How to make self-led learning work for your employees

BY:  Rebecca Herson
May 9, 2022

Self-led learning, or self-directed learning, is when learners take charge of their own learning process. It’s an educational process that’s become more and more popular over the years as an alternative to direct or supervised learning, and it’s particularly well-suited to adult learning, such as onboarding new hires and ongoing professional training like sales training.

L&D professionals are discovering many benefits to turning sales training into a self-directed learning experience. For a start, it reduces the burden on sales enablement teams from hounding employees to complete certification, because they choose when, where, and how to advance their abilities.

It also frees sales managers from having to pause their other tasks in order to conduct regular role play training, giving them more time for revenue-driving activities and to focus on supporting those employees who need it most.

As for sales employees, self-directed learning is a breath of fresh air. Sales people are generally more likely to be engaged and enthusiastic when they take ownership of their sales training; after all, nobody appreciates having to stop their work at a specific time to attend a lecture or seminar. Self-directed learning means they can fit sales training in at more convenient points in their day, week or month.

Self-directed learning usually promotes more confidence among sales employees, because they get to learn in the way that best suits their learning style. Self-led learning also tends to encourage more collaboration, helping people form stronger bonds within the workplace and enabling better teamwork.

But self-directed learning only brings these positive effects when it’s implemented in the right way. Here are 5 suggestions for how to ensure that self-led sales training is effective for the sales employees in your organization.

Enable employees to assess their own learning needs

The first step to successful self-directed learning is to step back, and allow sales employees to decide when and how to conduct their own sales training. It can go against the grain for many L&D personnel, who are used to encouraging, and sometimes enforcing, certification courses, but employees learn best when they choose to do so.

Self-directed students identify their own knowledge gaps and weaknesses, and draw up their own list of what they need to improve, but they still need tools to help them make this assessment. Sellers might know that their cold call pitches aren’t producing the results they should, for example, but they don’t know if it’s because their tone is not exciting enough or their product knowledge is too low.

That’s why Second Nature’s artificial-intelligence AI sales training and coaching platform provides scores from the very beginning, helping sellers decide where to best direct their learning efforts, and recording personal benchmarks so they can track progress.  For people who want to improve, but don’t know where to begin, it also provides guidance about what they should work on first.

Give sales teams control over how they learn

One of the biggest strengths of self-directed learning is that students can learn in the style, speed, and pace that best suits their natural capabilities. Under self-directed learning, it’s the student who chooses which skills to work on, what knowledge to gain, how fast to proceed, and what learning format to use, not the teacher (or L&D or sales enablement teams).

Each salesperson should be able to decide to practice demos instead of cold calls, for example, choose quizzes versus videos, or turn to role plays over reading scripts, instead of everyone working on the same issue in the same manner.

Self-led learning platforms offer a number of different formats, like text-based information, interactive gamified learning, video, audio, and more. Students can speed ahead or repeat a module whenever they like, and control the experience to learn the way they want to.

This too requires a certain measure of trust between the L&D department and sales teams for L&D professionals to trust that salespeople know what they need to learn.

Ensure employees can track their own progress

Self-directed learning means that there isn’t a separate individual standing as the judge over their achievements, but sellers still need some reliable, consistent way to track and evaluable their own performance. This can be as simple as a google sheet, or a shared leaderboard for the whole team.

Fortunately, Second Nature delivers steady, consistent scoring at the end of every session. Scores can be broken down into different types of skills, like tone, pace, knowledge of the product, listening skills, etc. so that users can see their progress in different areas and make informed decisions about their own learning outcomes.

Permit sales employees to set their own learning schedule

Instead of telling all your salespeople to complete a certain number of exercises or reach a specific point by a certain date, give them permission to set their own training goals. It makes them far more motivated to achieve, and even surpass, these milestones.

However, this is only possible when your sales teams know what “good” looks like. Second Nature’s sales coaching platform is pre-trained with examples of “excellent” ways to cover each talking point, so employees can use them to learn and improve over multiple tries.

It also requires your learning program to be constantly available, like Second Nature’s role play partners who are always available for practice, no matter what time it is.

Part of the success of self-led learning programs is that your salespeople don’t have to wait for their sales manager to have the time to practice with them, or clear time in their schedules and pause their other work tasks to attend a group lecture.

Provide a learning framework

Freeing employees to control their own learning can only succeed when you combine it with a framework within which they can learn. Otherwise, even adult students can quickly feel bewildered, overwhelmed, and unsure of where to start.

It’s valuable to provide your salespeople with a basket of learning tools like Second Nature, a Learning Management System, and access to selected online courses like those at Khan Academy or LinkedIn Learning, to guide them towards the content and skills that will help them the most.

Without this kind of support, there’s a risk that your employees might get lost in a sea of information, or head along paths that won’t bring them the skills or knowledge they need.

With the right planning, self-led learning can transform your sales training

When you use self-led learning to empower sellers to choose when, where, why, what, and how they carry out their sales training, you could get a wonderful surprise. Although self-led sales training might seem like a leap of faith, the ability to control their own learning experiences can bring many benefits to your sales department, L&D personnel, and even your company’s bottom line.

What are you waiting for? Start building your next self-led learning program today!

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About the author

Rebecca Herson

Rebecca is head of marketing at Second Nature.

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