Do most people retain spoken or read information better?

Anecodtally, when I’m listening to spoken information, it bothers me when I hear a name or word I’m unfamiliar with and I don’t know how it’s spelled. I think, when I’m listening, I’m doing at least a little bit of mentaly translating what I hear into written language, at least sometimes.

And vice versa:

I believe some people “hear” what they’re reading in their head, and some people don’t—I seem to remember we’ve had threads about this in the past, but I couldn’t find any.

I don’t know the breakdown, but I’ve been told (yes, auditory) that we only retain X% of what we hear and X% of what we read, confirmed by the percentages given above. And that’s why the greatest retention of information is a combination of speech and written, both printed and note taking. This is why we take notes during college level classes and handouts are given during presentations.

Personally, when it comes to training of any kind, I need hands on experience to gain a full understanding of any process.

Lots of interesting information with this Google search:

One of the articles hit upon something that for me is key. Reading and especially rewriting something into your own words allows you to absorb and retain key information better.

I just gave an answer on Reddit in which I told the poster that most college professors when reviewing test essays don’t look for rote recitation of what they said, but look for key words and terms that show you have an understanding of what was taught. One of my professors told the class that if aren’t sure you’ve made your point in your essay, write it again in a new way so if he misses it first time, he’s more likely to get it the second time. I always aced all his exams and so did the others who said they thought they were repeating themselves after a certain point.

For me, when someone is just verbally explaining something, I feel like Ginger in this Far Side cartoon.

Just thought of something. I’ve been accused of not paying attention when someone is explaining something because I’ll stare off into space. I have to explain that I’m absorbing and reorganizing for retention what they’ve said and could they please slow down.

I don’t personally think I’m slow, and have been told multiple times that I’m quite intelligent, but I recognize that my stream of thought, understanding ability to retain what I’m told or read is often different from others. As evidenced by my sometimes awkward or borderline stupid posts! :pleading_face:

It helps if you’re the one who started them :sunglasses:

I retain things I have seen in print better than hearing them. Better still if I actually wrote it down. Or was writing when I heard them. In college, I could remember a section of the lecture by looking at whatever I was doodling at the time.

I’m and old fart these days. Nothing helps me remember now.

For me, I find that I have a very solid recollection of what I have heard. I went through school barely reading/studying and instead only listening and consistently aced exams. Consequently, I did not develop good study habits or the ability to self-study until later in life. When I read, I get the gist of it, but don’t really absorb details, unless I really push myself. I am always fascinated by people who retain and quote passages from books, I just don’t retain written words that way.

As others have stated, the written word is neutral, whereas speech carries expression and some level of emotion. Which to me, helps cement the memories.

That’s why this whole idea of a lot of online learning is just not for me - a lot of it is just reading. I need to have a person talk to me - preferably live in person.

I remember about half of each. If, during lectures, I wrote down the half I wouldn’t remember I’d be all set come exam time. That’s only a very slight exaggeration. Also, Ms. P knows I only remember only half of what she says. Fortunately, it’s the right half.

A limited scope, but easy experiment. Have someone tell you a recipe, time how long it takes. Then read a similar recipe with the same time period, then recite it back. Repeat as many times to satisfy yourself.

Another experiment which is a classic game. Tell someone a story, then have them tell the same story to someone else, continue until the story becomes unrecognizable.

Then write a story and have everyone rewrite what the person before them wrote.

If you want to experiment visual retention with the mimicry game where you do an action and continue to see if the last person’s action matches the original.

raises hand

Reading is my preferred way of learning information. Listening is my least favorite.

If it is “practical” knowledge, reading then doing, followed by listening then doing.

I am a very visual person. Very, very spatial. I will always remember how to get to or from a place of I have been there before. Similarly, I always remember the words I read, and more, the layout on the page of the words, printing errors, ink blots…

When I listen to books, I remember where I am when I hear part of it. And the next time I listen to that book, I am also mentally taking the same trip or whatnot I did the last time I listened to it, even years later!

I know everybody let me think… I can’t remember if Susie learned perplexed future tense or if that was subject #00001… does it matter. What to hell is being taught?

So in the spirit of fighting ignorance, the first thing we need to clear up is that this whole pop culture notion of “visual, auditory or kinaesthetic” learning styles has been disproven and generally doesn’t hold water outside of pop culture and some in the education community.

