The Spacing Effect, Experiential Learning and Why It's Important

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Most people know, from personal experience, that if you want to learn something well, a single exposure to it is insufficient for long-term retention. Practice makes perfect, right?

What fewer people know about is that the “timing” of that practice matters a great deal.

There is a large body of research from both cognitive and educational psychology that spaced learnings, rather than having information consumed in back-to-back sessions over a short period, results in learning that is longer lasting, better understood and greater retention.

Hundreds of experiments by cognitive psychologists and educators have demonstrated the advantage of spaced learning in practice (Cepeda, Pashler, Vul, Wixted, & Rohrer, 2006).

Furthermore, a recent review of the utility of various learning strategies determined distributed learning models rank as one of the best methods based on the available research evidence (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan & Willingham, 2013).


The Spacing Effect

Studies have shown that traditional "binge and purge" learning doesn't produce durable learning that is well absorbed. Students consume subject matter in a large lump (binge), and then they spit it back out on an exam or certification test (purge).

Students involved in this mode of education don't seem to absorb and retain information all that well. Spaced education (or "grazing"), presenting information over spaced intervals, has shown to result in information being maintained more easily and for longer periods of time.

This spacing effect can increase knowledge by up to 50 percent, and strengthen long-term retention of information. Additionally, students enjoy this spaced education which always helps with retention.  


Experiential Learning

Another very effective method of learning and retaining that learned information is Experiential Learning. Experiential learning is the process of participants learning through experience. Individuals can apply their knowledge and conceptual understandings to real-world problems or actual situations where their instructor can direct and facilitate the learning within a familiar context.

This "learning by doing" approach forces critical thinking, problem-solving and decision-making resulting in accelerated learning. Students bridge the gap between theory and practice, applying teachings and techniques to real-world circumstances.

Experiential learning produces a dramatic impact on the participant's mindest and increases the level of engagement because the individual is immediately involved in the problem-solving activity and "own's" the outcome.


Applying The Spacing Effect & Experiential Learning To Customer Success

In the subscription economy, customer success has become a critical and indispensable factor in the success of a business. To that end, enabling your customer success team members is an important step in achieving a goal of "delighting your customers" and ensuring they realize value with your offering. Plenty of companies know and understand this, but few have the time, focus, resources or expertise to effectively train this critically important team.

Hiring in the individuals you need with a complete body of experience is challenging and expensive. If your organization embraces the baseline concept that customer success should be focused on ensuring customers' achieve their definition of success and are constantly realizing value, you should be focused on hiring people that possess customer facing skills, business acumen and experience within the domain or vertical that you serve. Possessing those qualities will enable your Customer Success team to establish the "trusted advisor" relationship with their customers required to achieve success.

But teaching domain expertise and business acumen are a lot harder than teaching the skills and techniques required to effectively and efficiently support your customers. You'll be better served by hiring in domain experts and teaching the methods and techniques for delivering great customer success.

You should be hiring people that have some core customer facing skills, so the need for them to have a quick and crammed training session is less important than ensuring that these individuals are well armed to deal with all of the challenges of keeping customers happy and constantly deriving value.

Learning those methods and techniques are ideally suited for the combination of spaced learning and experiential learning. Your team will be able to much more effectively absorb concepts distributed over time, and apply those directly to their daily work efforts. Taking this a step further, engaging with experienced coaches will act as the kindling to ignite the critical thinking and decision-making required to ingrain these learnings and make it second nature.

About the Author

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Andrew Marks

Andrew Marks has spent nearly 25 years in high tech, mostly building highly effective post-sales organizations that drive customer lifetime value and improved customer satisfaction. Since founding SuccessHACKER, Andrew has spent a good portion of his time matching people to Customer Success roles from individual contributors to senior executives.

Andrew Marks

24 years experience in Operations, Customer Success, Services and Account Management.