If you follow my Instagram page @ThinkGrowPropser, you know that reading has been an invaluable part of my journey and learning process. But lately, I've been incorporating more audio-based media into my life with fantastic results.
I'm talking about podcasts, lectures, YouTube videos and of course, audiobooks. Compared to traditional reading, I’ve found audio to be an equally effective and often more efficient way to learn.
I'm not new to audio, I've consumed podcasts and audiobooks for years. Historically, these things only served as supplements to my normal reading material. But lately, I've made them a much bigger part of my learning regimen. Here are some reasons why:
1. I’m able to grasp the core message of a subject in a fraction of the time.
Here, I’m specifically referring to non-audiobook media such as podcasts, lectures, interviews, and keynote speeches. Through these formats, I've found that I can typically get a fairly decent understanding of someone’s core message or basic viewpoints by listening to a two hour podcast episode or even a 20 minute TED talk rather than spending several days or weeks reading their book.
It's essentially a low-risk way to decide if I want to dive deeper into someone's work. If I listen to someone's keynote or interview and find their message interesting, I’ll usually buy their book or product. If I don't, then I haven't wasted that much time anyway.
(It's also an attractive medium for those who might be intimidated by reading a dense book or who aren’t necessarily fast readers).
2. It helps my productivity.
By no means am I a proponent of busyness for the sake of busyness. I’m a firm believer in deep work and concentrated thinking.
Having said that, in my daily life there are routine (but necessary) tasks that do not require much cognitive energy -- things like cleaning, making food, driving, etc. Listening to audiobooks or podcasts during these times allows me to kill two birds with one stone: I get to feed my mind good stuff while also completing the task at hand. This is something that is virtually impossible to do with traditional reading.
For me, monotonous activities do not hinder my ability to listen -- quite the opposite. They help keep the restless part of my brain occupied just enough so that the learning part of my brain can focus on absorbing the material at hand.
3. It increases my comprehension.
As far as I can tell, the reason for this is at least twofold:
First, when we hear someone speak, the intonation, tone, emphasis, and rhythm of their words provide subtle but helpful hints about what is being said. This built-in feature of language, known as prosody, helps us to better remember information and ascertain meaning.
When we read, however, we need to make this judgment on our own. This extra cognitive step can sometimes lead to misinterpretation or confusion.
The second reason for increased comprehension is probably because, as humans, we've been learning through audio far longer than we've been reading printed text. Oral tradition vastly predates literacy by tens of thousands of years, so it makes sense that this would be an effective learning medium for some people, from a tribal/evolutionary perspective.
Audio or Printed?
So which is a better tool for learning, audiobooks or printed books? The answer, of course, is that it depends on the person.
There haven’t been enough formal studies to make an objective conclusion yet, but that's relatively unimportant, since I believe it ultimately comes down to personal preference.
This is not an "either or" situation. I see both as different tools in my "learning tool belt" -- each is valuable in their own right and useful under certain conditions. In fact, I often find myself listening to an audiobook and then later reading the printed book, or vice versa. This added exposure helps increase my comprehension and retention of the material.
As with most things, you need to experiment and decide for yourself which medium works best for you. Then, incorporate that medium in a way that makes sense in the context of your life.
The best medium is the one you actually use. A life-changing book that sits on the shelf changes no one's life. Likewise, a super insightful audiobook that never gets listened to is worthless.
Recommended Audio Resources
Here are are few of my favorite audio resources I’ve been into lately, along with a few episodes/selections I recommend:
- Audible.com (currently listening to Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson)
Signing up for a monthly membership to Audible.com is by far one of the best investments I have ever made in my education. I can't recommend it strongly enough.
College level lectures and courses:
- The Great Courses (One of my all-time favorites is Redefining Reality by Steven Gimbel)
PRO TIP: When you sign up at Audible.com, you get access to the Great Courses lectures (normally priced from $40 - $200 each) for as little as $15 each. This is a complete game changer when it comes to diving deep into a specific area of study.
- The Great Courses Plus - One of the most valuable educational resources I've come across. You can learn about virtually any subject imaginable from some of the top professors and experts in the world.
- The Tim Ferriss Show (Episode #125 with Derek Sivers is a great one)
- The Joe Rogan Experience
- StarTalk Radio
- Waking Up With Sam Harris
- The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast
- School of Life YouTube channel (Recommended video: What is Higher Consciousness?)
- Crash Course YouTube channel (Recommended video: What is a Good Life?)
Which do you prefer: reading or listening? Let me know in the comments below.