Speedreading is a SCAM – Why speedreading is of no use

Yes, I am guilty of it too. Speedreading. Or ‘Spreading’ or whatever name you will give it. Speed reading is to read rapidly by assimilating several phrases or sentences at once (Google dictionary). What I have learned? It does not work. I believe speedreading is a scam and a fake tool to make people comprehend texts as fast as possible preventing to comprehend what actually is said.

There are several reasons for this.

  1. We have to question how we gain knowledge and that nuance and arguments is important.
  2. Speedreading equals to skimming/scanning texts in which we don’t get the full context of what is written.
  3. People initially see and hear what they want to.

Let us go over the list and at the end, you will agree with me, if not, put your thoughts in the comments 😉

I am interested in this topic, reading and comprehension because I am at the end of my studies. Reading and the ability to read is therefore very important. Without the ability to read and to comprehend not much can be done and certainly I won’t be able to give reason and arguments in debates.

I also see a problem in the TED talks and Chrome extensions that claim to read faster and better, or how to ‘read a book a day’. That it is possible to train your mind in such a way that it is possible to comprehend large texts with 250+ words per minute. Well. No. That is not going to happen. I actually tried that and failed miserably.

Knowledge, reading and comprehension of nuance and arguments

Knowledge is not something that happens to fall out of the sky and that you suddenly ‘get it’. Knowledge is produced in a series of events. Gaining new knowledge is a process of learning, but, how do we learn?

There are several main branches that underscore how we learn. One ‘school’ is called behaviourism and that implies that ‘wrong’ is punished and ‘correct’ is rewarded. In that way, behaviour and responses can be altered. Students can sit in a classroom giving answers to questions posed by their schools and are forced giving the right answer from the textbook in order to get a pass – the reward. If students fail to give the right answer then that’s the punishment.

Is real learning stimulated in this way? Do students/kids/whoever actually learn the content in the right context with the right arguments? Or, are they blindly assuming the teacher to be right and that the texts provide either A, B, C, or D and that students learn to look for that only? Does it then ‘stick’ in their minds? Or is all forgotten after the A+ or B-?

The other school is called constructivism. They imply that learning is a natural process and that the student is in the centre who will have to show attention to what is facilitated. They discover themselves how their world is ‘constructed’ and adapt their behaviour to it because they, then, inherently understand what it is about. It triggers interest and motivation to know more as all knowledge should and must be questioned. This process needs facilitation and evidence-based of course, and that students develop the idea of critical thinking.

Knowledge is thus brought by experience (you for sure learn that a stove can be damn hot after touching it – for sure you won’t do it again), by reading and understanding what other people already knew and by discourse. In the last two, it is important to take your time. It takes time to read, to understand and to adapt it in your worldview.

For example:

“People are poor because it is their own fault and that they are lazy, they are not entitled to anything and have to solve their own problems.” 

This is one discourse of being poor. The blame is on the person. It is relatively easy to understand, but if this concept is new to you, then you do have to stop after ‘lazy’ and think about it for a while. Is that statement actually true?

“People are poor because they are vulnerable to shocks they cannot overcome and need temporary social assistance so they can cope and move on afterwards.”

That’s a whole different discourse. The blame is suddenly not on the people, but, the people in a specific context instead, in which they are not that social (or economic) secure with a higher risk of falling into poverty.

Did you just read the two examples again to make your own judgement?

I am sure that you are in favour of either of the examples and that is based on what you already knew before, how you lived your life before and what your experiences are. Behaviourism would by nature in favour of one and reward you for giving the ‘correct’ answer, while, if you truly understand the concept of being poor, your opinion might be very different. And that’s suddenly ‘wrong’?

These are just two sentences, which takes a second to speedread. If you would have, would your mind be that fast to contrast the two examples when these statements are something you normally don’t think about? Can you give arguments about why you are in favour of one or the other? Can you comprehend all the vocabulary that fast? Can you be open for arguments that might persuade you to change opinion?

This argument is not only in classroom learning. It also counts for reading fiction. In fiction also many worlds are represented, different outlooks on life, different thought-provoking plots, etc. Sometimes, or maybe a bit more, you will have to stop, re-read and comprehend to feel sympathy or rejection. Maybe you relate to a character, maybe totally not and the book is ‘worthless’. Speedreading won’t do the trick.

woman holding book
Photo by Dzenina Lukac on Pexels.com

Speedreading and skimming/scanning

There are different ways to read and each way, or type fulfils a different function. There are four types of reading:

  1. Skimming
  2. Scanning
  3. Intensive reading
  4. Extensive reading

With Skimming and Scanning, you already know what you want to know. That is in front of your mind and your eyes stop when you have found it. Intensive reading is, for example, studying, reading through notes, preparing for a presentation at work, something that needs your full attention so you’ll be more knowledgeable afterwards. Also if you reject what you read.

Extensive reading is reading for pleasure and the attention isn’t 100% ‘on’ all the time as the purpose is simply to enjoy! Still, there is context, nuance and pleasure in books. Speedreading cannot give you that.

Speedreading equals to skimming and scanning as it confirms what you already know; nothing new to ‘get out of the text’ and you don’t have the time to comprehend what you don’t know yet.

I’m sure, you, reader of this post, that you have a different reading speed as the one before or after you. That’s okay and maybe you read faster than average, which is fine too. People simply are different. However, the ability or experience with reading does not mean that a human mind is capable of comprehension at high speed.

At work, or school, or any other situation, of course, you’ll use a mix of these 4 types. One does go faster than the other and not everything needs to be read intensively. Adapting reading type and speed towards the specific situation is also not speed reading.

See what you want to see; hear what you want to hear

And that equally goes for reading as well. Partly explained in the other two points. Basically, it is a bias towards yourself. You hear/see/read something without full attention and you connect it automatically with your own experiences/knowledge and in that way losing the nuance or context how it actually is meant.

Social media and attention span

Another part of that is the ‘Twitter language’, or conveying a message in an easy to understand language in a limited amount of words with a picture to get attention. Whatever is expressed, it is the very tip of the iceberg and all the rest is underwater. You will have to know the person quite well to fully grasp where s/he is coming from. When you only read the last 240 words from a very long process to come to those chosen words, then the chance for polarization and enforcing own opinion is huge. The more words, the more nuanced, the more context, the better the understanding, the more empathy/sympathy, the friendlier communication is.

It is not pro-Trump or anti-Trump, speaking about polarisation on Twitter. Trump has his ideas coming from somewhere, supports a particular discourse. I do not agree with his discourse, however, I can imagine people not supporting him but agreeing on some of the discourse he is representing. The condition is, to read. Read and get to know what he is representing and reject the parts you don’t agree with to see which points you can agree with. That takes time, effort and patience.

apple applications apps cell phone
Photo by Tracy Le Blanc on Pexels.com

Social media is fast, in a rush, and if you’re not fast enough then the message is underneath of a whole pile of new messages. Meaning, there is no time to grasp what is meant/implied what you don’t see. Or, there is no opportunity to see it, unless, you know the person well enough.

That also results in a shorter attention span, as there always is something new.

We must re-learn to stop, to pause, to reflect, to understand, and see all our similarities despite the differences. That takes time, patience, attention, and a willingness to go beyond our own bellybutton.

That is why I am firmly against speedreading. I want to take time and pleasure in new things and new understandings.

I say: NO! to speedreading and yes to give attention to texts that it deserves.

selective focos photography of man in white sweater reading book
Photo by nappy on Pexels.com



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