Interactive Training Basics: You Were Taught, but Did You Learn?

Interactive training, whether in-person or online, is just one part of the learning process. Whether you’re a professional sales trainer or a proactive team leader or mentor, you need to know how humans learn—and assimilate that knowledge into their daily lives.

There are many perspectives on the learning process, but the most helpful overview I’ve found  is Noel Burch’s Competence Hierarchy. As you develop courses—video-based or otherwise—it’s always wise to consider your trainee’s journey on this path—and how to move them forward. Here’s a quick visual overview:

The first two levels, Unconscious Incompetent (where you don’t know what you don’t know) and Conscious Incompetent (where you know you don’t know) are all about pre-training. Every prospective trainee is at the first level in some way. It’s the trainer’s job to “get them in the door,” to a place where they know what knowledge they lack and (hopefully) are eager to acquire it.

Once you’ve successfully participated in training, you should be at the  Conscious Competence step. You’ve learned a skill, but you haven’t internalized the process, or changed your behavior. You need to deliberately think about each step in the new skill. The problem is, if you get distracted or bored, or if it’s too inconvenient and time-consuming to use the new skill, it quickly gets forgotten.

So how do you internalize a new skill? As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

It’s the act of repeated practice that helps us internalize a new skill and make it part of our muscle memory. This is the fourth level of the competence hierarchy: Unconscious Competence, where the skill is internalized and the change in behavior becomes habit. Think about your golf swing: How many buckets of balls did you go through to perfect that golf swing? When it’s important, and we’re motivated, we make the time to practice.

Solving the Dilemma

Everyone agrees that practice is the key to moving from the Conscious Competence step to the final state of learning—where the skill is a regular habit. But how do we take the time to practice in the work environment? Today’s workforce is overloaded with “must do” tasks, conflicting schedules, and geographic separation. In-person roleplay is difficult, to say the least.

Let’s use a practical example—sales enablement training—to illustrate some possible solutions. A good sales coach will have a wealth of practical advice on good techniques, like research, prospecting, good listening skills, and answering objections. Now you need to take time to practice each new skill.

There are a number of ways to internalize. Some put stickies up on their bathroom mirror with the new attitude or skill: “I will pause to let the client answer before I ask the next question.”  Others find a distraction-free place to review and repeat audio portions of a coach’s lesson—preferably just before a live sales situation.

The best approach is to actually do the new sales technique, ideally in a realistic roleplay environment. If your trainees have to practice in a “live fire” situation, with actual prospects, that can be scary but effective. (If at all possible, find a way for the coach or team members to review a live performance and provide feedback.)

It takes cooperation on both sides of the desk. Sales managers must understand, and allocate time for, role play practice and coaching. Sales reps must commit to practicing the new skill. There is no instant gratification. It took time and money to train in a new skill. It also takes time and work to internalize it. But in the end, the trainee will have truly learned a new skill.

Think about it like your golf game—or whatever you do on an aspirational basis. That long drive down the center of the fairway makes all those practice hours worthwhile. So too does closing that big deal—all because you internalized the winning techniques.

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