In a GQ thread that has very few citations, this cite has many within it:

Some relevant quotes from the article (which discusses the latest Yale research on the topic):

…scientific evidence does not support the notion that different people have different inherent learning styles. Despite this fact, the concept remains popular, not only in popular culture but among educators

Regardless of why people find the notion appealing, or which system you prefer, the bottom line is that the basic concept of learning styles is simply not supported by scientific evidence]

… the Yale site goes beyond documenting that the notion of learning styles is a scientific dead end and needs to be abandoned. They also illustrate that we have scientific evidence supporting some actually useful ideas in education, but they tend to be overshadowed by the learning style myth.

To answer the 0P and to consolidate a lot of the comments so far the real answer is “it depends”. However, it doesn’t depend on the learner, research suggests it rather depends on the topic being taught.

…the type of media should, if anything, be aligned with the subject matter, not the student. If, for example, you want to learn about anatomy, visual information is going to be superior to auditory only information – for everyone. But then reading or listening can help students understand what they are looking at, highlight key concepts, and reinforce the most important bits of information.

Yes, that whole “learning styles” thing is a myth. And yet, some people (including in this thread) report being better able to process information visually, some aurally.

Wanna know what I think? I’ll tell you anyway: Reading and listening are two separate skills. People vary in their skill level, due to differences in natural ability, training, and practice. Some are good at both; some are good at one but not so good at the other.

When I want to find out how to do something or get some information, I hate hate hate having to watch a video. But I quite enjoy watching videos with cool ideas as entertainment, making no particular effort to retain anything. It’s possible your Facebook friends have a different approach to the videos, rather than different learning abilities.

On main topic, it looks like the raw data from this study might answer your question, but unfortunately I don’t have access:

Second, participants were randomly assigned to 1 of 2 groups that received the same instructional material from a nonfiction book, but each in a different instructional mode (digital audiobook, e-text), and then completed a written comprehension test immediately and after 2 weeks. Results demonstrated no statistically significant relationship between learning style preference (auditory, visual word) and instructional method (audiobook, e-text) for either immediate or delayed comprehension tests.

I do have access, since I work for a university. And… in a deeply unfortunate outcome, it turns out it completely undercuts my position! In that study, there was a general tendency for everyone to retain spoken information better than written.

So, that was clearly a blow to one of my cherished theories. On the up-side, the study found that people who preferred written information did significantly better at the recall tasks than people who preferred audio. So that’s a nice salve for the pride of those of us who like our text-based information sources. It’s just that it also says that, just like everyone else, all the text-preference people did actually remember more of the heard information.

Oh good, I was hoping someone else would have access. It’s so frustrating seeing all these interesting studies but only getting the abstract!

I love reading and I’ve probably learned far more from books overall, but when I think back to school there is no comparison between the teachers who actually taught and those who left us to go through the text book by ourselves.

But I really had no idea whether the study would show better retention of spoken or written information. At least the question is answered now.

Perhaps the causation runs the other way here. Written information has other significant advantages over spoken: it’s faster to read than to listen to speech, you can much more easily search and skip to find what you’re interested in, and generally go at your own pace. For people with good memories these advantages may outweigh the lower retention rates compared to spoken material.

This is true - and also, you generally have it physically there with you to refer back to after you’ve done. So perhaps my text preference is actually more to do with the fact that it doesn’t really have to be remembered so often - the feeling of it being easier to remember is actually an illusion, but the fact of my having better access to the information is not … it’s just that “access” is often “going back to the place where the information is and quickly looking at the relevant bit”

I don’t disagree, but I think what’s also happening in a lot of the posters experiences where they say “I am reader versus a listener” is that there is a big element of confirmation bias.

They think back to a specific example where they had to learn something and how they learned it or remembered it (or failed to do so) and they say in hindsight that makes them better or worse at remembering written versus spoken.

And as we know that’s basically bullshit (as noted in the sites that I provide above) it’s the subject you are trying to remember which determines the best way to learn it. It’s it’s not some sort of ability or lack thereof in the learner.

The science is clear on this.

Yeah, that’s a good point. You might remember a lot more from a lecture than reading a textbook, but you can easily look up the bit you’ve forgotten in the textbook.

And one of the reasons for writing things down in the first place is to remove the need to memorise them.