Audio Learning – It Works & You Should Offer It!

photo of ear Sandy Weaver Carman, Voicework on Demand, audio products, audio learning, audio books, writer, speaker, trainer, coach, author

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Audio learning. Humans have been using it since the dawn of time. Long before cave men and women drew pictures on their walls, they were passing along their history, their talents and their wisdom via audio learning, otherwise known as storytelling.

Oral learning – audio learning – was around long before books, long before recordings and long before the internet. But with so many people looking for information online, it’s time to see if audio learning is something human beings still seek and use, or if it’s gone the way of the Dictaphone. (And if you don’t know what that is, think “audio dinosaur.”)

You’ve probably heard or seen a speaker or trainer cite this “fact:”

We remember…
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we say
90% of what we say and do

It’s a neat list of how we learn, all tied up with nice, round percentages and no science to back it up. Turns out, it’s just not true.

A study commissioned by Cisco Systems’ education department and performed by the Metiri Group tried to track down the genesis of the learning list. Researchers ran into dead ends. The study is interesting for another reason: it illustrates the value of multi-modal teaching. There’s no “one size fits all” way to learn, just as there are no neat categories to sort learners into.

According to a report published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, the publication of the Association for Psychological Science, the idea of different learning styles was basically debunked. The report, authored by a team of researchers in the psychology of learning – Hal Pashler (University of San Diego), Mark McDaniel (Washington University in St. Louis), Doug Rohrer (University of South Florida), and Robert Bjork (University of California, Los Angeles) – concluded that the “science” behind the studies of learning styles was flawed. When an objective method was used to assess learning styles, the conclusions didn’t support the idea that some people are visual learners, some auditory learners and some had to learn by doing. The researchers don’t dispute that multi-modal training works, just the theory that you can separate people into “learning camps” based on the way their brains work.

You can, however, help groups of people who learn differently than you do. I discovered this when I was in 7th grade. My Social Studies teacher asked me if I would provide audio learning for his students who couldn’t read well, so couldn’t follow along in class. I remember being surprised – I didn’t know that some of my fellow students in middle school couldn’t read. But it was very flattering to be asked, and I was delighted to help, reading the textbooks onto audio tape so those non-reading students could listen and follow along in their books, learning the material and hopefully learning to read in the process. Unbeknownst to me, this activity was my first in a long life of audio product creation!

I don’t have any research to back this up, but I believe that we humans learn best depending on what else is going on while we’re learning. A quiet room is conducive to learning by reading, but sitting on a train or in a busy waiting area isn’t. Audio learning works better there, where visual stimuli can catch the eye, but not the entire focus, of the learner. A workshop is great to help people learn by doing, but even there, audio learning is important to help attendees grasp the material.

Since audio learning is ingrained in our DNA via our ancestors, the cave men and women, and since some people can’t or won’t read, it only makes sense to be sure and offer our materials in audio form. Since multi-tasking has become a way of life, we have to be sure that we are reaching our audiences where they are, not where we want them to be. Offering material in written, audio, and even video form gives our clients and potential clients the ability to choose how they will use our materials.

And when you let the client choose, you win. It doesn’t matter whether they choose your written products, your audio learning products or your video products, you win because you’ve made a sale and broadened your audience.

Do you have a question about audio products? I’d love to hear it, and maybe answer it right here. Helping people monetize their content is what we do!


Sandy Weaver Carman CEO, Voicework on Demand, Inc. I partner with writers, speakers, trainers and coaches, taking work they’ve already done and turning it into a revenue river. Ready to get your feet wet?


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