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Speaking Volumes

Feb. 18th , 2014

I recently came to the conclusion that I never really learn much from books. If I was to rank the ways in which I actually learn it would look a little like this:

  1. Having a go myself
  2. Having it demonstrated
  3. The internet
  4. Books

The first three are, in some way or another, conversations. Even when I think about other people explaining things to me I'm really thinking about having my specific questions answered, not being talked at or presented to; not being lectured. And it's the same with the internet. I don't mean that I learn by reading whole websites. I mean that I use search; I have a question and I search for the answer.

Sometimes search brings me into the world of other people trying to understand the same things, and allows me to follow their own quest to find an answer. For me this shared experience is a key part of learning. When we learn from others in a similar position we get both answers and empathy. We find a solution and we connect with it. When we discover that answer for ourselves it's even more powerful.

Questions, answers and empathy seem to be fundamental to my learning experience, which is why being fed learning doesn't work for me and why the authority of the educator isn't enough. I admire expertise but I don't necessarily learn from it. Especially written down.

In this respect it seems that the most promising element of ebooks is far from being realised. We have the technology to connect over books and go on the same journey with others but it's not really happening; margin notes are a poor substitution for conversation.

I still enjoy books and in reality most reading experiences are about more than just information. But few things in our lives have changed as little over time as books. Most technological advancements have been about the business model of books rather than their format. If we'd put as much effort into the learning experience as we have the commercial aspect, what would books look like now?