Reading vs. Listening – Which is More Effective for Learning and Remembering

Ben Walker   |   Jun 21, 2017

reading versus listeningRecently there has been an important debate about the differences between reading and listening, and which leads to higher comprehension, retention and efficiency. This has been the subject of numerous studies and reviews, all of which evaluate several important factors when deciding if listening or reading is more effective.

One variable studied is human distraction. Humans are easily distracted – we can lose concentration or train of thought, get lost in the argument, simply not pay attention, etc. However, when listening to a concept if an individual is distracted, chances are they will not understand the concept or any concepts built on it. Speaking is linear – there is no way for the listener to “rewind” the speaker and go over the concept again. However, with reading, if an individual gets distracted, they can come back to the words, and read over the concept again easily. In this aspect, reading is definitely better for retention and comprehension.

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Listening is also challenging on humans because it requires them to use real time comprehension skills. This means the individual must listen, interpret and understand almost instantaneously in order to understand what a person is saying. This complex process is even more compounded when the individual is taking notes, such as in a business meeting or in a student lecture. Reading, however, allows individuals to read and understand at their own speed. In this way reading helps the individual comprehend at their own pace, which for many is helpful in understanding and retaining information.

However, there is one final and important element to this debate that has been definitively proven: reading is faster than listening. According to Wikipedia, the average adult reads text at 250 to 300 words per minute. 150 to 160 words per minute is the recommended talking speed that allows for comprehension and understanding. By comparison, auctioneers speak at 250 words per minute, the same rate as reading. In this way, reading definitely has the advantage.

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Transcription Outsourcing, LLC is a Denver, Colorado-based online transcription services company. We provide fast, accurate and reliable transcription services for individuals, offices, departments and agencies of all sizes.