A chat about eLearning, technologies and reading improvement
Marc Slater is an entrepreneur and computer programmer and the CEO of eReflect, a well established eLearning company from Australia teaching students better typing, reading, spelling and vocabulary skills.
I’m glad he has accepted my invitation to take part in SpeedReadingLounge’s interview series about people active in the field of elearning and, of course, speed reading. Grab a drink, lean back and enjoy our talk about reading efficiency.
The interview is structured into roughly three parts. The first part will focus on reading in general, the second one is about Marc as a person (jump), the third part is about his work and activities (jump). If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments or contact me via email.
Marc Slater on Reading Improvement – Part 1
SpeedReadingLounge.com (SRL): Marc, thanks very much for taking part in this interview. I’d like to start with a straight forward question. What does the phrase ‘speed reading’ mean to you? What distinguishes it from ‘normal’ reading?
Marc Slater: Put simply, speed reading is reading significantly faster than average. There is no specific speed you need to read at to be considered a speed reader, but I would consider a minimum of 300-400WPM (words per minute) to be reasonable.
SRL: 300-400WPM sounds quite achievable and to put it in context, what is actually the average reading speed of a literate person?
Marc Slater: There are different numbers out there, but most agree that the average person reads at around 200 words per minute. Of course, that would vary on how the reading test is done, how complex the reading material is, and many other factors.
SRL: Ok, that is almost twice the average speed. How fast would we get by practicing seriously?
Marc Slater: There are many things anybody can do to increase their reading speed. Reading ability is a mix of “nature” and “nurture”, but it’s certainly not all nature. I.e. we are not simply born with a fixed reading speed, and there is a lot that anybody can do to get faster. When people learn some basic techniques , and eliminate some common bad habits, increasing from 200WPM to 600WPM is very common.
SRL: That sounds promising and easy but I wonder if that applies to everyone: Is the reading speed limited by our potential, our educational background or anything else?
Marc Slater: All these things play a role, but I don’t consider them limitations. Most of the things that faster readers are doing can be learned by anyone. Of course, there are some exceptions where people have learning disabilities that affect reading, and those need to be reviewed by a professional before attempting a fast reading program.
SRL: Great. We can learn most of the skills, but need to eliminate unwanted reading habits too. What are the most common habits that prevent people from reading fast? Can they be overcome without special training – just by self-education?
Marc Slater: The most common habits are:
- Subvocalization – saying the words in your head or out loud as you read.
- Regression – unnecessarily going back and re-reading text.
- Single-word fixations – only recognizing a single word at a time.
It’s absolutely possible to improve these with self-study, and, there are dozens of researched and field-tested exercises that help people achieve this.
SRL: There has indeed a lot of research been done on reading skills, however, in this era of smartphones and tablets, the number of readers, especially among the youth, is decreasing. How can ‘speed reading’ encourage younger generation to read, or read more?
Marc Slater: I would like the younger generation to experience the magical feeling of getting lost in a book. The feeling you get when you’re reading, but you forget you’re reading and you start seeing the story in your mind’s eye. As it happens, when you get that feeling, you’re not subvocalizing, you’re not regressing, and you are reading multiple words at a time. Those are the same techniques we teach in Speed Reading.
SRL: Talking young generation, what is the earliest age a child can start practicing fast reading?
Marc Slater: A child can start as soon as they have some basic reading proficiency. Usually this is age ten and up.
SRL: If this can all be trained and people use more technology, how will we read or process information in the future?
Marc Slater: I think reading will be with us for a long time to come, and it certainly won’t become obsolete in our lifetimes. However, there is currently some very exciting research in brain-computer interfaces. It’s likely that one day people will be able to somehow plug themselves into a computer and receive information directly.
A Bit More About Marc Slater – Part 2
SpeedReadingLounge.com (SRL): Having spoken about reading improvement in general, what is actually your own story of learning to read faster? How fast can you read?
Marc Slater: My background is in software engineering, psychology, communication, and marketing – I’m not a speed reading expert personally. I started this journey because I was dissatisfied with my own reading speed. At that time, I studied leading experts like Kathleen Hawkins and Abby Marks Beale . I also read several great books on the topic.
