What Sounds Interesting? Podcasting and Learning Styles

Yesterday, while I was reorganizing my storage loft, I was catching up on listening to some podcasts. I realized something: One advantage of podcasting is that sometimes complex topics become more comprehensible and resonant when explained in a human voice, rather than by text.

One of the oft-cited disadvantages of podcasts is that you can’t really “skim” them – that is, it generally takes 30 minutes of your precious time to listen to a 30-minute podcast. And if you stop listening early, you may miss great stuff that came later in the show. Many people find this frustrating. Sometimes I find it frustrating, too.

However, the human voice can be incredibly powerful and effective – and sometimes this can offset the inconvenience of the time that listening requires. For me, this happens often enough that I keep finding podcasting a compelling medium, even though many individual shows or episodes don’t offer me much value. It’s the pearls that make it worthwhile.

Here are two such pearls I found yesterday…

First, I was listening to episode 35 of The Watt, a blog and podcast on wide-ranging energy topics by Ben Kenney. In that show, he offered a lengthy but engaging discussion of why we should think carefully about, and discuss and address, the world’s energy situation. It’s basically an introduction to the overall theme of his show and blog.

Here’s the thing: I’m very familiar with energy issues, both from my journalistic and editorial work, and from my own interests. None of what he said was news to me. However, by listening to Kenney talk through how some important points are interconnected, and the significance of those interconnections, I “got ” this topic at a new level. And I really think it’s because I was listening to him talk – and maybe even because his discussion was informal and included a fair amount of his personal perspective as well as facts. All of that conveyed to me a new level of context and urgency for matters I’ve largely taken for granted.

Maybe that experience is somewhat unique to me, since I happen to be mainly an auditory learner. Which brings me to the second pearl offered up by my MP3 player yesterday.

After The Watt, I listened to show #26 of Diary of a Shameless Self-Promoter, by Heidi Miller. (Full disclosure: She’s a client of mine.) This episode was peculiarly timely for me, since in it Miller interviewed Eve Abbott, “Organizer Extraordinaire.” Bear in mind I was still organizing my storage loft while this show came on.

The content of this show resonated for me much better, I think, because I was listening to an animated discussion between two highly competent and intelligent women. I got much more from than than if I’d read an article (even a Q&A interview) covering the same points.

Therefore, I was delighted (but not too surprised) when I took the free online learning style assessment mentioned in the show and found that I’m primarily an auditory learner. It makes sense. I do read a lot, of course – but somehow I always seem to “get” complex topics better when I hear people discuss them. Especially when that discussion is fairly informal or conversational. Deadpan lectures put me to sleep.

Anyway, I just wanted to congratulate Miller and Kenney on these effective shows.

Also, I’d like to ask people to consider that although not everyone enjoys listening to podcasts, those of us who are primarily auditory learners might be getting the most benefit from this new medium. Consider that your target audience is comprised of individuals who represent a mix of learning styles. Doing even an occasional podcast might help you establish a connection with the part of your audience for whom sound resonates more than text. And we count, too.

3 thoughts on What Sounds Interesting? Podcasting and Learning Styles

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  1. Amy:

    I completed agree about Podcasting. I’ve recently discovered audio books (yes, I know they’ve been around forever, I just recently got turned on to them) and I listen to them fanatically in my car. I find that the content tends to hang with me longer when I’ve heard it, rather than read it, and I seem to integrate it better. Thousands of years of oral tradition can’t be wrong, I guess.

    Any tips on getting started in Podcasting? Do you have an article on that?


  2. As a matter of fact, I do have a relevant article, Beth! See: How to Receive and Listen to Podcasts.

    Also, an easy way to get started listening to podcasts which came out after I’d published that article is the free online service Odeo. I haven’t actually played with it much myself, but I know people who use it and they say it’s pretty easy to use. So it may be a good introductory tool.

    – Amy Gahran

  3. I think we need to be careful, though. I’m much more visual-verbal (read: books) than auditory. I’ve been listening to podcasts more often for three reasons: 1) learn about podcasting, 2) get important information and ideas, and 3) try to train myself to be more auditory. I think we need to remember ALL learning styles as we design instructional material.