Reading vs. Listening: What’s the Difference?

By: Verbit Editorial
earbuds, mobile phones and books piled on top of each other

Audio-only content has exploded in popularity in recent years. Over 80 million people around the world regularly listen to podcasts, and roughly 20% of Americans say they listen to audiobooks. While these trends demonstrate the public’s growing interest in receiving information via audio, it’s important to understand that not everyone engages with or retains information in the same ways.  

Today’s educators understand that different people require different learning modalities. In some cases, it’s a matter of personal preference. Other times, it comes down to accessibility. Individuals with disabilities, for example, might need to consume information in very specific ways. Reading and listening are two forms of learning new information. Understanding the benefits of each medium can make it easier for individuals of all backgrounds and abilities to fully engage with important information.  

Do You Remember More from Reading or Listening?

It might be tempting to assume that people retain information better when they receive it in a written format. However, what does the research say? Is reading better than listening? In short, no, the evidence doesn’t support this common assumption. 

In terms of reading vs. listening, experts have yet to determine that one method is explicitly more effective than the other. Instead, research suggests that while listening to information and reading information may trigger different processes in the brain, the end result is more or less the same. Whether a person opts for a paperback or an audiobook, their degree of comprehension will likely be similar.  

Why is Listening Harder than Reading?

For many people, assigned reading was a dominant part of their education. Anyone who experienced this form of instruction might wonder, “How does reading help you gain knowledge?” In reality, the act of reading in and of itself may not actually be more effective or beneficial than listening in terms of biological processes. However, there are many other factors that may contribute to some individuals’ preference for receiving information in a readable format.  

How often have you turned on a podcast or audiobook only to realize 15 minutes later that you had completely zoned out and missed an important piece of information? Humans have a fairly limited attention span. People’s bandwidth for receiving and processing information can vary significantly depending on their age and environment, among other factors.  

For this reason, some individuals develop specific preferences for how they’d like to receive and engage with information. For example, content that features complex numerical figures may be easier for some people to follow and comprehend in written format. Alternatively, those same people may find narrative content like novels or short stories more engaging in an audio-centric format.  

Why Do People Have Different Learning Styles?

There’s certainly a temptation to ask questions like, “Do we learn better by reading or listening?” However, the reality is that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this query. Suggesting that one approach is superior to another assumes that all humans experience the world in the same way.  

In reality, people have extremely varied backgrounds and abilities that determine how they engage with information. Individuals with neurodivergent conditions like ADHD, for example, may find it difficult to focus on audio-only content. For this reason, some people with ADHD prefer to receive information only in a readable format. Others may like to read along as they listen to audio content. This can help to improve information retention and real-time engagement and cut back on the constant need to rewind and revisit portions of audio content.  

Similarly, most individuals who are Deaf or hard of hearing require readable versions of audio content in order to fully engage. Alternatively, individuals who are blind or low vision often rely upon accommodations like audio description and descriptive narration to engage with written or visual content.  

How Reading and Listening Can Work Together

Audio content will surely continue to grow in popularity in the years to come. For many people, this format offers convenience and on-the-go experiences that video or textual entertainment cannot. As a result, it’s important for creators and other industry professionals to carefully consider how to make sure that audio content is engaging and accessible to all.  

One of the best ways to make audio content more inclusive is to proactively provide audience members with written transcripts. A transcript is essentially a word-for-word, written account of the information conveyed in podcasts, audio blogs or other audio recordings. Audience members can reference transcripts separately from or in conjunction with the audio content.   

Support Diverse Learning Needs with Verbit

The easiest way to transcribe audio to text is by partnering with a professional transcription service like Verbit. Verbit’s audio transcription process combines the efficiency of artificial intelligence with the accuracy of professionally-trained human transcribers. This process helps creators tackle even large-scale transcription projects with ease. Verbit even offers searchable transcripts that allow users to type in keywords in order to navigate to corresponding points in an audio recording. This functionality serves as a multimodal learning tool that combines auditory, visual and tactile elements. Using these methods together can improve information retention and recall.  

There’s no silver bullet when it comes to making information easily accessible to all. That’s why it’s important to have diverse solutions that meet the unique needs of those in your community. In addition to transcription, Verbit offers a full suite of accessibility technologies like captioning, translation and audio description. Together, these tools help streamline messaging across multiple platforms and foster greater comprehension of information. Reach out to learn more about how Verbit’s dual approach to transcription generates a high volume of accurate transcripts and helps make audio and video content more engaging and inclusive for all.