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We all know what it's like to suffer from information overload. From books to the multi-channel television universe to the internet, more information is delivered faster than ever before to people all over the world. With so much material to wade through it is easy to drown in information, says Professor Helen Amoriggi, Integrated Studies in Education. "The teaching of reading hasn't kept pace with the technology."
Photo: Claudio Calligaris
Amoriggi has just presented the results of an international study on reading at the 2003 Book Conference in Cairns, Australia. For ten years, she worked with a total of 900 subjects, ranging from military academy officer cadets and university student athletes to multi-national executives and government officials. She raised funding from the private sector and conducted research in English in Saudi Arabia, New Zealand, India, the U.S. and Canada.
She says subjects in the study were trained in a reading productivity program, that from the private sector, applied to speed reading, listening and taking notes. The subjects were divided into two groups: one got no training, the other group was taught learning skills such as reading print and electronic print, how to listen and how to take notes. Amoriggi found that teaching these skills lead to improved performance in every area.
Amoriggi began this research because she was troubled that so many of her education students were struggling with study skills. "Students had problems studying, listening and taking notes. They had problems with reading and with comprehension of the material. I became increasingly concerned with the reading rate of university students. Speed reading has incredible benefits whereas slow reading is frustrating and leads to difficulty in understanding the material." Most people read at the same rate at which they speak, which is about 240 words per minute (wpm). Amoriggi predicts they will have to read faster than 1000 wpm to handle all the required reading material by the year 2020.
"Often, a teacher may complain of a student, 'He just doesn't listen,'" says Amoriggi, "but in fact students are not taught how to listen. I found an article dating way back from 1926 that emphasized the importance of listening skills, and many more in ensuing years. It just never made it into the curriculum." She feels strongly that changes need to be made in how the system trains teachers. "University students are very intelligent. That's not the problem. The problem is that they never received the proper training in the necessary study skills."
While the reading productivity program Amoriggi worked with is designed to be learned over a number of days, she has some suggestions that we may want to try immediately. One of her most important findings is that we need to develop the visual system to help us remember what we read.
Amoriggi recommends that right-handed computer users manipulate the mouse with their left hand. "To start developing the right hemisphere of the brain, use the mouse with the left hand and leave the right hand free to take notes. In other words, you must develop the visual system (right side of the brain) for recording, storing and retrieving information on cue."
It is also helpful to follow text with the finger as we read, like most of us did when we first learned the skill.
She suggests we print out information in columns, as found in newspapers and most magazines, and to use the same format when we write things down.
Amoriggi believes the information overload we complain about is just the beginning. "It is going to worsen by 2020. The reading load is becoming increasingly demanding; technology is moving faster and faster. From the reader's point of view, the most important conclusion from this study is that in order for readers to cope with the inevitable, ever-exploding reading and email overload, they must become super-fast readers, to say nothing of effective listeners and efficient visual note takers."