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ATD Blog

Online Learning Takes Over . . . Seriously?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020
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March 2020 threw companies and the training industry for a loop. No more flights? No more in-room gatherings? Everyone asked the same question: “How can we continue to train our sales teams, especially when we want to use the lockdown to upskill our learners?”

Nothing can replace the learning experience of peers working together in a room with a world-class trainer. Internal training departments and conventional training providers are being challenged to prove their return on investment (ROI) and secure sales productivity and impact while reducing costs.

There is also the effect of learning drop-off without the benefit of reinforcement. Reference the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve experiment, which has been repeated many times. The drop-off can be as much as 70 percent after 90 days when content is not effectively reinforced.

So, what makes learning stick for individual learners? Personal relevance and reinforcement. Both are key to ensuring learning persists and results in behavioral change on the part of the trainee. If learning can’t be applied directly to daily routines or if there is a lack of support and reinforcement for doing so, then the content learned will fade, having been eclipsed by other activities and priorities.

The takeaway here is clear: Simply delivering one training event is not enough to create and sustain the kind of measurable behavioral change that translates into improved revenue outcomes. It is a strategic mistake to assume that any training event in any learning environment will lead to long-term behavior change.

Training and learning initiatives that pass the ROI test of being effective and cost-effective must be based on an entirely new learning model for participants that takes full advantage of today’s robust online delivery and reinforcement platforms. If not, our learning initiatives may be educational but won’t provide productive workplace learning for the sales team.

Work-Aligned Learning Thread (WALT)

Instead of standalone training or in-person delivery with no reinforcement, a Work-Aligned Learning Thread is a collaborative design, sponsored by leadership and the training department as well as outside partners, that is highly customizable to individual learners. It includes flexible online delivery and reinforcement that the sales team can attend remotely and reinforce at convenient times.


And instead of little to no interaction with management, WALT means that sales leadership reinforces content during (virtual or in-person) one-on-one coaching sessions. WALT, then, is an ongoing learning story customized to specific learners that supports clear business goals. It is not a one-time event aimed at everyone. And remote learning can be the ideal means by which that story is best relayed in today’s mobile, connected sales teams.

At Sandler, our experience is that five critical elements are necessary for a successful remote learning program for a sales team:

Sponsorship. Senior leadership demonstrates active, visible support for the program.

• Participation. All learning is rooted in the direct, active participation of the team.


• Implementation. Practical application of new techniques and behaviors is an essential learning activity.

Archiving. The development of an archive of audio and video as the thread is executed.

• Deliverables. Specific measurable metrics; creation of key account growth plans; plans for a new product launch; plans for a repositioning project; and development of a playbook.

With the need to maximize the skills of a sales team at an all-time high, coupled with the increasing logistical and cost constraints faced by leaders bringing teams together for conventional classroom training, leaders need to adapt and adopt a new set of best practices. Among them is a remote training learning model that supports Work-Aligned Learning Threads that make learning an activity, not an event.

About the Author

Steve Hall is vice president of corporate accounts at Sandler Training and a member of ATD. Steve leads the design and delivery of National and Global sales and management training. Sandler has evolved into a world-leading training company with over 250 offices around the world.

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