Traditionally, tests serve as a tool for measuring what we know. For most of us, this kind of assessment instills anxiety, but a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology may finally lay that anxiety to rest. Researchers from the University of California, Irvine have uncovered what they call the “pretesting effect.”
The researchers examined if failing a test can improve future learning. To do so, they evaluated the benefit of testing content before learning. This “pretesting” meant participants were likely to answer the questions incorrectly, given that they had not yet learned the material.
After taking this pretest, the learners were given the opportunity to read a selected passage, which covered the pertinent material. Then, they were tested again with both the pretest questions seen earlier and new questions.
The results were striking. “Although participants largely failed on the initial test [answering 95% of the questions incorrectly], the effect of those failures was to increase retention of studied content.”
Failure set the stage for success.
The success of the pretest group outpaced a second group that did not receive a pretest. Instead, they were given 10 minutes to study the passage before the first test. This group underperformed the pretest group on the final test. Findings like this reveal that testing has value no matter how many questions are answered incorrectly. That is, the act of taking the test serves to “prime the pump” for learning.
At Richardson, we leverage the pretesting effect by having participants complete a baseline sales skill assessment test before training. This first step helps learners measure growth while also priming the learning process.
2. Active Learning
Active learning is a form of teaching that seeks involvement and engagement from the learner. Richardson’s Accelerate online sales training platform leverages the power of active learning by getting sales professionals to interact with video content, questions, and gamification to learn and apply effective selling behaviors.
An analysis of 225 studies comparing traditional learning to active learning found that average exam scores were higher among the active-learning students. The results “support active learning as the preferred, empirically validated teaching practice in regular classrooms.”
With active learning, concepts become relevant because learners place them in the context of their real-world challenges.
Richardson’s Accelerate active-learning methodology leverages active learning with a “See It,” “Try It,” “Check It,” “Apply It” approach.
To adopt better selling skills, sales professionals must first know what “good” looks like. For this reason, we leverage video content. Learners view different selling scenarios and the behaviors that advance the sale.
When watching these scenarios, sales professionals consider both the “how” and the “why” behind best practices in selling. Developing answers to these two questions prompts critical thinking that engages the learning process.
Sales professionals must not only see what effective selling looks like — they must also put those observations into practice. Doing so means answering questions that ask the learner to try what they’ve learned in simulated selling scenarios. Exercises like these build the sales professional’s “locus of control.” This term refers to the degree to which a person believes they are the driver of outcomes they experience.
Learners benefit from instant feedback with the “Check It” component of Accelerate. Timely feedback means that learners immediately grasp how the instructor’s comments connect to the learning objective. The effectiveness of feedback is clear from a meta-analysis revealing that feedback translated to “a 28 percentile point difference in average achievement.” Real-time feedback means that the instructor’s expertise becomes part of the learning experience rather than just an additive component occurring after the fact.
Accelerate encourages learners to apply what they’ve learned. Doing so bridges the divide between what is theoretical and what is practical. We ask learners to think about the ways in which the learned concepts connect to real-world selling scenarios. In this final step, participants provide a written answer to questions. We ask what new insights learners gained from the most recent module and how they intend to apply those skills to their next customer call or meeting.
3. Role Play
Relevancy drives results in the classroom. Generic concepts and vague hypotheticals disengage sales professionals. Participants need to be challenged and stimulated. Creating this environment means developing instructor-led material that is customized so that the best practices align with the organizations’ real selling situations. Role play with real scenarios matters because learners can put concepts in use fast. Participants spend less time bridging the gap between what is theoretical and what is practical. Instead, they translate the concepts into real selling behaviors in the field and yield outcomes earlier.
Effective blended learning solutions ensure that class time is reserved for case studies, exercises, and role plays. These exercises provide an immersive environment to practice and refine skills. A group setting is ideal for this kind of work that encourages sales professionals to respond to simulated challenges like facing customer demands. Facilitators leverage their experience by coaching in the moment and offering redirects the minute a participant makes a misstep. Doing so allows sales professionals to back up the dialogue and let the participants try again.
Additionally, students become active participants in the learning process. Instead of relying entirely on the instructor, students work together in a cooperative learning structure.
The benefits of cooperative learning stem from Social Interdependence Theory. This theory suggests that a sense of “positive interdependence” emerges when each learner understands that goal attainment is a group endeavor. Research shows that this theory is “validated by hundreds of research studies, indicating that cooperation, compared to competitive and individualistic efforts, tends to result in greater achievement.” Positive interdependence leads to a higher skill proficiency than a traditional, solitary approach.
Richardson provides this cooperative learning environment for participants with instructor-led classroom engagements. Here, learners can share ideas and work from the challenges they have encountered in the field.
Many believe that the most effective way to develop new skills is to “learn by doing.” However, new research is reshaping this idea.
Researchers at Harvard University and the University of North Carolina theorized that reflection is an important but ignored part of learning. They discovered that learners who “are given time to articulate and codify their experience” learn more than those who don’t. In other words, learning accelerates with the dual approach of doing and reflecting. In fact, the researchers found that, at a certain point, more experience is less beneficial than spending as little as 15 minutes reflecting on training material.
Participants in the reflection group showed a 23.2% increase in assessment scores over those instructed to spend the same 15 minutes on practice. Additionally, “compared to participants in the practice condition, participants in the reflection condition improved their likelihood of being in the top-rated category by 19.1%.”
The combination of emotion and cognition is what makes reflection such a powerful learning tool. In fact, reflection isn’t just effective — it’s essential. Additional research supports the notion that reflection is a requirement for effective learning. Researchers at MIT found that reflection is part of our cognitive “default mode.” This mode is critical for “internally focused psychosocial mental processing.”
Richardson participants put reflection to use in the time that separates our periodic QuickCheck training reinforcement program. The adaptive program delivers an email three to four times a week based on the learner’s cadence. Each email features a short selling scenario. The program asks you to provide a multiple-choice answer indicating what you believe is the right action. Participants have time to reflect on their learning between these emails.
Learners can’t practice what they don’t remember. Without a structured sustainment plan, participants begin forgetting material the minute they leave the classroom. For this reason, Richardson’s sustainment software uses gamification to engage the sales professional’s inherent competitiveness. Users respond to questions involving customer scenarios for 12 weeks post-workshop. At Richardson, we use engaging formats like gamification to ensure skill retention and concept recall over the long term. As a result: skills survive into the field where they matter most.
However, the pressure of selling makes it too easy to default to old habits. Therefore, digital learning is critical because it offers the immediacy of on-the-job skill sustainment. This approach puts the critical concepts in front of the sales professionals through mobile optimization. This cadence is important because it incorporates the principle of distributed practice, which spreads out the learning process. Research published in the Association for Psychological Science found that learners who spread out their practice sessions retained more information over the long term than those who didn’t.
This digital format also brings more visibility to the process. Throughout our solution, integrated, real-time analytics inform participants of their progress and equips their managers with data-driven insights on who to coach, when to coach, and where to coach.