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From the Air Force to Life Sciences: Not that Far a Jump

By September 1, 2016November 1st, 2020LTEN Bonus Focus

Early in my career, I had the privilege of working with the U.S. Air Force to develop training simulations. In the military, mastering the steps that must be taken during an air raid or learning what to do in the case of a blackout on base followed by a surprise enemy attack aren’t fun and games, they’re matters of life and death. Perhaps that’s why drill sergeants often deliver lessons like these with eye-popping, vein-bulging fury: They are trying to scream the knowledge right into the skulls of the soldiers they’re training; after all, this knowledge can save lives.

My team had been asked by the Air Force to develop a training game that would work better than a drill sergeant yelling. Repetition is an effective learning method for improving retention of important information, so we knew that our game would need to be engaging, so that soldiers would want to play it over and over. It was also important that the game not be too on-point. Instead of directly presenting lessons to be learned, essential skills would be weaved into the program, so that users would absorb information reflexively. After repeated use, soldiers would be conditioned to instinctively respond to potential dangers quickly and correctly, saving lives and advancing military missions.

When priorities shifted, the Air Force wound up shelving the program. But the lessons of that experience remained with me.

Today, I manage the development of games and other learning technologies for Illuminate. The programs we design may not carry the same immediate life-and-death scaled intensity, but they do share many similarities with the work I did for the military.

After all, the job that life sciences sales reps do is important not just to a company’s success; it also impacts the health and well-being of thousands or even millions of people. The training of sales reps must prepare them to deliver complex prescribing information to time-pressed medical professionals who may not be interested or easily accessible. They must master not just the intricacies of a medical treatment but also develop the ability to think on their feet, maintain a positive attitude in the face of adversity, develop resilience and respectful persistence and, ultimately, promote a new drug — the product of years of research and development and huge amounts of capital investment — and deliver it into the hands of those who will prescribe it and get it to the people whose lives will be saved or improved.

Now, that might not be exactly equivalent to the tremendous challenges of the battlefield, but it’s an undeniably important task!

Truly, the best training programs in the life science sector deliver sales strategies and product information just as we did for the Air Force – within games and activities that encourage repeated use and embed their intentions subtly. That way, the next time a rep achieves five minutes of harried face time with a doctor, his or her actions will be instinctive, confident, and successful. No drill sergeants required!

Tyler Caffelle is the manager of learning technology at Illuminate. Email Tyler at

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