How to Use Adult Learning Theory to Engage Your Trainees

How to use adult learning theory to engage your trainees

Winning The Fidget Olympics: Adult Learning Theory Concepts

If fidgeting was an Olympic sport, there would be many contenders in the sales world for the gold medal.

They’re unmistakable – identifiable by their tendency to click their pen incessantly, draw elaborate doodles on their papers, and whirl their office chair back and forth. Whether in meetings, training sessions, or a one-on-one conversation, you can always spot the Olympic-level fidgeters.

As an organization dedicated to cultivating the best habits of sales professionals through training, we at The Brooks Group realize that learning styles vary – and, even those of the clicky pens and doodly artwork variety are, in their own way, able to assimilate training material.

That’s why my colleagues and I rely heavily on a concept called adult learning theory – and, more specifically to our training focus, how to best deliver the material so that it is maintained and retained by those receiving the information.

If you see our team in your office prior to your scheduled training, it’s likely that we are gathering the type of high-level insights that will help us best customize your training. Included in that deep dive is a better understanding of what type of teaching style we’ll need to bring to best resonate with our audience. It’s at this time that we determine whether we would, for example, add in more video content, or offer more roleplaying exercises – anything that will foster stickiness of the lessons learned.

That’s because, for better or worse, it’s in our human nature to forget. One researcher noted that after just two days post-training, a typical trainee is able to recall just about 40 percent of what they learned. That percentage drops to 25 percent after less than a week.

So, how can we stack the deck in our favor? What’s the best way to break through to the fidgets and focused alike, and ensure that the lessons are retained? Here are some tips gleaned from what we’ve learned in our more than three decades of delivering training:

Silo-specific methodology

With learning styles – and selling styles – varying by each person and by industry, it’s important to employ techniques that have a specificity to the type of market and selling scenario. For example, when we work with medical sales professionals, we find that roleplay is a top technique for them because they're constantly interacting with doctors, Value Analysis Committees (VACs), and purchasing and procurement managers. However, when working with those who sell into agriculture, we may deliver training that deals more with selling through the distributor channel.

Make distractions an ally

Clearly, we live in a distracted world, where technology makes it easy to stay connected. This need to stay “plugged in” can be a difficult hurdle in training – particularly for the most successful B2B salespeople, who already come to training with a “know it all” attitude and extreme confidence. Rather than force our training clients to put their devices in a box, or turn a blind eye to their technology, we embrace it upfront. We know these devices are like a security blanket for many professionals – so we have developed ways to bring more activities into live training that require the use of their phones. Whether it's a quiz or something we would normally put up on a large screen – the last thing we want to do is take something that's so vital to them and have them put it aside. Instead, we encourage them to use it training. A win-win.

Relevance = Attention

Our main training, called IMPACT Selling, is a two-day, 16-hour program. We know this is a huge commitment for sales professionals, who cannot be in the field or cannot be cultivating contact with their prospects and clients. In order to overcome the question of, “Why am I here, again?” we develop courses that are extremely specific and relevant. For example, with manufacturing clients, we dive into topics like bids and specifications. And during our pre-work, we ensure that we truly understand the pain of the organization, and tailor our content to address that pain – answering questions such as: What are some of your biggest challenges? What differentiates you from your competitors? We find that with a curriculum that is relevant, our audience is more likely to focus. If you tend to the more generic side of the ledger, the short-attention-span tendencies take over, and they’re gone.

Keep it Moving

Inertia tends to be our worst enemy, and we realize that sitting in one place for a long stretch is nearly impossible in today’s distracted world. People simply cannot sit still for more than 20 or 30 minutes at a time, so we make sure to plan exercises that require movement, communication, and interaction at regular intervals.

Engagement After the Fact 

To help reduce the amount of learning attrition, we encourage companies to maintain contact with us using a tool called Qstream – it’s an app that we can deploy to engage in a dialogue with trainees long after they have departed the training room. In a typical Qstream program, we’ll develop 15 customized questions that we will send to the sales team, three at a time. Whoever submits correct answers most quickly earns points for their efforts, and their progress can be seen on a company leaderboard. In this manner, we leverage their natural tendency to be competitive to maintain connectedness with their lessons.

With a little preparedness and a series of adult learning techniques, we at The Brooks Group can ensure that the investment you are making in sales training is absorbed and embodied – no matter how fidgety the pro. For more than 40 years, The Brooks Group has partnered with sales organizations around the globe—helping them to hire, train, coach, and develop salespeople and sales managers to reach maximum performance levels.

If we can help you set your team up for consistent sales success, let’s start a conversation.


Ben Simmons

Ben Simmons is a Curriculum Design Specialist for The Brooks Group. He is responsible for developing customized course content for clients based on the unique needs and challenges of the organization.

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