Effectiveness sometimes means we have to learn something new, whether it be reference information, new processes, or other data. Although I firmly believe that memorization of simple data is a mistake as long as the data can be accessed when needed, sometimes, you just have memorize stuff!
The faster we learn this new information, the more quickly we can effectively use it to be more productive. There are ways to speed up the learning process to make this task as quick and painless as possible. One way to increase learning is to use the Primacy and Recency Effect to our advantage. In fact, the old adage that says to go fast, one must go slow, is quite appropriate here.
The Primacy and Recency Effect is a phenomenon in which human learning is more effective at the beginning and end of a set of data. An example would be in order here. Let’s say that you have to memorize this set of data in 2 minutes:
The Primacy and Recency Effect states that after two minutes, you will remember the items at the beginning and the end of the list more accurately than those numbers in the middle. You will be lucky if you remember anything from the middle.
Here is another example about how the brain pays more attention to the first and last items in a set of data. This time, the words in a simple paragraph:
i cdnuolt blveiee taht i cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht i was rdanieg.
the phaonmneal pweor of the hmuan mind is amazanig. aoccdrnig to a rscheearch taem at cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosnt mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. the rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. amazanig huh? yaeh and yuo awlyas thohgut slpeling was ipmorantt.
If you look at each word, you will notice that the correct letters are present. However, the only ones that are in the correct positions are the first and last letter in each word. The others, if the word has more than three letters, are jumbled. Yet, you could still read and understand the paragraph.
So what does this have to do with learning? The brain learns more at the start of the learning and the end of the learning (the beginning and end of the data set). Your teachers have known this for a long time. This is why the beginning and end of a class is the most important. At the beginning of the class, the teacher should spell out the learning goals of the period and provide some teacher input. An overview of the procedures to be followed are also usually taught at the beginning of the period. At the end of the period, the teacher sums everything up and hits the most important parts again. They do that because students remember what is taught at the beginning and end of the class much more accurately than what is taught in the middle of the period.
How can you exploit this? When you are learning something for your job, simply increase the number of starts and stops in your study time. That’s right, simply throw some breaks in the study period to break it up into more starts and stops. By tossing in two 10–minute breaks into one three-hour study period, you can now have three one-hour study periods, each separated by a 10–minute break. Instead of one start and one stop, you now have three starts and three stops. Although you have increased the time from three hours to three hours and twenty minutes, there is still only three hours of study time. The additional time are rest breaks. You have not studied any harder or longer, yet, the Primacy and Recency Effect guarantees that you will remember more of your learning.
To go fast…go slow.