Saturday, March 3, 2018

If You Are an eBook Reader and Care About Learning

As longtime readers know, I love books. My husband and family can tell you that "love" is not overstating the case. For decades, I carried a big purse or backpack almost everywhere to accommodate the books I might need to read while waiting at the store, at the train station, for a sister after school,... If I didn't have a satchel of books, I always had at least one.

Then 2010 happened and I developed sudden-onset chest pain caused by autoimmune inflammation of the connective tissue in my ribs and sternum. By the time we found a medication strategy to manage that better, I had developed lumbar and sciatic pain. And so on and so forth until today, when I still have multiple areas of daily chronic pain that make my old habit impossible.

While I still enjoy physical, ink-and-paper books most of all, I can only read them when they are on a bookstand at eye level. Consequently, I was an early adopter of the Kindle e-reader and upgraded to the even lighter Kindle Voyage with built-in light before our 2015 Alaska cruise. My Voyage (code name Dawn Treader) goes with me almost everywhere, and Amore and I both appreciate that it allows me to read myself to sleep at night without a book light burning all night or until I wake up to turn over. When we travel, I can take hundreds of books with me, including a half-dozen study Bibles and some commentaries, and it doesn't break anyone's back or incur an extra luggage fee.

That's the good part.

Here's the not-so-good: I do all right reading fiction or even biography on my Kindle, but I have found it difficult to digest and retain non-narrative nonfiction content on the smaller screen without an easy way to flip forward and back to scan the chapter headings and so forth. I highlight sections and sentences, but the best way I had found to review themwais to use Bookcision to export Kindle highlights for a book I wanted to review or found especially quotable. The series of excerpts here from The Shepherd Psalm last year utilized that app for me to review, select, copy, and paste into blog posts. That still requires intentional effort and time, and it is a book-by-book process.

Enter Readwise. My husband saw an article about this new app (so new it's still in the beta version) and said it sounded like my kind of thing. Although I was skeptical that it would be that much different from Bookcision, I decided to give it a try.

Y'all. It is sooo good.

It was easy to import all my Kindle highlights (although I do need to go back to the Readwise dashboard periodically to sync new ones). One can also import iBook highlights, clippings from Kindle documents, and manually entered passages (such as from a physical book). The highlights are searchable and taggable with the reader's own custom categories, keywords, and themes, like an organized, digitized commonplace book. One can also mark highlights as favorites. All these features should prove very helpful in future research and writing

One of my favorite features so far, however, is the daily digest email. Every day, Readwise sends me an email with 5 randomly selected highlights from the 7 years' worth books I have added to the app. Perhaps I should say "providentially selected," since these have been the most encouraging thing in my inbox on some days.

This is an excellent feature for more than just a daily dose of encouragement, however. It could be a big difference-maker in my long-term retention of the eBooks I read.

Last summer, I listened to (and took notes on) the audiobook Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. That evidence-based approach to long-term retention of what we learn told me that a lot of what I thought I knew about learning was wrong. It also explained why some strategies I stumbled upon for myself in school proved so helpful. Two of the key strategies were spaced repetition or practice and interleaving.

Spaced repetition is fairly self-explanatory. Learning a subject or technique or piece of music in a single intensive period of practice and mastery only achieves short-term retention. To maintain that learning more permanently, review and repetition are necessary, and they are most effective when some time has elapsed and forgetting has occurred. The Readwise daily digest provides a low-effort way to accomplish this with my eBook consumption. Some of the daily highlights are from books I read in January; others are from 2011. I've definitely had time to forget that content!

Interleaving means switching from one subject or topic to another before mastery of any of them have occurred. In my nephew's baseball practice, for example, he will achieve more long-term mastery of the skills if he practices 15 minutes on his batting swing, 10 minutes on fielding balls, 5 minutes on his throw, etc, and then mixes up the order and proportion the next time. Devoting one entire practice to each skill produces much less mastery over time. In the same way, the Readwise digest emails remind me of information from 5 different books, maybe even 5 different genres of books. Today, for example, included a theology book, an Andrew Murray quote on prayer, a sentence I admired from one of the Hawk and Dove novels, a passage of biography, and a thoughtful book on how to use words well in our present culture.

That diversity also invites me to think back to the context of the quote and why I decided to mark it, which is a kind of self-testing and forced recall (a third Make It Stick strategy for long-term learning). The Readwise team is working on some additional features that will intentionally incorporate the principle of "retrieval practice." In addition, the manageable daily selection of highlights provides a natural opportunity to tag and favorite the quotes for future use.

The Kindle Voyage and Make It Stick links above are affiliate links; i.e., purchases made soon after clicking them will generate a small percentage referral fee to me. Otherwise, I do not reap any material benefit from sharing these thoughts with you. Readwise did not request it and will not compensate me for doing so. I just love learning, really love it. Many of you do too, so I wanted to share this new tool that I truly believe will help us learn more effectively from our eBook explorations.

To my thinking, that is a matter of stewardship. I have spent so many hours of my life reading; if Readwise can help me remember, use, and share the best of that content better, it can help me glorify God and edify His people.

Happy reading, crumbles!

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