Study: Spaced training works for teaching complex skills, too
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Study: Spaced training works for teaching complex skills, too

Many studies suggest that people learn more when training is delivered in a series of small doses rather than all at once.

But most of those studies focus on simple tasks like memorization or motor skills. So what about complex, skills-based training?

Well, few skills are more difficult to master than sales, so the results of a 2010 study are encouraging.

All at once vs. spaced

The study found that small doses got better results than delivering training all at once.

It compared 64 salespeople working for a major German bank. They were enrolled in a course that trained them on six complex sales topics: finding prospects, initiating contact, needs analysis, proposals, closing and cross-selling.

All of the learners were exposed to the same content and were taught the same way, with one exception:

One group was trained for one day, then went back on the job for a few days, then returned for another day of training, and so on. In all, this group received six full days of training, spaced out over several weeks.

The other salespeople got just as much training. But they got it all at once, and then were sent back to their jobs.

Same learning, more transfer

Curiously, both groups ended up learning about the same amount of information.

But the group that got the spaced training was more likely to apply what they learned.

In other words, spaced learning was more likely to result in learning transfer and, ultimately, changes in on-the-job behavior.

And that, of course, was the goal.

Early successes boost motivation

This study expands the notion of why spaced learning is effective.

This study concluded that the spaced learning worked in part because it gave salespeople the opportunity to practice what they’d learned before moving on to the next topic.

These practice opportunities not only improved the learners’ skills, but also had a big impact on motivation.

When learners had a chance to try out their skills early in the learning process, they could see that the content they were learning was effective and relevant to their jobs.

As a result, these learners came to the the next training session in a more positive and accepting frame of mind, which made them more receptive to the next training topic.

The learn-a-little, try-a-little structure created a positive feedback loop. The more people used what they learned, the more they wanted to learn.

Better outcomes, too

Here’s the icing on the cake:

Not only did spaced learning result in behavior changes, it also resulted in better outcomes. The salespeople who were trained that way generated more revenue than the ones who went through the all-atonce training.

Kauffeld, S., Lehmann-Willenbrock, N. (2010). Sales training: Effects of spaced practice on training transfer. Journal of European Industrial Training, 34(1), 23-37.

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