Tag Archives: Listening

A New Era of “Reading”

How fast does a person think?

Read?

More than a decade before President John F. Kennedy was touted to read the entire New York Times newspaper in 10 minutes flat, a school teacher named Evelyn Wood would develop speed reading techniques to improve the lives of troubled girls. Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics Speed Reading courses would set the stage for what today is considered the largest and most trusted provider of speed-reading training, a company called Iris. Their trademark is, “Reading at the speed of thought.” The average person can read about 200-250 words per minute (wpm). With proper training, it is not uncommon for individuals to engage in super speed reading, 3x faster than the norm (1000wpm).  

But what about listening?

How fast might a person be able to listen with accuracy? According to research by B.J Kemp, an auditory stimulus takes only 8–10 ms to reach the brain, whereas a visual stimulus takes 20-40 ms. This in effect means we can listen more than twice as fast as we can read. 

But just how fast?

Demand for Listening Continues to Grow

Many university students during the pandemic grew accustomed to speeding up the lectures of their professors. In a new paper published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, researchers concluded that some asynchronous learning formats, like recorded lectures, prove to be much more efficient. Further, there was no major difference in performance between students who watched a lecture at normal speed versus those who watched a lecture at 1.5X or 2X speed. However, a recoil back to in-person lectures may have students twiddling their thumbs. Like waiting for that endless joke’s punchline. 

Audiobooks are the fastest-growing format in publishing and are predicted to become a $19 billion industry by 2027. January likely will be the 11th straight year, the Audio Publishers Association reports a double-digit increase in audiobook sales. Further, consider the out-of-orbit escalation of podcasts. It is hard to believe podcasts were an enigma a mere twenty years ago. In June 2022, Daniel Ruby’s analytics reported the existence of over 2.4 million podcasts. If you are reading this, you have likely listened to a podcast, book, or maybe both. Possibly even the speed was accelerated 1.5x, or even 2x for more efficiency, or if the narrator possibly read too deliberately.  You may have also selected “Intelligent Speed,” which in effect shortens silences!

You Can Argue With History…but You’ll Probably Lose

Yuval Noah Harari, the bestselling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, claims that history is ultimately a complex network of stories. Stories which were not dependent on the written word, but instead passed through oral history. Some  likely told with intent to entertain, whereas others were of a more critical nature.  Stories which passed on the knowledge and wisdom necessary for survival. Stories which in effect activated sensory centers in the brains of our ancestors. Neuroscientists at Princeton University continue to uncover the connections, literally the neurological connections in our brains, demonstrating how stories play a pivotal role in the development of such emotions as  compassion and empathy.

Marvin Harris author of Our Kind and Merlin Donald author of Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition believe Homo sapiens fully developed speech and a complex oral culture by at least 45,000 years ago. That means we have been telling stories for some time. Besides having an unequal ratio of ear to mouth, two to one, the printed word is a much more recent invention than the tens of thousands of years we have practiced speaking and listening. “When we’re reading, we’re using parts of the brain that evolved for other purposes, and we’re MacGyvering them so they can be applied to the cognitive task of reading,” explains Daniel Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and author of Raising Kids Who Read

Fantastically, according to the Human Journey, “About 6,000 sounds represent the spoken languages around the world and babies can recognize all of them.” In effect, some might claim that we are hard-wired to listen. Contrast this with learning to read, an ability that is not innate. Unesco details “despite the steady rise in literacy rates over the past 50 years, there are still 773 million illiterate adults around the world, most of whom are women.” That is close to a billion human beings without access to the written word! 

Where Might We Go From Here?

In a world seemingly built on acceleration, it is hard to imagine doing anything at 10x speed. However, meet the podfasters, a subset of podcast obsessives who listen to upward of 50 episodes a week. For $2.99 an app first released in 2016, called Rightspeed allows one to train their brain to listen to podcasts and audiobooks at speeds as high as 10x. For this to sound any different than chipmunks on amphetamines, requires dedicated training. A training regime to rival that of Evelyn Wood. Wood reportedly could read at a rate of 2700 wpm which means she would have turned the pages of Melville’s classic “Moby Dick” (209,117 words) in approximately 77 minutes. Or, take YOU. A future you who could “read” this article in 30 seconds!

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Why to Listen Like a Bird Watcher

What if we approached each day like a bird watcher? Poised, observant, and listening attentively. Such a sagacious approach might translate into a clear differentiation between a “digitally” connected world and what it means to truly be connected. Amidst the increasing prevalence of decomposing communities and growing isolation, it might do humanity well, or even just ourselves. Pause is necessary, as is examining the choices we make. Computers and cell phones, not unlike firearms, cannot and should not entirely shoulder the blame. Rather, it behooves us to closely examine whether we are using the technology, or if it is “using” us.  

Countless bowed heads stare at 5-inch screens, drowning humanity in ubiquitous distraction. A relatively recent “dependence” now is considered “normal.” An addictive habit arguably acts as interference in our ability to relate one human to another. Though not entirely true because one must consider how tech is utilized. Still, vying for our attention is very real. One recent report cites how our brain consumes 11 million bits of information every second.  Trapped in such a hurricane, might we return to center? Where possibly at the eye of such a storm is suspended madness; poise and high regard for the art of conversation.

A world of opportunity circulates all around us. If only we will look up in stillness. Like a bird watcher.

If only we will listen.

Like a bird watcher.

