More Podcasts Please!

My hunger for podcasts started when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which coincided with my “couch to 5k” challenge. I quickly got bored of listening to music and struggled to find new albums to really get into.

In this blog post I share my experiences with podcasts; listening and developing and the pros and cons.

Background

I started listening to podcasts for recreational purposes in 2011. Serial, season one, a podcast based on a true story that analysed the case of a murdered high school senior in Maryland. The story was so compelling and I couldn’t wait to listen to the next episode.

I’d never really engaged with the idea that podcasts could be used as an educational tool until I studied for my APM project management fundamentals certificate (which was roughly around the same time). My views on their educational value were strengthened when I studied for my masters; several of my lectures were delivered via podcast and one of my projects was to develop and deliver a short podcast, which I’d never done before.

Delivering stories and information using audio has been happening for decades via radio. The Archers, a BBC radio soap opera is a classic example. RSS feeds were (and still are to an extent) a popular method of subscribing and accessing audio on the internet. However, it’s the smartphone that has really been the big driver behind podcast accessibility (and the same could be said about audiobooks). These days, there are a plethora of apps available for accessing podcasts, many of which are free.

The beauty of listening to a podcast is that you can listen to them when you like, where you want. You can pause when you like and pick-up where you left off at a later date.

Podcasts for Learning

When I’m creating online courses, I like triangulate modalities. Of course, this is totally dependant on learning outcomes and suitability, subject matter, budget etc. But having something to read, something to watch and something to listen to is a pretty powerful concoction.

As a learner myself, there is nothing worse than finishing a day at work in front of a computer, only to have to study in front of it again in the evening. There have been times when I’ve been on a train and I don’t want to read; being able to consume information in an alternative format can be very refreshing. This is where my love for podcasts really solidified. During the pandemic, I started trying to find ways to learn new things and keep up to date with new e-learning trends and there are quite a few podcasts out there! (I will be creating a list in the resources section of my site at a later date). I found I could learn things during my workouts, doing chores or cooking dinner. I even discovered you can learn something about topics that are very visual and practical, for example, gardening. When done right it can be really engaging. The RHS gardening podcast is an excellent example of this.

Pros
  • You can deliver information to a wide audience very easily.
  • The learner can control when, where and how they access the materials.
  • Provides the learner with an alternative method of accessing course materials e.g. not just from their computers.
  • Can be used as an alternative way of delivering course materials such as lectures and presentations.
  • It can be quick and cheaper to develop when compared to other assets such as video and animation.
  • Podcasts can be used to reinforce concepts. Students studying topics in music and language benefit here.
  • Podcasts are very beneficial to people who have certain learning disabilities or visual impairments.
  • Once you have your initial setup and you’ve done a few podcasts, you can use this modality to create really quick learning resources. This is great if you are implementing resources for just in time learning.
Cons
  • Initial setup costs can be high
  • Quality can be an issue. Unlike video, which has a visual component, audio is just audio, so when it is badly recorded it can quickly become very annoying to listen to and you can lose meaning and context. It’s also not easy to fix bad audio and this could result in it needing to be rerecorded.
  • May require lengthy editing. When you podcast you start to pickup on; “erms” “ums” and how loud your breathing is! You’d want to edit out a lot of this.
  • When done badly, podcasts can be really boring! It is really easy to sound as though you are reading from a script (especially if you are the only person delivering the podcast) rather than a natural conversation. There is a bit of an art to recording audio.
  • Student feedback can be tricky to manage. If learners have any questions they will need to write you an email or post a message to a forum for clarity.
  • It’s easy for learners to disconnect from the material. If learners are doing something else while listening to a podcast they may miss vital information if their attention drifts to other tasks.
Tips and Tricks

I don’t personally record many podcasts – I tend to sound quite scripted! But I have been involved in the editing and development of several podcasts over the years. With the pandemic, podcasting has become more virtual with people recording over the phone or using zoom rather than in person. If this is the case I’d always recommend a backup recording; if you’re recording via zoom, also record your side of the audio with a microphone or something as simple as your smartphone. This gives you another audio stream to use in case things go wrong. It also means you have a secondary audio stream you can use if the quality is an issue.

My Equipment

I’m not a professional podcaster nor am I aspiring to be, so I don’t have a setup that matches a studio, but I would say that my setup is middle of the road and is usable for my purposes. If you’re just getting started or want to experiment with podcasting then I’d recommend the following equipment as a good starting point.

Having a good microphone is essential. I personally use a Blue Yeti Nano with a pop filter.

I primarily use Audacity for recording and editing. This is free, open source and easy to use. Although I have used Adobe Audition in the past too.

A large blanket is also handy to have! As silly as it sounds, this is really useful if echo is a problem, record under a blanket or in a wardrobe. It really does help, but isn’t a great option for long recordings in summer! In the past I have tried to create a recording studio out of a cardboard box and some foam, but it was an eyesore and not very easy to store.

Summary

More podcasts please! There have been so many lectures or presentations I have sat through where a podcast would have been a really great alternative. If a visual element isn’t needed, then consider a podcast. However, it is very important to note here that when creating podcasts for learning, they should be used as an accompaniment to course materials, not a substitute.

References

Below are links to some of the podcasts I have mentioned in this blog post:

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