Vilfredo Pareto, engineer, sociologist, economist

Your ultimate goal as a teacher is to cause your students to learn and to retain the facts that you have taught them. This can be challenging, so this is the first in a series on practical ways to help your students learn and retain what they have learned.

Teach the Important

The Pareto Principle, or Rule of 80/20, states that usually 80% of effects are a result of 20% of causes. This principle was originally suggested by an Italian economist, who noticed that the majority of the land in Italy was held by a small minority of the population.  This principle still applies today on a global scale - 80% of the world’s wealth is owned by 20% of the world’s population, but there are many more applications that can be found in other areas of life.

In business, often 80% of a company’s profits usually come from 20% of the products. It can also mean that 20% of your sales staff are making 80% of the sales and 80% of your complaints come from 20% of your customers. Most business owners would agree that identifying the 20% is key to running a successful business.

Identify the Vital Few & the Trivial Many

So how does this principle translate into training seminars or training sessions? As with a business, teachers need to know what the 20% is. There is an unlimited amount of information that you could be presenting to your students, but not all of it is relevant to their jobs or to your company. If we apply the Pareto Principle, 80% of the information that is taught is probably not relevant. As teachers, you need to discern which pieces of information are vital and which are trivial.

Communicate the 20% to Students

In an ideal setting, teachers would only teach the vital 20%. Being free to do away with the trivial or less important information would undoubtably energise both teachers and students, especially if the students know that they are only being taught the most important facts! Unfortunately that may not always be realistic, especially when a specific curriculum is mandatory. However, the teacher can set the pacing of a course and decide to focus more or less on certain aspects. Identify which aspects carry the most benefits and prioritise those, both in time spent teaching and in emphasis. It is okay to let your students in on the “secret” of this principle! They should know which pieces of content are the most important to focus on. This will help your students perform well on assessments and in their jobs.


Not only does focusing on the vital 20% maximise teaching time, it also ensures that your students are equipped with the knowledge they need most. Teachers can spend more time focusing on what is truly important which enables students to understand it more fully. Everybody wins!

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