Through my study, I was able to increase my reading speed from 200 words per minute to 650 words per minute. During my journey, I was very disappointed with the options for software – which were generally basic and unhelpful. As CEO of a self-development software company I felt this was a great opportunity to help our customers. So, we got in touch with some of the world’s leading speed reading experts and worked with them to create 7SR.
SRL: 650WPM is a good achievement. Do you still improve your reading speed? Please explain why yes and why not.
Marc Slater: I studied speed reading intensively for about 3 weeks initially. And later I also studied everything we built into 7-Speed-Reading. Fast Reading is not something I keep practicing. Once I learned how to fix my bad reading habits , my reading got faster and it stayed that way. A good program should teach the best concepts well so they are with you for life. I.e. once your bad reading habits are gone, they should be gone forever and not come back.
SRL: What’s driving you forward? What did inspire you to create eReflect?
Marc Slater: eReflect exists because the world needs software companies that are focused on self-improvement. Before eReflect, there were many seminars, books, courses, and schools devoted to learning and improving one’s life. But there were no software companies focused on this. If you think about it, software has the potential to be much more powerful than all these other things. At eReflect, we are driven by idea that we can improve people’s lives and careers, and make them happier.
SRL: Mentioning phrases like ‘improve people’s lives and careers’, who has been your own teacher or mentor?
Marc Slater: In person I’ve been lucky enough to be friends with some very successful business people who have helped me along the way. My family have always been very supportive, especially my father who is an experienced business person. And finally, I consider authors to be mentors – I’m an avid reader of books on business, self-improvement, and technology.
SRL: I agree reading offers a huge opportunity to tap into other people’s experiences and also grows your own knowledge and problem solving skills. What if someone has experienced a disappointment in learning to read faster? What if a failure discouraged them to keep on trying? What would you like to tell them?
Marc Slater: Don’t give up, try something different. There are many different strategies and techniques in speed reading. Start with one and focus on that for a few days. If that doesn’t help then try a different strategy.
Work Activities – Part 3
SpeedReadingLounge.com (SRL): Based on my experience, eLearning software can be very beneficial to help people improve their skills. Why is it beneficial in your opinion?
Marc Slater: eLearning tools can utilize a lot more technology to help the users when compared to traditional tools. Examples include tracking progress, adaptive learning, using multiple learning strategies, and more.
SRL: You have been developing eLearning software (reading improvement, vocabulary, typing, spelling) for nearly a decade now. What are the most important features eLearning software should have?
Marc Slater: In my view the most important that e-learning software be results-driven, motivating, and purpose-built. To be results driven, the software should focus on the best practices and technologies to deliver a real benefit to the user. It should also incorporate teaching from the best experts in the field. To be motivating, the software should incorporate multiple learning strategies, be fun and easy to use, and engage the user.
SRL: True. To be motivating, it should also come with a good graphic design.
Marc Slater: That’s right. The third thing is to be purpose built. The software should be built from the ground up to meet a specific need. For example, if you want to build the best speed reading software, you can’t use a generic app that simply plays lists of videos and gives simple quizzes. There are so many more things that are needed such as exercises, tracking of reading speed and comprehension, reading goals, etc.
SRL: Indeed. However, technology is also developing fast and changes the way we use software. What does the future hold for eLearning software? Are virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies serious options here?
Marc Slater: Virtual reality and augmented reality hold great promise for e-learning. Right now, these technologies are still in their infancy, and it’s going to take a while for the industry to figure out their best applications. At eReflect, we are keeping a very close eye on all new technologies.
SRL: Would artificial intelligence be a realistic option to create interactive eLearning software? What would the learning experience be like in your opinion?
Marc Slater: Artificial intelligence and machine learning have many possible applications in e-learning. We are currently looking at a project that uses machine learning to predict a user’s score in a standardized exam, and to help them study the right things to improve that score. That is just one example of many possibilities.
SRL: It sounds futuristic and it is actually not at the same time. Independent from AR and VR, there are many software and courses promising fascinating results if we choose them. Is there anything you would ask our readers to be aware of and be cautious about to avoid future frustrations?
