How to Train on Complex Topics

In today’s world, with so many distractions, and so much technology competing for mindshare, training on complex topics is no small effort.
 

Simple-Minded as a Goldfish

 
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To understand the extent of this challenge, we need to look no further than to domestic goldfish. Yes, we’re talking about that small, orange-hued, water-dwelling pet that, upon first blush, appears to live a rather boring existence.
 
After all, for most of them, there’s little happening beyond the confines of their glass sphere, or Plexiglas tank. Every so often, some flakes of food drops into their environs. They paddle over, eat it, and move on.  Otherwise, there are a few plastic plants and multi-hued rocks to explore, and to hide behind; a weird machine spewing bubbles into the tank; and maybe, if they’re lucky, some gilled friends to dart around with.
 
This, presumably, must leave a lot of time for our friend, the goldfish, to ponder life. In fact, we don’t really need to presume: A recent research study found that, indeed, these simple, water-breathing creatures, have an attention span.
 

Shrinking Attention Spans 

More astounding, those same researchers found that their attention span is longer than that of we humanoids. Though we can assume that humans would still win a hearty competition of arm wrestling, this development is nonetheless jarring.
 
Those same researchers have been able to theorize that our shocking decline in concentration – a hefty four seconds off our 12-second personal best back in the year 2000 – has resulted from the rise of the digitized lifestyle. Smart phones, iDevices and Face-tweeters are all turning us into people who are having a harder time focusing on the things that are relevant in our lives – both personal AND professional.
 

Technology is Your Ally

For those who are trying to train on complex topics, this development might have you drowning in a sea of self-doubt. But, before you try on a dive suit and practice your fish language techniques, there is hope for salvation: Learning management systems, or LMS, truly represent the bridge between the distracted brain of today’s sales professional, and the information that needs to be injected into it.
 
Unlike one-off classroom training, online training allows for dynamic, ongoing training at the learner’s own pace. Though it’s probably not possible to present lessons in eight-second increments -- even with the best LMS product -- we can still ward off the very real sensation of “cognitive overload,” which happens when too much information is presented, too quickly, in a manner that overwhelms the learner.
 

How to Train on Complex Topics

Here are five ways that we’ve found that the LMS can be your best ally in whipping the attention-span blues into submission, and help you to train your sales professionals most effectively on the most complex of topics:
 

1. Respect Learners' Time

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No longer will your learners be greeted with the groans and excuses that are normally accompanied by scheduling out hours, or days, of protracted classroom training time. By pushing your training modules out through your LMS software, you’re sending a clear signal that your sales professionals’ time is valuable, and that you are committed to helping support their need to learn at their own pace.
 
Additionally, most LMS software allows for interactive features, such as note taking, quizzes, and the like; and the user is able to go back and repeat a topic as often as they’d like, until they are comfortable with the subject matter.
 
This last point is quite important: Most sales professionals typically underestimate the time they need to train on complex topics; if a trainee underestimates this and obtains insufficient training in a live environment, there is little opportunity to remedy the deficiency. With an LMS, all training materials and reference information are available on demand – so even the most inattentive trainee can still benefit from the most critically important knowledge on the products and services offered by your enterprise.
 

2. Keep Training Simple

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As discussed in this previous blog, there’s a clear connection between the size of the learned material and the chances that your sales pros will successfully recall it. Simpler, truly, is better. LMS’s allow you to create brief, impactful lessons that help support the idea of progress toward an end goal, instead of ramming longer lessons down your professionals’ throats.
 
We talked earlier about the eight-second attention span – even in real-world, live learning, this only stretches to about 10 to 20 minutes of “seat time” before most people start “multi-tasking” – checking emails, stock quotes, and dreaming about the upcoming vacation to Aruba. And, until mind powers are perfected, there’s still no way to push “pause” on a live presentation (unless you’re the CEO, but that’s a subject of another blog entirely).
 
Remember the chat about “cognitive overload,” above? Let’s use the example of the planting of a tree – instead of trying to train amateur arborists by presenting the digging, interring, filling, and watering steps in one module, we might consider presenting each step in its own distinct modules, with the opportunity for hands-on user practicum after each step.
 

