How do frontline pharmaceutical professionals stay ahead of the game, when the pace of change in the industry is so rapid?
With all of the ground-breaking developments across pharma, it’s somewhat surprising to learn that workplace training and on-the-job aids for staff haven’t kept pace.

Is there anyone out there who wasn’t shocked at last year’s research by DRG Digital which reported that over half of physicians were being given out-of-date information by pharma sales reps? In 51 percent of cases, they were being told things they already knew from previous meetings or simply by doing their own internet research.

It seems that while employees at the sharp end are using digital devices such as tablets, the content they’re accessing is old, and their product and market knowledge is not up to speed. This so-called ‘stale detail’ issue is a disaster for customer service and sales.

The key is for staff to get up-to-date knowledge in a way that fits into their workflow – and so that they can remember it. The solution, for an increasing number of pharma organisations, is micro learning.

The theory behind microlearning

One of the intriguing facts about microlearning is that it uses a theory that first emerged 130 years ago but is delivered now using digital technologies.

Microlearning is built on three cognitive principles: Spaced repetition (practicing each short, focused, topic of learning repeatedly over increased periods of time so that it sticks), retrieval practice (using questions to boost memory by asking the brain to retrieve information), and confidence-based assessment (measuring the learner’s self-expressed confidence levels to improve memory in the topic and self-awareness in their ability to apply the learning correctly).

Modern research supports the theory that our brains respond better to targeted information that’s repeated often, rather than large volumes of data that’s delivered as a one-off learning event.

Microlearning, done properly, identifies and fills knowledge gaps. This ensures that the information is remembered and changes behaviour. Using engaging elements such as gamification is important, as engagement is linked to both memorable learning and voluntary learning.

But to get it right, we have to go back a stage because the learning can only be built once a clear business objective has been set. Why? Because the objective will determine the knowledge that’s needed.

Answering today’s knowledge challenges

Consider some of the fundamentals of digital microlearning. Firstly, it’s agile, delivering information via multiple devices, on demand, anytime, anywhere, for a few minutes each day. Secondly, using artificial intelligence (AI) and algorithms, microlearning is adaptive so it’s 100 percent relevant to each person’s needs. Thirdly, the content is updatable. And finally, organisations can measure improved employee performance against business results.

In other words, microlearning is a modern answer to the knowledge challenges faced by the pharma industry today. With complex products, frequently changing markets, and ever-increasing expectations from HCPs and patients, microlearning gives employees the up-to-date information they need on a continuous basis. For organisations, it allows them to roll out training to teams without it disrupting work.

Microlearning is already transforming results in the pharma sector – and not just in sales.  Here are two examples.

  • Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon used a microlearning platform to increase product knowledge and confidence among 1,000 sales reps globally. Knowledge increased by up to 49 percent in some topics and there were confidence lifts of over 50 percent. More than three-quarters of reps said they felt more knowledgeable.
  • Merck Manufacturing Division (MMD) has reduced recordable safety incidents at its 52 manufacturing sites around the world, through a microlearning programme that was rolled out to 24,000 employees and contractors. Knowledge growth has been achieved across all safety topics.

Which brings me back to that very first stat I mentioned, the 51 percent of reps who offered old information to their clients. They have every right to expect better support. And in a tough climate, it’s the organisations that give their teams the tools to secure sales and achieve great customer service that will thrive.

Kate Pasterfield is head of innovation at Sponge UK