By. M. Asher Stephenson
Podcasts are typically an entertainment platform; listeners tune in because they enjoy the content. But you can do a lot more with audio content than just entertain.
Fewer and fewer people take the time to sit down and read or watch videos, and there’s a growing interest in mobile information. If you’re invested in learning — in the classroom or in the office — podcasts can help you deliver educational content in ways that traditional content can’t.
Audio is a common tool in educational environments, so when we talk about podcasting as an educational platform we’re talking about podcasting as a complete model. That includes the production, distribution, and syndication methods that come with it. In traditional educational environments, audio is consumed on-platform or distributed directly to the student. Podcasting, on the other hand, lives on the web; it’s available to both students and non-students and it serves as both an education tool and content marketing.
Podcasts in a K-12 Environment
Educational software development moves slowly and the student experience of the content is generic. Traditional audio content in educational environments lacks identity, and students rarely connect strongly with the educators they listen to. Since student-teacher relationships play such a strong role in how effectively they learn, traditional educational audio can underperform in comparison to direct instruction.
Podcasts are built on personality and dialog. They’re conversational, reflective, and they focus on information synthesis over information presentation. Even technical podcasts enjoy large audiences and high rates information retention because they generate interest and engagement with things that people would otherwise ignore.
That’s perfect for the K-12 environment. Student engagement is a constant struggle and media diversification is a proven method for increasing access. Podcasts are an affordable media type that can be produced and distributed on a variety of scales, and they can be produced continuously to provide up to date material for educational audiences.
As episodes are produced, they can be used as evergreen content for designed curriculums and as a part diverse media library that can be assigned on a per-student level depending on interests and needs. This is where the continuous production model of podcasting truly differentiates itself from traditional educational platforms, as it allows for more experimentation and the ability to follow up on episodes that are well received — both at-release and later on when the content is distributed to new audiences.
Podcasts as Stand-Alone Educational Content
Podcasts, as ed tech, can function as more than just an educational supplement; podcasting can be seen as an educational platform, too. Podcasts, produced separately from specific educational programs, create consumer-accessible materials that establish social proof and serve as business-to-business marketing materials.
Outside of the K-12 environment, podcasts can supplement software documentation, development environments, business operation models; in most situations where you’re trying to educate a diverse user base or audience, podcasting can play a role.
Auditory analysis and synthesis is an integral part of learning, but outside of the classroom, most learners are supersaturated with text-only resources. Podcasting, as a platform for educational content, provides a functional model for producing content that changes that balance while working with the ways modern consumers prefer their content to be formatted.
Getting Specific: Technical Ed-Tech
You can already find podcasts about most popular programing and markup languages, and they provide a solid roadmap for how podcasts can work as an educational platform. These podcasts make technical topics interesting by borrowing educational techniques, and they make a great case for doing the reverse.
By applying podcasting techniques to education you provide information synthesis, helping listeners who are focused on information-in-application. A podcast isn’t just a lecture on tape; it’s a conversation, where listeners are exposed to people processing and applying information in a controlled environment, giving them access to how the field they’re interested in actually works.
You can see this in effect with podcasts like yayQuery and The Laravel Podcast. You can see it in a broader application for the education industry in Cult of Pedagogy and Schooled: The Podcast. These shows mix conversations about the “industry lifestyle” with directly applicable tricks and techniques. They help listeners navigate on-the-job obstacles, while still providing entertainment. Our own podcast, EdTech NOW, covers the intersection of reading, tech, and authoritative online learning sources, be they articles or YouTube videos.
Where to Start
Putting it into practice, the most important part is sustainability. A podcasting plan that only looks a few months ahead lacks the structure necessary for an effective curriculum. Flexibility is beneficial, but not at the cost of a clear plan. In this aspect, it’s better to trend closer to traditional educational planning at first.
There’s a difference between podcasts for the education industry and podcasts that educate. If you’re looking to use podcasting to create an education platform, however, you can combine aspects of both to create a richer (and more sustainable) media archive. By moving between focused series on educational topics and broader mid-season industry snapshots you can connect to two kinds of listeners (industry-focused and topic-focused) and explore the overlap between the two.
Guest hosts and media collaborations, where pertinent, should be established well in advance. The podcast production schedule often allows for recording multiple episodes sequentially, and that should be taken advantage of when access to expert guests is available. Maintaining a buffer of 2-3 episodes separates production stress from marketing stress, allowing for a clearer focus on the relevant work and for a tighter topical integration between episodes.
Do deep research. Talk to podcast producers. Get insights from them about the production process. The personalities of the podcast hosts you work with will shape the style of the show, and looking for examples on the market (even outside of your industry) that match that style will help you develop a consistent plan. Try podcasting. It’s a remarkably flexible media format and a great way to engage niche audiences.