Why learning programmes should be text instead of video or audio

Many learning programmes come in audio or video format. Text instead of video or audio, however, works better if you’re trying to educate people. Here’s why.

It is certainly true that different people learn best in different ways. For one, the ideal way might be hearing, for the other, seeing. In fact, the best way is through as many senses as possible, feeling being one of them—in this connection of course meaning writing things down.

If, however, we are talking about online learning or e-learning, as it is sometimes called, text instead of video or audio will be most efficient.

1. Text saves time

When you are listening to people speaking, you are forced to progress at the speed their speech dictates. Moreover, when people are speaking, they tend to use a lot of filler, that is, umms, errs and wells, which, while rendering the speech natural, slow down the speed of the discussion.

If your reading speed is normal or high, you can read a lot faster than listen to the same text in spoken form. (If you want evidence, read this post aloud, time it and then compare it to the time you spend reading it.)

A case in point: I recently came across a learning package distributed free on a company’s site. It included three videos, each one an hour long. This means you would have to spend a quarter of your waking time just to go through those materials. If the content were given in text format, its “intake” would probably take just an hour. As a side note, I am not talking about a transcript, but the same content designed for text output in the first place.

2. Text is searchable

The point in learning materials is that you can search for a particular subject or passage. If you’re online you can simply use the Find command to find the item you’re interested in. This is totally impossible in audio or video programmes. Printed text also enables you to mark passages that are important to you, and online, you can create bookmarks for quick reference later on.

3. Text is compact

Particularly in view of e-learning, access to the materials is important. Audio and video files are usually very large in terms of megabytes. They are slow to download, prone to disturbances while downloading and quickly fill up your hard disk.

Text files, whether PDFs, DOCs or HTML, download in a fraction of the time required by audio or video files. Text materials are usually also better organised as providing content in written form requires a much more rigid pattern than audio or video. In other words, text is lower on filler than speech and a moving image.

4. Text doesn’t cause accidents

A common argument for audio materials is that you can listen to them while commuting to work or on a car trip. True, but if the purpose of your listening is to learn something, it requires concentration. If you are focusing on understanding what is being said, it takes your concentration away from other, possibly more important things, such as following the traffic around you.

5. Text provides better context

With video or audio, you cannot skip forward and backward to orientate in the surrounding material, as you can with text—a minuscule eye movement allows you to check what was said on the previous line or what is going to follow on the next line.

6. Text is portable

Text is easy to carry with you. Compared with audio or video, you don’t need to carry a device nor find a network connection to gain access to the material. A printout lets you scribble notes in the margins and highlight passages you find important. Your notes and highlights turn the text into a sort of mind map, which helps quick recall when you are returning to the material for a second time.

In conclusion, while audio and especially video may be all right for short how-to type instructional material, any more extensive learning material should be delivered as text.



When you’re interested in why you should use text instead of video in content marketing, read Bob Scheier’s blog post Five Reasons Why Video Stinks in Content Marketing.

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