6 Easy Experiments to try at Work #5 Let People read the notes first

There’s been a debate going on for years as to whether you should give people handouts or other material before you present it to them yourself.  handoutsPeople argue that if the audience has read ahead they won’t listen when you come to present your information. But what does the research suggest?

One study tested how much students remembered from a lecture. They received notes before, during or after their lecture and were then tested on their memory of the lecture, immediately after and a week later. It turns out that test performance at both tests was pretty much the same regardless of when the notes were given out – so there was no advantage to waiting until the end to give out notes.

The researchers observed that students who’d received notes before the lecture took fewer notes than those who were given notes after the lecture. But their conclusions were that because the end results were no different this note taking by those who’d not seen the notes was more of a distraction than a ‘deep encoding task’ because that would be expected to help their memories.

So giving out notes early on appears not to have any negative effect on how well people remember what you say and the researchers suggested that ‘students still benefited in the sense that they reached the same level of learning with less work.’ With many people already having significant cognitive overload at work learning with less work can be seen as a positive result.  We’d also suggest that encountering the information twice has an additional effect because it’s effectively spaced learning which has been shown to ‘stick’ longer.

So if you’re running a training course or presenting information it’s potentially going to make learning and remembering your information easier if you give out handouts first. And those people who seem to be studiously scribbling notes whilst you talk may actually just be distracting themselves. Ask about our ‘How to be a Brain Friendly Trainer’ programme – check website for next dates.

Marsh, E., & Sink, H. (2009). Access to handouts of presentation slides during lecture: Consequences for learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24 (5), 691-706