Reading vs. Listening – Which is More Efficient for Studying and Remembering?

Reading vs. Listening – Which is More Efficient for Studying and Remembering?
Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy


The debate over reading vs. listening is surfacing in business and educational settings, as many argue about which method is more effective at gaining and retaining knowledge.

Several studies and articles on the topic assessed the effectiveness of both approaches. O

ne or the other learning methods is often dependent on the individual, so it mainly comes down to personal preference.

Here are some facts to consider in weighing the differences.

Traditional Books vs. Audiobooks

At one time, reading was a measure of how informed a person was. Then came multiple forms of media to compete for consumer attention.

Futurists even forecasted that listening would eclipse reading as our preferred learning method.

Today, professionals and educators are raising questions on whether reading vs. listening to books is a better approach for new employees to learn and comprehend new job skills and industry knowledge.

After the rise of the internet and many other digital communication channels, it is interesting that libraries and books still exist.

While listening to an audiobook is more effortless and convenient for the average person, reading can be just as effective, depending on the person.

Psychology professor Matthew Traxler of the University of California has found from his research that the brain processes information much the same way, whether the person is reading or listening.

However, the complexity of the topic you are consuming does affect brain processes.

For entertainment news and other light topics, the brain does not work as hard to comprehend information.

However, for more complex topics, the individual must put more effort into the process, which favors reading.

A book allows you to quickly go back and read what you did not understand, whereas audio playback machinery requires more time by clicking rewind.

For live-streaming events or scenarios in which the listener has less control of the audio, a person must take notes to review the information.

Science of Reading vs. Listening

Scientists are still unclear whether people develop a learning preference between reading or listening at an early age.

The data are mixed as to which learning method leads to a greater understanding of the material.

Researchers, though, have analyzed how the sound of certain words stimulates different parts of the brain. They found little difference in how the brain responds to reading vs. listening.

They noticed that students do not always learn by sticking with their preferred method of learning new information.

Another study by the University of California at Berkeley on MRI brain scans found that the brain is stimulated from reading and listening with a similar impact.

While the audiobook vs. reading argument is balanced, reading might be a better way to deal with distractions, mostly if the audio cannot be played back.

Listening and reading both have challenges that require the individual to focus on the material.

While listening to the audio, a person must use real-time comprehension skills that instantly include interpreting and comprehending information.

Taking notes adds to this effort. Reading has visual challenges because images and videos are easier on the eyes than staring at just text.

Classroom Participation

The pandemic has led to many college campuses shutting down and offering online courses.

The advantage for students sitting in a physical classroom is that they can interact with the instructor to clarify the meaning of the reading material.

The online experience offers more flexibility, though, for the person to use their preferred learning method. 

Students studying in traditional and online classroom settings must primarily rely on their listening and writing abilities while attending live classes, specifically if the lecture is not available on video.

Virtual courses enable students to listen to the lecture online. Similar to a traditional setting, students can interact and participate in a virtual class as well.

Recording and transcribing virtual classes enable students to read and listen to the lectures later to better comprehend and revise the topic at their own speed.

In either setting, educational institutions can collaborate with transcription services to help organize and present the information to students to promote better learning.

Also Read: How Audio Blogs Benefit Readers and Your Business

Speed of Acquiring Knowledge

Some people might wonder whether reading or listening is a faster way to understand the material.

Again, it depends on the individual and the complexity of the material. Researchers have found that reading generally is faster than listening.

While the average adult can read 250 to 300 words per minute, the ideal talking speed for efficient comprehension is 150 to 160 words per minute.

When a speaker talks too fast, meaning can be lost in the mind of the listener. In those cases, a student or employee is better off reading a transcription to absorb the information.

The main problem with just listening to audio is that words can be distorted, or the sound is inaudible when there's competing background noise.

Additionally, the speaker may have an accent or not speak clearly, making it hard to decipher the audio. In those situations, turning to a transcription to read is essential.

Reading an audio transcription of the content a person just heard can help improve listening skills. It puts the brain in a framework to pay attention to every word.

When it comes to learning a foreign language, reading can be the more efficient method, as seeing text helps reinforce the purpose of its usage.

Even though a person might prefer one method over the other, reading provides the potential for a faster way to gain knowledge.


Reading vs. listening is a compelling topic for businesses and educators to do more in-depth research.

Overall, both reading and listening are good ways to absorb and understand new information. Adding reading as an option by using video and audio transcriptions allows for more clarity.

Contact us at GMR Transcription Services, Inc. to learn more about how transcriptions can help your business and education endeavors. We provide affordable, fast, and accurate transcriptions. 

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Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy

Beth Worthy is the Cofounder & President of GMR Transcription Services, Inc., a California-based company that has been providing accurate and fast transcription services since 2004. She has enjoyed nearly ten years of success at GMR, playing a pivotal role in the company's growth. Under Beth's leadership, GMR Transcription doubled its sales within two years, earning recognition as one of the OC Business Journal's fastest-growing private companies. Outside of work, she enjoys spending time with her husband and two kids.