3. Why Am I Here?

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Any training course – particularly those set forth to train on complex topics – must do a credible job of opening with an explanation of why the trainee is investing the time in the first place. This is especially true for someone accessing training using an LMS, since the training is typically self guided in nature. Ensure you start with context – learning experience (LX) designer, Bill Cushard recommends answering these four questions right up front:
 
  • What is the topic?
  • Why the topic matters to the people in the room?
  • What can the topic address overall, and in general?
  • How will people in the room benefit from learning the topic?
The website Lifehacker adds that relevance is also a great way to get the audience fired up – when training on complex topics, it’s best to appeal to the trainee’s need to know what’s in it for them – in the case of technology, Lifehacker says that can be a play off of people’s desires for security, privacy, or simplicity.
 
Case studies, testimonials, and real-world examples are all great ways to bring the complex down to the level of the masses. Story telling is a great way to keep folks interested. Remember, a little reassurance can go a long way toward keeping people engaged. And, speaking of reassurance:
 

4. Instant Feedback

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Quizzes, embedded every so often through your LMS-based training program, are a great way to both measure how well the trainee is learning the content, while also reinforcing the need to stay focused on the information as it is presented. Such quizzes are not meant to be a morale-breaker; instead, they are designed to give both training manager and sales professional a valuable opportunity to dialogue when follow-up training is needed.
 
Quizzes typically come in two flavors – the training model, which reviews material for the purpose of reinforcing lessons; and the education model, which gauge comprehension.
 
Sofie Nelen writes that regular quizzes in LMS systems serve multiple purposes – reminding us that statistics show that after 24 hours, an average of 70 percent of new information can be forgotten. So not only do quizzes help improve retention, but they actually add a level of “gamification” to training, creating a “playful way of staying up to date,” Nelen writes.
 
Such gamification increases the perceived ability of employees that the challenge ahead of them is simpler – ever so critical when the topics on which they are being trained are particularly complex.
 
For some great information about how to craft quizzes with impact, click here to read a past Mindflash blog on the topic.
 

5. Get Specific

LMS systems allow for a level of specificity that would simply be difficult to achieve in a classroom learning environment. Corporate training professionals can tailor their online training to match specific use cases for each sales professional.
 
Some examples include:
  • Training someone who will have to train customers how to use your software;
  • Explaining to distributors how a manufactured product works;
  • Teaching resellers how to describe your product and its value proposition;
  • Educating franchisees on how to understand a step by step process for repeatable results
  • Training agents who need to know specific regulations
  • Conveying regulations to healthcare professionals
One important point to bear in mind – the end goal isn’t simply to bombard the trainee with information, but to distill and present the information in a way that is decidedly “non-complex.” Learners have to be able to walk away with understanding.
 
One author, Yael Grauer, quoted business coach Charlie Gilkey who once said, “What’s the point of being smart if nobody understands what you have to say?”
 
This is never more important than when training sales professionals and channel partners. Writes Grauer: “It’s far smarter to simplify your message and explain it in a way that’s accessible, while still maintaining nuance and accuracy, than to hoard information and grumble about how others just don’t understand – or worse, explain it in a convoluted way.”
 
She recommends using an internal translator – posing as the end consumer of the content – to help you see the information through their eyes. Make sure that you are able to internalize the information and to effectively explain it – even when asked the most simple of questions, like “What does your product do?”
 
Again, a good Learning Management System can give you the opportunity to drill and practice your sales approaches until you feel a level of comfort that is appropriate for “prime-time.”
 

Simplify the Complex - Try Our LMS 

Are you ready for a training program that will help you swim with the sharks? When training on complex topics, there’s only one way to truly stay afloat. At least in our school of thought, an LMS can help you combat the short-attention-span challenges of today’s sales professional, present relevant information, in a way that is impactful and contemporary, and ultimately, help you to sail above the rest – without stinking up the fish tank!
 
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