Leibniz’s notation. Quadratic formulas. Polynomials. What do they have in common? For most adults it’s that you can’t remember a single thing about them despite months of study and examination in your youth. But what about the multiplication facts you learned at age 7? “Yes!” you say. Even I, an undisclosed number of years later, can still complete a perfect Mad Minute. The reason for this is that multiplication facts were delivered to us through a spaced reinforcement exercise knows as “flash cards.” Spaced reinforcement is not widely used for adult learning, but given its success at creating internalized, instinctive knowledge, it is time for companies to embrace spaced reinforcement to rapidly increase salesforce proficiency.
High performing salespeople must routinely master and stay current on a broad range of topics. Being trained isn’t enough to earn a customer’s trust. They must also demonstrate sophisticated knowledge recall. The challenge is that the average corporate training is not structured to drive long‐term knowledge retention. How often do your sellers have to stop selling to watch a required video and answer a 10‐question quiz by an arbitrary deadline? Too often, probably. Unfortunately, many sales enablement organizations still measure impact using completion and pass rates. So, the response to persistent knowledge gaps is often to increase training headcount and increase budgets to make up for the simple truth that people forget.
The “forgetting curve” is real
The “forgetting curve” is real. Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, was one of the first to study memory in 1885. Through experimentation, he discovered that memory quickly decays, with adults forgetting 90% of what they learn within just 30 days. This poses a risk for companies given their dependence on the effectiveness of their sales teams. Companies that introduce spaced reinforcement are effectively battling the forgetting curve by introducing time‐efficient reinforcement exercises.
Spaced reinforcement is a learning experience that drives knowledge retention by extending the learning over spaced intervals of time. These intervals of training can vary from days to weeks, but require only a few minutes a week to be effective. Further, it flips traditional learning, with the question presented before the explanation. This approach requires active learning, which drives long‐term knowledge retrieval. And like flash cards, a learner has an opportunity to answer the same question multiple times over a period of weeks to ensure long‐term retention. Learners are presented with only 2‐3 randomized questions a week. Once a question is mastered, it is retired. And like your old flash cards, your pile of unmastered questions gets smaller and smaller as you shuffle through.
Learning gamification tools that work
Several training vendors, like MindTickle and Qstream, have tools to deliver spaced reinforcement. These tools allow training creators to determine the frequency of question delivery, define proficiency, measure individual rates of improvement across topics, and create self‐paced engagement with minimal investment. Some of the most successful and sophisticated spaced reinforcement programs I’ve created were published within a day with zero production costs.
The modality is particularly effective when questions are presented as customer‐oriented scenarios, centered on specific training goals like objection handling or messaging for a product launch. Questions are pushed to learners at scheduled intervals, and provide highly detailed explanations as to why a certain answer is correct, or a response or action most effective. These exercises are gamified to support leader boards, and to reward answer streaks and improvement against topics. Sellers like that these gamified exercises only take an average of 3 minutes a week. Enablement teams like the robust knowledge retention data that tracks behavioral impact and influences future training investment.
Improve proficiency and reduce training time
The effectiveness of spaced reinforcement is proven through numerous academic neuroscience and memory studies, and use cases in corporate settings have demonstrated an average of 80% overall improvement in knowledge retention after 90 days when spaced reinforcement is leveraged. I have seen double-digit salesforce proficiency improvement rates within months, with as much as an 84% reduction in training time required of sellers. The reinforcement aspect is similar to having a coach that trains you every week. You don’t build muscle and tone from a single workout. Repetition is what drives performance.
Our sellers have already spent the past 18 months watching videos and Zoom meetings. Now is the perfect time for enablement organizations to follow the science and trim the number of required training hours, while generating meaningful impact data by embracing spaced reinforcement. Your sellers deserve a long‐term gain on their training time investment, but ultimately your customers are the real winners when you provide them with high‐performing teams.
Abby Vietor leads Worldwide Field Activation for AWS Game Tech, which provides services to enable game development and innovation across all genres and platforms, from AAA games to small independent studios.
Abby previously led Worldwide Sales Readiness for Global Industries for AWS, and also led AWS’s Innovation and Platforms Strategy, where she had ownership of AWS’s sales training platforms. Prior to joining AWS, Abby was the Sales Enablement Leader for IBM North America, and a Senior Manager in Deloitte’s Sales Intelligence organization.