How Does myTrailhead Excel and How Can Science Make myTrailhead Even Better

Astro, Einstein, and other Salesforce Trailhead characters
Salesforce’s Trailhead branding is both on-point and adorable.

Key Takeaways:

  • myTrailhead allows customized training content and incorporates useful motivational and performance testing tools.
  • myTrialhead could be enhanced by incorporating scientifically-validated best practices in training, which suggest that hard skills are best trained by a cognitive skill learning system in the brain and soft skills are best trained by a behavioral skill learning system in the brain
  • In its current implementation, myTrailhead is more nearly optimized for hard skill training, but is sub-optimal for soft skills training

Technology is progressing at an accelerating rate. Jobs are constantly being updated or redefined by, and with the help of technology. Employees are constantly being asked to learn new skills whether in the same job or in a new position. Constant training is the rule, not the exception, and training platforms must be built with this in mind.

Salesforce acknowledges and embraces this new reality with the introduction of myTrailhead, an innovative continuous learning platform that extends their current Trailhead offering. With respect to scientifically-validated best practices in training, myTrailhead has a number of strengths. These include:

Customized Content: Trail Maker allows companies to utilize their own training content or to customize the pre-curated library of public Trailhead content. As outlined in one of my recent articles, training content should be generated by a topic expert. No one knows a company’s needs like employees of that company, and they should be empowered with the ability to generate customized content.

Personalized Learning Paths: Trail Mixer allows companies to customize collections of learning courses. For example, management can create a collection of onboarding courses that every new employee is required to complete. This is fast, efficient, and allows management to track employee training progress.

Motivational Tools: Trail Tracker uses gamification to track employee progress and award badges for successful completion of modules. Leaderboards are utilized that show each employee’s progress relative to their peers, injecting some healthy competition into the mix.

Performance Testing and Rewards: Trail Checker allows companies to incorporate performance testing metrics derived from quizzes, hands-on challenges and stand-and-deliver skill assessment. Rewards can be accrued and badges obtained.

Centralized Employee Profile: The Trailhead Profile offers a 360-degree view of the employee’s skills and achievements that is available 24/7 by the employee and management. The Profile offers employees objective data regarding their standing within the company, and relative to their co-workers. The Profile offers management objective data on all employees that can be used in making decisions regarding promotion or transfer from one division to another.

Taken together, myTrailhead offers a significant advance relative to its predecessor, Trailhead, through increased customization, personalization and by incorporating motivational and performance testing tools.

Despite these strengths, the training effectiveness of myTrailhead could be enhanced by integrating two key findings derived from the science and neuroscience of optimized training. This includes the following:

Two Distinct Systems in the Brain That Mediate Different Types of Learning: The most efficient way for myTrailhead to increase its training effectiveness is to incorporate scientifically-validate best practices in training. Extensive neuroscience research suggests that at least two unique neural systems mediate human learning. The cognitive skills learning system in the brain mediates the learning of hard skills, such as learning a CRM or a set of rules and regulations. The behavioral skills learning system in the brain mediates the learning of soft/motor skills, such as effective interpersonal communication, empathy or hands-on technical skills. The training procedures that optimize learning in the cognitive skills system are distinct from the training procedures that optimize learning in the behavioral skills system.

As just one example, cognitive skills are best learned through observation and mental repetitions, whereas behavioral skills are best learned by doing, receiving immediate corrective feedback and physical repetitions. Thus, a training module focused on using a CRM would provide cognitive information about the different data types, fields and customization options. This information could be presented in text, slide or video and one would learn through reading, watching and mentally rehearsing the information. The myTrailhead platform is effective for hard skill training because the computer-based training procedures are optimized for engaging the cognitive skills learning system in the brain.

On the other hand, soft skills are learned by doing and with immediate corrective feedback. Role play or virtual reality training should be used to place learners in scenarios in which there is interpersonal interaction and real-time communication. Acceptable behavior should be rewarded through positive role play or virtual avatar interactions in real-time, whereas unacceptable behavior should be punished through negative role play or virtual avatar interactions in real-time. Although myTrailhead offers a large number of soft skills training modules, they focus on text, slide or video presentations. A myTrailhead module focused on showing empathy and embracing diversity in the workplace might include text defining empathy, and video examples of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. This training approach recruits the cognitive skills learning system in the brain, when the optimal approach would recruit the behavioral skills system in the brain.

Without taking a deep dive into brain neurochemistry, suffice it to say that behavioral skills learning is best when the brain circuits that initiated the behavior are still active when feedback is received. If the action is appropriate, then that behavior will be strengthened, and if the action is inappropriate, then that behavior will be weakened. All training platforms must acknowledge this critical brain distinction if hard and soft skill training is to be effective.

Training for Retention: The goal of training, whether hard or soft skill, is to convey information that will be stored in long-term memory and will be maximally insulated from forgetting. It does no good to train an individual to perfection today, only to have that information forgotten tomorrow or next week. The brain is “hardwired” to forget. This is adaptive because human memory has limited storage capacity. For training content to be retained and to guide long-term behavior it must be stored and represented in long-term memory. Retention is the true goal of training. We must “Train for Retention”.

The best way to train for retention is to incorporate periodic testing and targeted retention training. Periodic testing identifies poorly retained information that can then be retrained. Although the details are beyond the scope of this article, suffice it to say that with each testing and targeted retraining session, the rate of forgetting slows and the strength of long-term memory representations increases. With only one or two retention training sessions, training content that was quickly forgotten following initial training will be strongly represented in long-term memory.

Brief Summary

myTrailhead represents a significant advance over its predecessor, Trailhead. By allowing customized training content, and incorporating useful motivational and performance testing tools myTrailhead adds significant value for its customers. For this, Salesforce should be applauded. At the same time, myTrailhead, like nearly all other one-size-fits-all training platforms, suffers from a lack of attention to scientifically-validated best practices. Some skills, such as hard skills, are well trained by platforms such as myTrailhead. They engage the learner through observation and mental repetitions.

Unfortunately, this training approach is sub-optimal for other skills, such as soft and motor skills. These skills are best learned by doing, receiving immediate corrective feedback and physical repetitions. Given the increased focus on soft skill training, platforms such as myTrailhead need to be optimized for these skills. In addition, the emphasis is on training and not training for retention. This is an easy fix and one that all computer-based learning platforms could address immediately. One need only add testing and targeted retraining reminders for each employee that can be tracked easily in their Trailhead Profile. The increase in long-term retention and reduction in “I forgot”-driven mistakes will be significant.

Recommendations

AI offers two recommendations for Salesforce myTrailhead, and for computer-based training platforms in general.

1. Incorporate scientifically-validated training procedures focused on optimizing soft skills training, and leave the platform as is with respect to hard skills training. The result will be a single unified training platform that is optimized for both hard and soft skills training.

2. Train for retention by incorporating periodic testing and targeted retraining into all training modules. The boost in long-term memory strength for trained content will lead to significant ROI.

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