May 17, 2024  |  By

The Science of Knowledge Retention

You hear the same song three times and catch yourself humming it the next day. In fact, the mental bandwidth you allocated to studying chemistry for 3 hours last night has been completely replaced with this new tune. Why?

Outside of repetition, various other factors play a role here, and we're going to unbox each one so you'll have all the information you need to train your sales teams effectively and engagingly.

This article delves into the science behind knowledge retention, exploring the notorious forgetting curve and its impact on sales training effectiveness. We'll then equip you with proven strategies to combat memory fade and transform training into a springboard for lasting sales mastery. Buckle up and get ready to unlock the secrets of optimal knowledge retention. After all, the difference between a top performer and an average one often hinges on how well information sticks. 

Training matters. Before we get into it, we'll start with this quote:

CFO: “What if we train our employees and they leave?”

CEO: “What if we don’t (train them) and they stay?"

The Forgetting Curve: Why Traditional Training Often Fails

Pioneering research by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus in the late 19th century established this core concept by demonstrating a significant drop in memory recall within a matter of days without reinforcement.

Building on Ebbinghaus's work, researchers like Loftus and Nelson further explored the forgetting curve in the context of verbal learning. Their studies confirmed the rapid initial decline, with individuals forgetting up to 60% of learned information within a week. These findings translate directly to the realm of sales training, where crucial product knowledge, selling techniques, and objection-handling strategies can quickly fade if not actively reinforced. 

A 2019 Association for Talent Development (ATD) study reported that traditional training methods often result in low knowledge retention rates, as low as 8%

Traditional training being defined as videos, trainer-to-trainee, or verbal classroom group training. All of these have an underlying problem: they focus on selling as an individual, not as a team. After basic training sessions, there is little to no repeated practice, so the employee's knowledge and newly learned skills get filtered into the decreasing forgetting curve. And therefore, after a period of time, it misses the opportunity to become part of long-term memory.

The Science Behind Knowledge Retention: How to Make Training Material a Long-Term Memory

Our brains are marvels of information processing but are not perfect filing cabinets. Understanding the physiological factors behind memory formation and active recall is key to optimizing knowledge retention in corporate training. It trickles down to three different avenues: spaced learning/spaced retention recall, active learning/active recall, and emotional learning. 

#1. Spaced Retention, aka Spaced Learning, is the practice of revisiting information at increasing intervals, strengthening memory pathways more effectively than cramming. This technique mimics the brain's natural process of memory consolidation, leading to longer-lasting knowledge retention over extended periods of time.

#2. Active Learning, in which learners engage with the material through discussions, simulations, and problem-solving, promotes deeper cognitive processing than passive learning methods (e.g., lectures), leading to stronger memory formation.

#3. Emotional Learning reflects the powerful link between emotion and memory. Information associated with positive emotions is often encoded more vividly, leading to improved recall. Sales training incorporating storytelling, case studies, or gamification elements can leverage this connection to enhance knowledge retention. 

We understand all three of these and have merged them into the Upduo peer-to-peer learning platform with impressive results. Learn more >>

So, What does this mean for your sales training process?

Short answer: It's time to rethink and reprioritize training materials. 

The long answer: Start with micro-learning, gauge improvements, make changes, and repeat. Here's the step-by-step:

Step 1: Ditch the Information Overload

First, move away from the traditional firehose method. Bite-sized learning modules, micro-learning, align perfectly with the principles of spaced repetition. This means presenting information in smaller, digestible chunks and revisiting it at increasing intervals to strengthen memory pathways.

Step 2: Get Active 

Forget passive lectures where trainees become information sponges. Embrace active learning techniques like simulations, role-playing exercises, and case studies. Active participation fosters deeper understanding and application of knowledge, making it more likely to stick when it matters most – during a real sales call.

Step 3: Bridge the Gap Between Learning and Doing

Knowledge retention is all about application. Integrate opportunities for real-world practice into sales training. This could involve on-the-job shadowing with experienced sales reps, practicing objection handling scenarios, or conducting mock sales calls. 

Step 5: Continuous Learning

Sales training shouldn't end after the final session. Provide ongoing support through mentorship programs, where trainees can continue to practice skills, receive feedback, and solidify their newfound knowledge. By implementing these steps, we can transform sales training from a one-time event into a continuous learning journey, ensuring knowledge sticks and translates into lasting sales success.

Or, Get Steps 1-5 Done for You with Upduo

Skip the planning, the mental work, and the setup- let us help you train your employees. 

We understand the difference between attention and engagement. 

Attention is passive, hard to implement confidently, and lacks real-world scenarios. 

Engagement has a positive ripple effect, with less time to application, heightened employee morale, increased teamwork, and an overall boost in company culture. 

The choice is obvious.
The choice is Upduo.