Training: Feed ’em the easiest stuff first
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Training: Feed ’em the easiest stuff first

When organizing training for employees, you might be tempted to think: Let’s start with the hardest material and get it out of the way; then we can deal with the easier stuff when people get tired.

But according to recent research on human memory, that’s the wrong way ’round.

The research, published in the International Journal of Creativity and Problem Solving, maintains that putting the easy stuff up front is the most efficient learning strategy. Students who use this strategy end up doing better on tests than those who don’t.

Two advantages
Prioritizing material from easy to hard seems to have two big benefits:

  • It creates quick victories that build momentum. That early momentum gives learners a running start for tackling tougher concepts.
  • It builds a minimum base of learning, so if the learning gets interrupted, trainees don’t have to start over from scratch. They’ll already have achieved some mastery.

Creating strategy
So as a trainer, you’ll get best results if you help your trainees devise an easy-first strategy.

Ask them: “What do you think will be the easiest part of this process to master? Work on that part, then move on to the more challenging material.”

Sure, you could tell them what’s easiest and direct them to do that first, but you’d be missing out on a bonus benefit of prioritizing from easy to hard: The task of prioritizing is valuable in and of itself. The process repeatedly activates memory retrieval, which boosts the likelihood of remembering later.

Source: “Four principles of memory improvement: A guide to improving learning efficiency,” by Schwartz, B., et al. The International Journal of Creativity and Problem Solving, 21(1) 7-15.

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