The Death of Reading As We Know It

The Death of Reading As We Know It

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What follows is a message that everyone needs to hear regardless of how close they might be to retirement. Most of the people reading this post grew up communicating with text. That’s why today, most schools continue to focus primarily on learning how to communicate with text. Meanwhile, quite some time ago, in the world outside of school, communicating solely using text was superseded by visual communications.

The younger generations have been raised on multimedia. For them, visual communications have become the new standard –  the new normal. And things haven’t stopped there. The world has moved even further – beyond visual communication to a new video standard. Students today are using video production tools that as little as ten years ago would have cost millions of dollars to buy – but which today are free or inexpensive.

The younger generations’ world has fewer words and a greater number of images.

As a result, the younger generations’ world has fewer words and a greater number of images. Their brains are wired for the fast delivery of content, data, and images from computers, video games, and the Internet. This is why students are quickly moving beyond Google to YouTube. Current research had clearly demonstrated that unless you’re in the top 10% of readers and writers, you learn far more quickly and efficiently – and you retain far more information – by watching a video and then talking about what you’ve learned as opposed to writing an essay about it.  Case in point is the eight-year-old boy from Ohio who taught himself how to drive on YouTube, then packed his young sister into the car and drove successfully to McDonald’s without incident.

What’s known as picting or pixting – taking pictures and video rather than writing and reading – is increasingly the literacy of today’s youth. To the younger generations, words are an add-on – images are primary. In K–12 classrooms, today’s students spend 90 percent of their time with text-based materials – and 10 percent of their time with image-based materials. Outside the K–12 classroom, they spend 10 percent of the time with text-based materials – and 90 percent of the time with image-based materials using Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and dozens of other easy to use apps.

As just one small example, about 30 percent of millennials in the United States visit the Snapchat app at least 18 times per day – and they spend roughly 30 minutes a day using Snapchat – and about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day consuming media – or approximately 65% of their waking hours. The same trends toward visual learning show that games outperform textbooks in helping students learn fact-based subjects such as geography, history, physics, and anatomy, while at the same time games also improve visual coordination, cognitive speed, and manual dexterity.

That’s why some schools are now opting not to teach handwriting – and instead they’re letting learners use digital devices to record their progress using a range of different media. Many kids are completely immersed in the world of full motion video that they watch for both entertainment and to learn. And as a result, in less than a generation, many of our students have moved from simply being viewers or consumers of media to being prosumers of media – simultaneously consuming and producing media.

Amongst the younger generations, visual communication is challenging the supremacy of traditional reading & writing.

So what’s my point? You might not like what I’m going to say next, but you need to hear this. You need to understand that amongst the younger generations, visual communication is increasingly challenging the supremacy of traditional reading and writing. While reading and  writing will always have a place, in an increasingly visual world, visual communication and design must be an everyday part of the curriculum. Not just for senior students – but for students at every grade level and in every subject area.

Modern digital media has fundamentally changed the essential skills we all need to be informed consumers and producers of media in the world today. Students and teachers alike must be able to communicate as effectively in multimedia formats as we, the older generations, were taught to communicate with text and speech when we were growing up. Don’t get me wrong – the 3 R’s are still essential, but in the modern world, traditional literacy is no longer enough.

We all need to understand how differently modern readers read digital text from the way the older generations read traditional paper-based text. As a result both students and teachers alike need to understand modern information communication skills such as the principles of graphic design as well as how typography  shapes thinking – the effective use of colour – the principles of photo composition -sound production techniques – and the fundamentals of video production – not to mention how we use all of these skills to effectively communicate to different audiences.

The bottom line is that in the new digital landscape, traditional literacy – traditional reading and writing – is no longer enough. There are new basics of modern communication needed by all of us – not replacing traditional reading and writing…at least not yet – but rather augmenting traditional communications skills. As a result, in the very near future – for all of us – expressing ideas by creating a simulation or video is going to be as important if not more important than being able to write an expository essay.

December 2017
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