I’m a reader. I love books and I love words. I’ve spent countless hours in book stores and libraries, and I’ll continue to do so for a long, long time.
But (bet you saw that coming), there’s something I love even more than reading: learning. I love living at a time when almost everything I could ever want to know is available to me, and a lot of it is available for free. And increasingly, due to the low cost of bandwidth and increased ease of accessing and using communication technology, much of that information is now available in non-book form.
Having compared the two, I’ve become convinced of a couple things:
- Learning via video or audio is usually as good, and often superior to, learning by reading*, and
- We think books are better because we’re biased. We’re conditioned to believe that books are “smarter” than audio and video.
There’s a good reason why books seem superior: for centuries, they provided the best opportunities for learning. The written word was our best learning tool because it was our only learning tool. Today, though, the truth is that reading is tremendously inefficient compared to other ways of learning. Consider:
- Reading requires a least relative quiet, whereas with audio and video tools can shut out other noises when quiet isn’t possible
- Reading requires you to be still/stationary, whereas you can interact with audio tools while you’re on the move: walking, exercising, driving, etc.
- Reading requires at least one hand and usually two, whereas video/audio tools free your hands, allowing you to multitask^–fold some laundry or iron a few shirts, for example
- Reading is a solitary activity, whereas video and audio tools allow you to learn in sync with others
Again, I’m not saying we should give up on books. However, I think in many cases books should be considered the learning tool of last resort. If they’re our default learning medium, their inefficiency means we may end up not accessing information at all for fear of accessing it in the “wrong” way. That means our pro-book bias may actually be one of the greatest barriers to learning that we face.