Marc Slater: Yes, speed reading is sometimes considered controversial. I would be very skeptical of anybody promising results that seem too good to be true, such as (for example) extremely high speeds or being able to “photo” read an entire page in a second. We have investigated all areas of fast reading and have not found any evidence that these outrageous claims are possible. The good news is that if you stick to the best practices, it’s very reasonable to go from 200WPM to 600WPM, and often even faster.
SRL: Reading applies to so many different texts: non-fiction, fiction, scientific material or reading just for entertainment or and fun… What’s different in teaching speed reading to students, professionals and for leisure?
Marc Slater: The core concepts we teach in fast reading apply to any genre. For students and professionals there are also more advanced skimming, memorization, and study techniques. 7-Speed-Reading teaches both the core and the advanced techniques.
SRL: Is there actually a contraindication to speed reading? I mean, not a medical one… Perhaps there are times we should not read fast…?
Marc Slater: Yes, if you’re trying to understand an extremely difficult or abstract concept, then speed reading does not really apply. In this case, it’s your understanding of a concept that is the bottleneck, not your reading speed. For difficult or abstract concepts, there are other strategies that can help such as mind maps and structured note taking.
SRL: What would be your simplest tip to give to readers that wish to start improving their reading performance?
Marc Slater: Try our free tool at spreeder.com. That will give you an almost immediate boost in reading speed, and will allow you to prove to yourself how powerful speed reading really is.
SRL: One of the mostly discussed issues in speed reading is reading with comprehension. How to read faster without ruining our comprehension of the text? How can 7-Speed-Reading help address this issue?
Marc Slater: When speed reading most material, you can maintain or increase your comprehension. The faster you read, the easier it will be for your brain to form a “complete picture” of the material, which is great for comprehension. In addition, 7-Speed-Reading (7SR) teaches multiple techniques that allow you to increase your comprehension. The only exception is highly technical or scientific material. For example, we wouldn’t recommend speed reading Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity. However, it’s possible to speed read most of what you encounter in real life without sacrificing comprehension.
SRL: Should speed reading as a skill be part of public education?
Marc Slater: We think it would be of great benefit to students. So in short, yes. We have numerous schools that have purchase the EDU version of 7SR, and their results have been fantastic.
SRL: How would you encourage educational institutions to take further steps or open up for the topic?
Marc Slater: A great way would be to do a trial speed reading course with one class, then survey the student to gauge success. Most schools who do this are immediately sold on the idea of speed reading.
SRL: Reading fast can certainly improve the quality of our life by enabling us to read more in the same amount of time. How much does it cost to learn to read faster? What if someone cannot afford it? Are there any options for these people to get involved?
Marc Slater: In addition to our paid services we also offer several free services. Our free app Spreeder.com is a great place to start. We also have a free course users can sign up to at 7speedreading.com. Finally, we have a pro-bono option for schools that are in disadvantaged areas.
Thanks Marc, Just 3 More Questions 🙂
SpeedReadingLounge.com (SRL): What are the books you would advise every person to read?
Marc Slater: For someone interested in business and success, I would recommend the following: ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People’, ‘Think and Grow Rich’, ‘The Lean Startup’, and anything by Peter Drucker.
SRL: What book are you reading right now?
Marc Slater: It’s a bit boring, but right now I’m reading a book to help our EDU sales team better reach out to schools – “Smart Selling on the Phone and Online”
SRL: What would you advise those who dislike reading?
Marc Slater: Understand that reading is the difference between winning and losing. It gives you the ultimate access to our collective human experience, wisdom, and knowledge. Find a topic you’re passionate about and start with that. Start with a small commitment. Try to read for 5 minutes every day and moving up from there should be easy.
Marc, thanks you so much for this inspiring interview. And, to all readers, if you have any questions you might want to ask Marc, please use the comments below.
Questionnaire: Mark Ways, Anna Aghlamazyan
Note: All questions have been answered by Marc Slater.
Disclosure: SpeedReadingLounge.com is not receiving any commissions on sales of above mentioned software and tools generated through this interview.
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