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The psychology of learning has revealed that many traditional views of how we learn are wrong. This can have major repercussions when you think about intensive learning situations like medical school. And not only are teaching techniques often ineffective, the study techniques that students use are often also ineffective.

Fortunately, researchers have made some inroads into how people actually learn and how they retain information, and this research could be especially helpful to sales trainers. Many of the old theories on how people learn became widely practiced and accepted based on theory and intuition. But research has shown that learning strategies that actually work are quite often counterintuitive.

Pharmaceutical Sales Training: Efficiency Does Not Equal Effectiveness

Sure, it’s efficient to have a live lecturer (or a video) presenting information to a classroom full of students. But just because it’s efficient at presenting information doesn’t mean that people will actually learn it. It certainly sounds like the best way to go about it: block off a couple of days for intensive training and then start throwing information at students and hope some of it sticks. The problem is, people’s brains weren’t designed to learn effectively in this scenario. In other words, what’s effective may not appear to be efficient at all. Yet if it’s effective, it’s better than efficient training that doesn’t accomplish anything.

shutterstock_125113109.jpgHard Skills Training and Soft Skills Training Must Be Different

In sales – particularly for high-tech products like pharmaceuticals – trainees must master considerable “hard skills” like product formulation and study results as well as “soft skills” like effective communication. Hard skills and soft skills generally require different approaches. With hard skills, reinforcing facts, taking quizzes, and practicing techniques are effective. That’s why math classes generally involve continually practicing skills on increasingly challenging levels.

But with soft skills, it’s different. People assimilate soft skills better under something similar to the traditional apprenticeship model. Remember “Wax on, wax off” in The Karate Kid? Daniel didn’t realize he was learning valuable techniques while he was doing everyday tasks for Mr. Miyagi, thinking it was a waste of time. Slowly learning techniques and then assembling them into a body of knowledge may not be as efficient as blasting students with facts, but it works, and it sticks. In this learning model, there isn’t so much a learning “event” as a long-term process.

Tips for More Effective Learning

So where does that leave you as a sales trainer? There are several techniques you can explain to your trainees to help them not only absorb but retain information. Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning is a book by Peter C. Brown, Henry L. Roediger III, and Mark A. McDaniel. It draws upon recent research in cognitive psychology and offers a number of techniques people can use to become better, more productive learners. McDaniel offers the following six tips for students:

1. Practice is better than a review. Practice from memory rather than reviewing instructional materials to improve recall later.

2. Cramming doesn’t work. Space out practice sessions and intersperse them with other activities. This helps new concepts embed in your long term memory.

3. Get enough sleep. All-nighters don’t help you retain anything, but sleep is necessary to help memories consolidate and improve retrieval of learned information.

4. Switch up topics frequently. For pharmaceutical sales training, this might mean switching up training on hard skills and soft skills rather than focusing fully on one or the other.

5. Quiz yourself. Doing this throughout a course helps you practice retrieving information from memory and strengthens learning pathways. Plus it lets you know what you don’t know.

6. Write notes by hand. Typing notes tend to put people into “dictation” mode. Handwriting causes you to think more intently about the material itself.

People Crave Learning, But Don’t Want to Waste Time

Generally, people love to learn, and this is especially true for high achievers. The problem is, they don’t like many of the common methods used in corporate training programs because they find them ineffective. Fortunately, psychologists, trainers, and tech people are working together more frequently to develop training techniques that actually help students assimilate material rather than turning a metaphorical fire hose of facts on them. Combined with a motivating learning environment, the results can be exceptional, and isn’t that what you want for your sales team?