Matuschak, Why Books Don’t Work
As a medium, books are surprisingly bad at conveying knowledge, and most readers don’t realise it. [...] How might we design mediums in which “reading” is the same as “understanding”?
- One implied assumption at the foundation of the medium of the book is that people absorb knowledge by reading sentences.
- After reading whole books, often people find they remember only a few sentences
- Books (and lectures) do not have an explicit theory of how people actually learn things
- There is a reason solving problems, writing summaries, doing projects work to make us learn—they are leveraging a truth about our cognition.
- There is an implied deep theory about cognition: to understand something, you must actively engage with it.
- Both books and lectures, as mediums, operate under the faulty assumption that knowledge can be transmitted—known as ‘transmissionism’.
- There are ways to use the book as raw information that can then be absorbed using a combination of techniques; specific reflective strategies which are necessary to absorb information, but are not the default. Take notes. Discuss with others. Write an essay in response.
- Employing these require the reader runs their own feedback looks and understands their own cognition (known as metacognition).
- These metacognition strategies and feedback loops are useful for people who are familiar with the content and have the relevant metacognition skills, otherwise they detract from understanding of the material.
- The reason people enroll in university courses, as opposed to reading textbooks themselves, is the course handles the metacognitive burden by offering a scheduled scope and sequence, so students need to do less planning of their own. Feedback is available through instructors too.
Matuschak, Andy. ‘Why Books Don’t Work’, 2019. https://andymatuschak.org/books.