning and repetition with their students. If classroom teachers used the same approach applied by training departments, students would only show up for school two days a month for a fun, fact-filled weekend. The thought of teaching this way is ludicrous but is often the way sales reps are expected to learn.

LEARNING TAKES TIME

Learning is a process and the more complex the information is, more spacing and repetition is needed to store it into long-term memory. Becoming an effective sales rep is a complex skill that requires complex training. Just as there is a learning curve, there is also a forgetting curve.

Spaced learning and repetition will move sales reps towards success and motivate them to look forward to meaningful training in smaller doses. Spaced learning is a proven method for learning.

TIME TO CHANGE THE WAY TRAINING IS DONE

At what point did corporate trainers concede that effective long-term memory can be achieved through spending a day or two shoving as much information as possible into the learner? The answer to that may have to be answered at another time.

For now, it is critical for L&D departments to change the way it delivers training.

It is time to retrain the trainer.

Using spaced learning in sales training will improve the cognitive abilities of sales reps. It will also keep sales reps looking forward to learning information they can promptly apply to their craft.

STAY TUNED

In part 2 of this series, "Spaced Learning Results from Real Companies (Actually)", we will explore which companies are using spaced learning in their sales training departments and the benefits of their decision.

From there, we will discuss "How to Apply Spaced Learning in Your Training" in part 3 of this series.

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