Listening is Difficult

One of the beauties about listening is that is free, and yet so rare. An equalizer of sorts, as listening, cannot be correlated with socio-economics, race, or politics. Though there are listening “skills,” to listen is more a question of willingness than technique. Seth Godin maintains that listening is difficult. “The hardest step in better listening is the first one: do it on purpose. Make the effort to actually be good at it.”

Five years ago I likely would have scoffed at the idea of relationships being forged in an online setting. Students would share how they had “friends” online that they gamed with, talked/chatted with, etc. An inkling of intrigue often led to my asking an array of questions, a desire to understand this “phenomenon” better. Yet, I always grew a little more than disbelieving. The start of a COVID school year online, however, offered my own experience and a window into what it was like to develop relationships online. At the time there was a disagreement about whether or not students should be required to show their faces. Forced as it was, sometimes coaching students to appear on screen was required. All the while, it was interesting to consider how much we might value seeing a person if we are speaking with them. Did it have something to do with visual cues provided to indicate whether students were truly listening?

A Sense of Belonging is Embedded in Re-Imagining Learning 

Fast forward a few years as I dove deeper into the “waters” of what it might be like to develop relationships in an online setting. One big difference was that students elected to enroll in the online course. Of equal importance was that Global Online Academy (GOA) was not “just another” online educational platform. Behind GOA was a vision for a new educational system eager to adapt to students, rather than asking students to adapt to educational systems in decay. Their mission is to reimagine learning to empower students and educators to thrive in a globally networked society. A component of this reimagining learning includes teacher competency to build collaborative communities. Students should not feel isolated but instead, invited into communities that are built on trust, care, collaboration, and high expectations. A place where students feel connected but also empowered. More equitable systems and structures are embedded in such a design, in an effort to create a more socially just world. Learning to listen is a cornerstone and one strategy employed throughout GOA courses are routine opportunities for students and teachers to connect via Zoom meetings. Never under the auspices of a lectured approach, synchronous time is regarded as “gold.” Student and teacher locations span the globe, and such collaboration allows for new perspectives, as conversations are infused with differing cultural and life experiences. Wellsprings waiting to be tapped, however wholly hinged on a willingness to listen. 

Video Use as a Medium to Build Relationships

A routine assignment employed in the GOA course I facilitated was video reflection at the end of a module. The power of these 2-dimensional recordings can not nor should be underestimated. After the second video, I felt like I knew some students better than I sometimes knew students in an in-person setting after a year. Why? A degree of the power could come down to a distilled approach, the essence being conveyed. But also a greater degree of willingness to be vulnerable as students just looked at the camera and talked. Without the worry of what the listener might be thinking or might say. 

Surely we all have found ourselves at one time or another, thinking about what we are going to say in a conversation and not really listening. Wanting to take OUR turn. However, in this case, it’s a talking head approach. Linear, from A to M (or maybe Z!), with no stops or interjections of the listening. 

To truly experience relationship building requires an honest willingness to listen to students talk for, 5-minutes at a time. Simon Sinek asserts the need for change so the focus is on input and not the customary output. Maybe a bit of an investor mentality is what is required. To listen to a 5-minute video is not much. However, multiplied by twenty students, suddenly requires nearly two hours. And how often do we just listen for two hours? 

Understanding that conversations, like relationships, are not one-way, meant I often responded in video form. This too takes time but has the potential to pay huge dividends. To build relationships but also provide the necessary quality of feedback students can learn from. Often congratulatory but also balanced and encouraging growth. For example feedback on the important role of feedback, “Abigail I understand how you do not want to come off as critiquing someone and I appreciate this. However, you have so much to offer and what might help is if you are intentional about separating the individual from the work/art/assignment. We each have our perspective and I’ve seen how you can offer truly valuable feedback.”

This video exchange approach spurs the conditions ripe for developing a community and a sense of belonging. These relationships developed out of conversations follow a different rhythm, however, are incredibly rich. Possible because we truly are listening to each other. How many students have a chance to share with a teacher for five uninterrupted minutes? And how many receive five minutes of personal and specific feedback?    

This is special. A reimagining of methods of learning which truly create belonging and empowerment. Methods aligned with the acumen of Brene Brown, “We have to listen to understand in the same way we want to be understood.”

A Difference Between Hearing and Listening

I wonder sometimes if certain students listen just so they can speak. The beginning of each school year requires a bit of time to develop a community unwilling to tolerate speakers interrupting each other. This is similar in Zoom and yet the presence of lag seemingly builds in a tendency to be more patient and wait for your turn to speak. To listen with true intent requires slowing down.  Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds shares, “We need to practice the art of talking with intent and, more importantly, the art of listening with intent.” Adding earnest in our lives, as we trade an ounce of narcism for a pound of that which extends beyond ourselves. This does not mean abandoning the likes of Instagram, nor must we be hard-pressed to develop listening habits overnight. Instead, a growing consciousness of the power of being present is required. As well, equal parts intentionality and habit, as we move beyond mere hearing. In Dr. Kristen Fuller’s “The Difference Between Hearing and Listening,” she emphasizes how “Listening requires empathy, curiosity, and motivation.” 

Tis’ the Season to Give the Gift of Our Time and Attention

One might hear the morning bird song out the window.

Then, make a conscious choice to slow down, remove distractions (yes, that cell phone!), and listen. 

If only we will listen.

Like a bird watcher.

To truly listen to the birds may just result in a calming of the nervous system, as well as a greater sense of connection. Such a choice need not cease with the birds. Think what might result when we begin to listen with intention to each other! The choice is ours. 

Why not slow down, be present and give the gift of our time and attention?

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