Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Learn Twice As Much With Same Effort

WARNING: This blog entry was imported from my old blog on blogs.sun.com (which used different blogging software), so formatting and links may not be correct.

You may be familiar with the
Universal Law of Gravitation.
And in schools and other auditorium settings, you may have observed the "Second Law Of Gravitation":

Students will gravitate towards the back of the class room. The seats in front
fill up last.

Perhaps students are afraid to be picked out by the teacher to answer questions. Or perhaps they are afraid to be seen as eager to learn.

However, at some point in college I discovered that actually picking those undesirable seats up in front
was a good idea. I've stuck by it ever since. In presentations at work I always beeline to
the seats up in the front. Why? I discovered that lectures actually seemed more interesting that way.
Perhaps there were fewer distractions between me and the instructor. Perhaps being up close
let me see and hear everything clearly, and perhaps occasional eye contact with the instructor
kept me from pulling out alternative reading material (e.g. computer books) if I got bored.

It turns out that if you sit in the center front, you will actually retain more
of the material. Research shows that if people are placed randomly and then
presented with information, people in the front, and people in the center,
can recall a lot more of the presented information than listeners to the sides
and back. And we're not talking 10% more. We're talking twice as much.

Retention in a class room based on seating positions [Source]














This has been called the "Attention Zone" by some, and the "Action Zone" by others. (Information retention is just one aspect we can measure; verbal interaction is another.) This has been studied in depth because it has implications for
class room design and student seating assignments.

Taking a seat in the front is a simple tip you can use to start enjoying lectures more. And you'll probably learn more. It's not exactly one of my
coding tips, but potentially much more useful.


  1. Dude, did you actually make an HTML "retention" table complete with % points to show the benefits of sitting in the first row?
    Seriously, even the most conservative middle manager at my job would've regressed to grade school tactics and given you a swirly for that one.

  2. The percentages are showing actual measured results in studies. I thought it was an interesting visualization since the 2D organization of the table matches the sections in the class room, and it gets across the point about center versus front. Notice how being placed center, even in the back is better than front to the side etc.