Let’s start with a brief test of memory. I’ll present a list of eleven words, take 1 minute to memorize the list and then, without looking, see how many of the words you can remember. Here’s the list of words:
Set your clock for 60 seconds and try to rehearse. Then, turn off your computer screen and use paper and pencil to list the words you remember.
If you are like most people, your list included the words “sordid” and “worse,” the first and last words on the list. You can thank the Serial Position Effect for this—the much researched phenomenon that we tend to remember the first (primacy) and last (recency) factors rather than those in the middle. If we were to graph this effect, it might look like the image to the righ—with the likelihood of remembering much higher at the beginning and end of a learning sequence.
What does this mean for training?
The serial position effect tells us that we need to pay particular attention to how we both begin and end our learning events—knowing that we have the greatest opportunity to create lasting memories early on and at the end of our delivery. We must revisit the traditional “icebreaker” and “closer” activities to make sure we are making the most of primacy and recency in our learning delivery.
Icebreakers are instructional methods that we use to engage learners at the start of a training program. Typically these activities help learners to get to know each other and facilitate the development of trust. Think “Two Truths and Lie” where learners share three pieces of information and try to stump the class with one false fact. There are scores of additional “get to know you” activities like this that are used every day in training and educational settings. Fun, yes, engaging, yes, but memorable from a learning perspective? Probably not. Given the tremendous opportunity of learning primacy, how might we move beyond the icebreaker to better use this valuable time to initiate the learning process? What we need are “training openers” not icebreakers. Training openers are activities that not only help learners get to know each other, but also help them get to know the course content. The simple “Pair Share” where students turn to a neighbor and talk about what they know about a course topic and what they hope to learn, and then expand this discussion to a larger group, not only engages learners with each other but also with the course content.
We need “multi-purpose” training openers that can serve as not only icebreakers but also as an introduction to course content–that engage learners, are memorable, introduce course concepts, and set the stage for the content that follows. What I’d like to do next is to hold a “Training Opener Roundup” where we locate and share activities that might be used early in a training session to not only engage learners with each other, but also with course content.
Please add a comment to this post to discuss training openers and to also share a “multi-purpose” opening activity. Be sure to include detailed instructions for implementing this activity and the corresponding reference and link if available.
Note that we will be discussing training closers or ending activities in the next article in this series, “Instructional Methods: Memorable closing activities.”