What is the Primacy – Recency Effect?
The term Primacy & Recency Effects are used in psychology & sociology to describe the effect of the order of presentation of information or events on memory.
The Primacy Effect results in information presented at the beginning being better remembered than information presented later on and that people tend to remember the first time more than the repetitions.
The Recency Effect results in better recall of the most recent information or event.
Together, these two effects result in the earliest and latest information in any Communicative Activity (Presentations, Meetings, Negotiations, etc) being remember better, with information given in the middle generally being least remembered.
Using the primacy /recency effect on the second / subsequent sessions of a course or meeting.
What you are doing is using the primacy / recency effect to lead the learners into reviewing what was important for THEM in the previous day’s learning, NOT what you wanted to teach them.
There is a huge difference in these concepts. What is important is what the audience have gained from the previous session. Everyone learns different things, in different ways, at different speeds, so we should never assume that once we have taught something to the group, everyone has learned it. If you have ever studied a foreign language, you will probably understand this concept!
The steps to follow in a Primary / Recency session are:
1. Tell them that they are going to do a primacy / recency exercise. Do NOT explain further!
2. Tell them to write down 3-5 things that were important for THEM from all of the previous day’s material. Tell them that they may consult the training manual if necessary. Give them 5 minutes to complete the task.
3. Select each trainee, but NOT in turn, to read out their comments and write them all on a flipchart. We recommend starting with the most junior member of the group and work your way up to the “power” in the group.
4. Once all of the participants have given their feedback, the activity is almost finished.
5. The last step is to review what the majority have “learned” in a short feedback session. This will tell you, the trainer, what might need to be revised later on in the course.
The Primacy / Recency effect can also be used in Negotiations: At the start of each session, ask the other negotiator(s) to tell you what agreements had been reached in the previous session, what was pending to discuss and for their overall impression of how the session had gone & how it could be improved. This allows you to check for misunderstandings, errors, etc., and also improve, even more, the negotiation environment.
NOTE: Use the information obtained to evaluate the need for a change in material, methodology, activities, etc., in future activities.
Remember: NEVER assume that something has been learned just because you have “covered it” during the course.
(c) Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates S.L., Madrid, September, 2012