Research Finds That Speed Learning is Possible, But Only Up to a Point

As society progresses at an ever-increasing pace, most individuals hope to learn at a similar rate. Learning, or comprehension, varies from person to person. While speed-readers and double-speed listeners seem to process information faster, are these people actually learning? A new study from UCLA provides some fascinating insight into how fast we can process information.

Background: Learning with Speed

Most people would like to learn more quickly, primarily because our society is performance-based. The faster and better you can perform, the more success you’re likely to have. This process is easily reflected in the U.S. education system. Students excel by memorizing and learning things quickly, such as college exams and even career tests like the Bar Exam.

Fortunately, speed learning, like speed reading, can be taught. WikiHow provides simple methods for developing speed-reading habits, like training your eyes to make fewer movements. Similarly, speed-listening is also a skill one can develop and hone over time (an example might include listening to podcasts at 1.5 or double speed and retaining the information). Training the brain to comprehend words faster allows a listener to get comfortable with speed-listening. While speed-reading and speed-listening can help save individuals time and energy, how much knowledge is gained in this process? New research suggests that a lot of learning is possible, but up to a point.

Analysis: The benefits of Double Speed

To understand the process of speed-learning, researchers at UCLA developed an experiment involving college lectures. According to a paper published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, the researchers staged their experiment by surveying 231 undergraduates split into four groups. One group watched a college lecture at average speed, while each of the others observed courses either at 1.5, 2.5, or double speeds. The students were not allowed to pause or take notes while watching the lectures. Immediately afterward, the students took a quiz to test their comprehension. The group which watched the lectures at average speed scored the highest, followed by the 1.5 and double speed group.

The same groups took a second quiz to test retained knowledge one week later. The 2.5-speed group performed the worst, correctly answering only around 50% of the time. According to Dillon Murphy, the lead author and a doctoral student in psychology, “Surprisingly, video speed had little effect on both immediate and delayed comprehension until learners exceeded twice the normal speed.”

In a second experiment, one group watched a video at average speed, then another at double speed. A separate group did the opposite: double speed and then normal speed. A comprehension quiz showed that the normal then double speeders performed better. UCLA professor Alan Castel explained that individuals usually speak at a rate of 150 words per minute. The rate of a listener’s comprehension begins to decline when 275 words per minute or about double-speed is hit for speech.

Outlook: Double Speeds Need Limits

Knowing where the upper boundary is for speed learning is important for students specifically. “College students can save time and learn more efficiently by watching pre-recorded lectures at faster speeds if they use the time saved for additional studying,” Murphy noted, “but they shouldn’t exceed double the normal playback speed.”

Kenna Castleberry is a staff writer at the Debrief and the Science Communicator at JILA (a partnership between the University of Colorado Boulder and NIST). She focuses on deep tech, the metaverse, and quantum technology. You can find more of her work at her website: