Podcasting for Learning “Podagogy”

(Not written by ChatGPT) 

There are over 4 million Podcasts registered worldwide. South Korea boasts the biggest podcast listenership, with the UK sitting just outside the top 10. Over 19.1 million Britons listen to podcasts and 40% of them are aged between 26 and 35.

The most popular podcast in the world is the Joe Rogan Experience, with 11 million listeners and although this show is 2 hours long the average length is between 20 and 40 minutes.

Whatever way you slice or dice the data, podcasting has become hugely popular, but does it have a role to play in helping us learn?

What is a podcast?
Simply put, a podcast is a digital audio file that can be downloaded via the Internet to a computer or mobile device for listening. It’s similar to radio in that it has an auditory modality but that’s where the similarity ends, podcasts are on demand, pre-recorded, broken down into episodes and the subject matter is targeted at niche audiences rather than mass appeal.

The growth in podcasts suggests they must be offering something their audience wants, maybe it’s just the convenience, easily listened to on a mobile device and short enough to be consumed whilst walking the dog or working out at the gym. This is certainly a factor but there is more to it than that.

Impact on Learning
When asked, people provide a whole host of reasons why they listen to podcast, for example, entertainment, to keep up to date, to relax, and for inspiration. But one of the biggest areas often quoted, is to learn something new. But the question is, how good are podcasts in helping people do this?

Let’s look at some research – In 2007 Kurtz, Fenwick, and Ellsworth produced a paper called,” Using podcasts and tablet PCs in Computer Science”, there conclusion, although podcast learners didn’t perform any better in the exam their project grades were substantially higher. But these were video podcasts, effectively recorded lectures with slides which is not really what we are talking about here. A far more relevant and conclusive result came from Abt and Barry (2007), “The Quantitative Effect of Students Using Podcasts”. One group of learners listened to six podcasts over six weeks, while the other group were provided with an exact transcript of the podcasts in printed form to ensure both groups had the same content. After six weeks, the groups were re-examined both taking the same test. The results were the same, the podcast group were no better, leading to the conclusion that podcasts provide little quantitative benefit over and above written text.

However, learners like them and when asked often say, they make content easier to understand and are very engaging. But it’s hard to conclude anything from the empirical evidence other than podcasts have a positive effect on learner satisfaction but little or no impact on performance. Even where some benefits have been shown they are more likely the result of encouraging better study habits than providing something valuable in terms of learning.

Visual and auditory memory
The above is not entirely surprising especially when you consider how memory works. Researchers at the University of Iowa found that when it comes to memory, we don’t remember things we hear nearly as well as what we see or touch.

“As it turns out, there is merit to the Chinese proverb ‘I hear, and I forget; I see, and I remember,” James Bigelow, lead author of the study at UI

The researchers found that although learners memory declined across all modalities when time delays grew longer, the decline was much greater for sounds, and began as early as four to eight seconds after being exposed to them.

Podcast are good for learning!
However this doesn’t mean podcasts have no role to play in learning, they do, but they need to be used alongside evidence-based techniques such as spaced and retrieval practice, interleaving etc as well as good teaching practices, for example using projects and group work. Imagine a 15m podcast in the form of an interview between two people debating the merits of putting jam on the cream or cream on the jam when eating a scone. If at the end of the podcast a task was set, maybe asking the learner to summarise what was discussed or prepare a short presentation of the key points, this would force the learner to listen several times, think more deeply about the task and what was being said, the result of which would be learning.

They can also be beneficial in the revision phase when the exam is just around the corner, for example, you could listen to key definitions supported by proven memory techniques such as visualisation, repetition and the use of rhyme. Talking out loud along with the podcast would also help. Why not produce your own podcasts, perhaps with another learner that can be listened to in the car or ask ChatGPT to write you a podcast script based on what you are trying to learn.

Podcasts do have a role to play in learning, they can help develop critical thinking by listening to a debate with counter arguments, the key is to engage, don’t be passive. However, audio as a modality on its own is not the most effective method of learning, but as another tool in the box, it’s worth having.

Kaplan – Learn better podcast
I have been hosting a podcast for the last two years for Kaplan and we are now in season three, in fact episode 22 was released this week. It is for a relatively niche market as is the case with podcasts but if you work in finance and would like to listen to some inspiring people, click here – enjoy.

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