The Secret Power Of Audio Learning

Audio learning is a powerful yet woefully underused resource in education today. How many songs can you remember the lyrics to? Someone only has to start humming a few bars and you can probably jump right in and sing along. Some estimates are that people can do this with hundreds or even thousands of songs!

Put together, that’s enough words to make a pretty hefty novel, but if you were asked to memorize a novel word for word you would probably think it was impossible. Why is it you can learn just as much material almost perfectly without even trying, but the thought of memorizing a 500 page book seems impossible? The answer to this question is the power of audio learning, and the more you can incorporate it into your own study, the better off you’ll be and the sooner your grades will improve.

The US State Department has been using this for decades to teach their Foreign Service officers new languages. Commercial companies have used the same ideas for language-learning systems of their own. Unfortunately, the expense of producing these products is high so these systems often cost upwards of $300 or more. Cost is a big reason that audio learning isn’t more widely used. Between recording studio fees, royalties, and distribution, the cost pushes the price point beyond what most people are willing to pay. This is too bad because many people can benefit from audio learning tools.

On the other hand, much of the educational audiobook products that are out there are not very well designed. They amount to little more than someone reading you a textbook. One of the reasons you can memorize so many songs is that the learning is both passive and interactive. You not only listen to the songs but you sing along, either in your head or out loud depending on where you are. If you look at the best language-learning tools, they use an interactive approach. As you’re looking for audio learning products or recording your own, be sure you make it interactive to take full advantage of its potential.

In order for audio learning to be truly powerful, it too must be both passive and interactive. Neurologically, this careful balance puts the brain into a hyper-retentive state and triggers the primitive limbic portion of the brain to allow the information to be put immediately into long term memory. Some learning specialists refer to this as the “test effect,” and it’s easy to demonstrate: how many questions that you missed on a test can you still remember? Even the interactive action of taking the exam and receiving feedback plugs in to our limbic brain and our emotional response to it help firmly plant it in our memory. Even the commercial language programs tend to fail at the emotional aspect of retention, but if you can design your own in such a way that it’s emotionally rich you’ll reap more benefits.

The other reason songs stay with us is that we listen to them more than once, so audio learning is most effective if we have multiple repetitions of the material. This repetition is critical and some audio programs have based their entire existence on taking advantage of spaced repetition. These programs went a little overboard and made their products so repetitive that they sacrificed amount of content in lieu of repetition. Be sure to incorporate repetition in your study aids, but don’t go overboard.

Medical students and other professionals are prime candidates for harnessing the power of interactive audio learning. They not only have to memorize countless pages of information, but they face continual examination where they must recall this information or be unable to practice. The also have very limited extra time, so any additional study must be squeezed in between myriad obligations. Audio learning isn’t just for medical professionals; anyone can benefit from its awesome power.