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What you can Learn from The Harvard Medical School to Make Sales Training Stickier

Forgetting Curve


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Helping sales reps to recall and apply knowledge and skills would not only increase their effectiveness on the job, but also improve the ROI of your investment in training. To solve this issue, Richardson Sales Performance has partnered with Qstream to provide QuickCheck™.

Using a patent developed at Harvard Medical School, Qstream’s solution helps clients’ sales reps and other employees who go through training to retain what they’ve learned over a longer period of time through a series of weekly short quizzes that continue to jog the memories of the trainees and help them recall the necessary details when the time comes.

Introducing change into a sales organization requires sales reps and managers to learn and digest new concepts. It also likely requires them to alter deeply ingrained behaviors. Understanding the level of your team’s product knowledge and selling skills (and closing gaps of deficiencies) is critical to driving selling effectiveness and strategy execution. But the significant investment this represents is based on the assumption that the training can be recalled and applied in the field. Unfortunately, studies show that this is not the case at all.

Consider these recent findings on how quickly traditional in-person and online learning is forgotten:

  • 70% of learners lost their ability to pass an important test within three months of receiving in-person training.1
  • For a group of online learners, all learning from web-based teaching modules was lost within three months of training.2
  • In yet another study, no significant retention was measurable only 55 days after completing an online tutorial. 3

You Need to Know What Your Sales Reps Know

As a senior sales leader, you need to know what your sales force knows:

  • How well do they know the material, and for how long is the information retained?
  • Can the sales rep recall the information needed in the middle of a call or meeting with a savvy buyer?
Despite the old adage that “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” there is a tendency not to apply this same rigor to learning and knowledge. We assume that when people complete a sales training course that they retain all or most of what they have learned. A sales manager would not dream of managing a team without a pipeline report and forecasting tool, so why wouldn’t he monitor the retention of new knowledge and skills?

With learning, we are often satisfied to get a sign-in sheet showing that everyone attended, a student learner survey, or a completion record in a learning management system. The assumption is that if someone took the learning activity, then the knowledge must “take.”

Two Core Principles: the Testing Effect and the Spacing Effect

Significant research has been conducted in the last decade into both the psychology and neuroscience of learning. Some of this is based on principles that have been known for a long time but have been difficult to apply in practice until now.

  • The testing effect shows that when a learner is asked to retrieve information from memory, by answering a question, the information is retained better than simply reading or hearing it. Studies have shown this significantly enhances retention with minimal additional effort.
  • The spacing effect shows that when learning material is reinforced over intervals of time, retention of the information is substantially improved. This is based on a long-understood principle of memory discovered by Hermann Ebbinghaus called “the Forgetting Curve.” Recent studies have for the first time demonstrated a neurophysiological basis for the spacing effect, showing that the information learned and reinforced over spaced intervals is actually encoded differently in the brain for preferential retrieval.7, 8
By combining the testing and spacing effects into a method that uses questions and answers delivered in short repeated bursts, Qstream’s solution enables our clients to significantly increase retention while simultaneously gathering data on users. This has been proven to work in more than 15 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) conducted at Harvard Medical School and involving more than 5,000 participants. Some key highlights are:

  • Increased learning effectiveness: This process generates improved long-term retention of knowledge in only minutes a day. It actually increased retention of knowledge by 170% (compared to simple e-learning) in RCTs of 1,067 medical students. It also increased retention of knowledge for more than two years (compared to self-study) in RCTs of 524 physicians.
  • Changed behavior: Proven to positively impact on-the-job performance and change even ingrained behavior. The process decreased unnecessary cancer screenings by 26% in RCT of 95 VA primary care providers, representing a potential cost savings of $650,000 per year in test costs alone.
  • Increased engagement: Learning pushed on a daily basis requiring no more than five minutes a day and delivering instant feedback on progress is proven to be addictive.

 - 77% to 95% of the 3,500+ users to date request to enroll in more courses.

-  Completion rates greater than 70% in all RCTs

- Preferred 3:1 over web-based teaching modules (a gold-standard of e-learning) in RCTs of 724 physicians


You make changes to your business in order to improve upon deficiencies or capitalize on a competitive advantage. Many of those changes are imparted to your staff and sales reps through training sessions. You commit to these training sessions with the assumption that the learning will be practical for those participating; that they’ll understand, internalize and accept the new knowledge and skills; and that they’ll be able to apply it when the time comes. If sales reps fall back on the old way of doing things, then your advantage is lost and your investment was wasted.

People have a hard time remembering what they had for lunch yesterday, let alone details learned during an internal training course many months ago. How can you minimize “the forgetting curve” and help your sales reps recall critical details in the middle of a sales call?



  1. Smith KK, Gilcreast D, Pierce K. Evaluation of staff’s retention of ACLS and BLS skills. Resuscitation. Jul 2008;78(1):59-65.
  2. Kerfoot BP, Fu Y, Baker H, Connelly D, Ritchey ML, Genega EM. Online spaced education generates transfer and improves long-term retention of diagnostic skills: a randomized controlled trial. J Am Coll Surg. Sep 2010;211(3):331-337 e331.
  3. Bell DS, Harless CE, Higa JK, et al. Knowledge Retention after an Online Tutorial: A Randomized Educational Experiment among Resident Physicians. J Gen Intern Med. Apr 30 2008.
  4. Roediger & Karpicke. Test-enhanced learning: taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychol Sci, 2006; 17: 249.
  5. Karpicke & Roediger. The critical importance of retrieval for learning. Science 2008; 319:966-968.
  6. Karpicke JD, Blunt JR. Retrieval practice produces more learning than elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science. Feb 11 2011;331(6018):772-775.
  7. Sisti et al. Neurogenesis and the spacing effect: learning over time enhances memory and the survival of new neurons. Learn Memory 2007;14(5):368-375.
  8. Pagani et al. The phosphatase SHP2 regulates the spacing effect for long-term memory induction. Cell 2009; 139, 186–198.
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