How to Make Learning Stick



You did your due diligence in providing a fantastic Sales Training event for your team, expecting them to turn it on and kick off record sales! Right?


A couple of months after the training, you find your reps are still talking about the “great training”, but the effects of the event have faded while you were trying to wrap up numbers.  They don’t remember what was covered; they feel unprepared to start using new tools they were given; they haven’t practiced since the training; and after-all, they survived last year without changing anything, so why should they rock the boat now?

Your training investment is just the first step in the Adult Cycle of Learning.  Your initial investment can lose momentum as everyone settles back into the way they’ve always done things.  You may find that you aren’t getting the behavioral changes required to increase the long-term performance results you were looking for because the learning didn’t stick.

Adult Learning Theory states that repetition and reinforcement are the next necessary steps which internalize learning to the point of behavioral change.  While a training event can cause a short-term bump in performance, long-term success depends on underscoring process and best practices with repetition.  Research shows that learning improves with repetition for two reasons:

  1. Our short-term memories are just that: short-term. We can forget something like a person’s name in less than a second.  Repetition moves things from our short-term memory into the longer-term memory, and hence is a key method for learning.  Just like when we learned our multiplication tables in school, we need to repeat things more than once for them to finally sink into our memories.
  1. Repetition leads to understanding. It gives time for the “penny to drop”.  What at first may feel uncomfortable, after repeated exposure becomes clear.  Understanding provides context and relevance, providing a reason for performing new tasks, or changing behaviors.

While repetition teaches a skill, reinforcement is defined as anything that strengthens or increases a behavior once a skill is learned.  Behaviorist B. F. Skinner observed that the rate at which a behavior was reinforced had a direct impact on the frequency and strength of the skill because reinforcement increases the likelihood that the behavior will continue to occur.

Methods of reinforcement of learned behavior can include the following:

  • Live in-person training – Just like any skill, one lesson won’t do it. Continued lessons and practice will build capabilities over time.
  • Online learning webinars – Programs on specific topics offer opportunities for retention and to deepen understanding of basic concepts.
  • Coaching –A person dedicated to supporting continued learning, performance and success of sales people, coaching around specific goals and expectations of actions, and then holding the team accountable has the best chance of inspiring change.

Sales Training is not enough.  The adult cycle of learning follows this progression:

Training > Repetition > Reinforcement > Real-world Application > Measurable Results > Repeat.

 So don’t sell yourself short by stopping after the initial training.  Provide repetition and reinforcement to enable your team to drive revenue results!