How to get the most from your e-reader.
Most people are e-reading enemies until they truly read their first e-book. I remained an enemy fifteen books in.
Building on my education expertise, I’d argue you can’t interact with your Kindle as you can with your physical book. You can’t dog-ear your favorite pages, scribble your questions in the margins, or sketch out the concept you just learned.
And while these arguments still hold true, technology-assisted learning makes most of them irrelevant. Now that I discovered how to use my Kindle as a learning device, I wouldn’t trade it for a paper book anymore.
Here are the four steps it takes to enrich your e-reading experience.
1. Highlight Everything You Want To Remember
No worries, I know researchers proved highlighting to be an ineffective learning tool. In fact, I join the canon against highlighting as a learning technique.
And yet, highlighting your e-book’s phrases is the necessary first step to create your learning experience. Here’s why.
First, highlighting will slow down your reading speed. This is a good thing, as researchers from San Jose State University have shown that people tend to skim through the pages when reading from a screen. But you don’t want to skim. You want to deep read the words in front of you.
Plus, your highlights form the original material for your learning experience. And this is also why, against common wisdom, you shouldn’t limit your highlights to a specific number. Instead, move your fingers over any piece of content you find worth remembering.
2. Cut Down Your Highlights In Your Browser
After you finished reading the book, you want to reduce your highlights to the essential part. Visit your Kindle Notes page to find a list of all your highlights. Using your desktop browser is faster and more convenient than editing your highlights on your e-reading device.
Now, browse through your highlights, delete what you no longer need, and add notes to the ones you really like. By adding notes to the highlights, you’ll connect the new information to your existing knowledge. You’re engaging in what learning theory calls elaborative rehearsal.
Using the Kindle Notes browser app saved me about an hour per book. Before, I browsed through all physical book pages to locate the pages where I added my thoughts. While this practice was fun, it didn’t add up to my learning experience.
3. Write a Quick Review To Summarize Your Insights
Now, trimmed down your highlights and elaborated on the best ones. Ideally, you only have the quintessence with some personal notes left. You’re all set for the learning fun.
The first thing you want to do is writing a quick review, for example, on Goodreads. While it’s nice to show you’re friends what you’ve read, this exercise is about testing what you remember.
Here are the three questions you want to recall from your memory:
- How would you summarize the book in three sentences?
- Which three things do you want to keep in mind?
- Which concepts will you apply in your life based on your new knowledge?
Watch out to not copy/paste your highlights or building on other user’s reviews. If you don’t do the brain work yourself, you’ll skip the learning benefits of self-testing.
What you want to do instead is to retrieve the concepts and ideas from your own memory. By thinking about the concepts, testing yourself, you’re creating an effective learning experience.
4. Use Spaced Repetition to Remember What You Read
This part is the main reason for e-books beating printed books. While you can do all of the above with a little extra time on your physical books, there’s no way to systemize your repetition praxis.
But before I show you how you can connect your Kindle to a spaced repetition software, allow me to explain why this learning technique is so powerful.
Spaced repetition helps you prevent your brain from forgetting. Research has shown that repeating the same information ten times over different days is a better way to remember things than repeating the same information twenty times on a single day.
By revisiting the same things regularly at set intervals over time, you make the new information stick to your long-term memory. And that’s what makes spaced repetition one of the most effective learning methods there is.
Readwise (no affiliate, no partnership) is the best software to combine spaced repetition with your e-books. It’s an online service that connects to your Kindle account and imports all your Kindle highlights. Then, it creates flashcards of your highlights and allows you to export your highlights to your favorite note-taking app.
Buy Your Next E-Book While Reading A Great Book
All of the above is only useful if you read the right book at the right times. Books that hold the potential to improve your understanding of self, the world, or your entire existence.
And to find these kinds of books, you need to plan what you e-read.
Buying a book on your Kindle when you just finished a book and desperately need a new one is like going into a grocery store while starving. Everything will look delicious, and you will end up buying shit.
Out of the 129,864,880 books, there are, most will be, not worth your time.
So instead of following your Kindle book recommendations and compulsively buying a bestseller, keep ownership of your book selection. Goodreads, Gatesnotes, Ryan Holiday’s booklist, and Mortimer J. Adler’s appendix are a great place to start.
While many people use e-readers these days, only very few turn them into learning devices. By following these steps, you’ll enrich your e-reading experience and get the most from what you read.
- Highlight everything you want to remember.
- Use the kindle notes page to cut down your highlights to their essentials.
- Write a quick Goodreads review to summarize your key learnings.
- Use Readwise to remember what you read.
- Buy your next e-book before finishing your current one.
Instead of feeling discouraged by all the ideas about how you can improve your learning experience, enjoy experimenting at your own pace. Keep the steps that work for you and screw the rest.
Choose one or two new e-reading habits until you find a pattern that helps you on your journey to health, wealth, and wisdom.
Sign up for free to the Learner’s Letter to get weekly insights on reading, learning, and growth.