Radio, we have discovered, has a sexy, younger cousin. Listening to a podcast is more intimate somehow, with audio delivered through headphones, without anyone else privy to the content. Listeners can choose their podcasts and remain loyal: they opt-in to listen. The podcast is personal.
In fact, podcasts are big business. The statistics are mind-boggling. In the US, Edison Research estimates that 46 million Americans over the age of 12 listened to podcasts on a monthly basis in 2015. In 2016, that number has increased by 23 percent to 57 million.
Data on Australian podcast downloads are difficult to source, however the monthly top ten podcast tracking data produced by Podtrac provides an insight into audience data from global audiences. The figures for these shows are impressive. The “Global Unique Streams and Downloads” per month for each of the top ten shows reaches into the millions; in fact the top six of the top ten have global download rates in the tens of millions. The fact that listeners must interact with the medium, i.e. choosing to download or stream the show, makes the figures more impressive. This is a change from the more passive act of listening to the radio. Podcast listeners choose all of their content.
Why are increasing numbers of digital consumers turning to podcasts? The answer lies more in the relationship that audiences are seeking with content. Social media has personalised media consumption and interaction – audiences expect to choose their content and engage on their terms. Podcasts are easily accessible and require little more than a listening ear and an inquiring mind – there is no need to focus on a screen or download gigabytes of visual data.
It is no surprise then that the podcast has gained in popularity. In the US, marketing companies are extolling the virtues of engagement by podcast as if they were the first to discover the power of audio. Scholars are debating a so-called ‘podcasting revolution’; academics are examining their contribution to digital media. There is no question that podcasts are innovative, allowing anyone with a microphone and computer to become a media content provider. But in the learning space, what are they for?
Like radio, the podcast creates a ‘theatre of the mind’. Imagination is a powerful tool when learning, creating new neural pathways that fuel understanding. The work of Edward de Bono, the originator of lateral thinking, is grounded in the brain’s ability to imagine its way out of problems, generating new ideas and solutions. Audio podcasts encourage the mind to immerse itself in new contexts, environments and concepts – they give the learner a chance to think, rather than merely consume.
From a pedagogical perspective, the evidence is ambiguous. According to one learning model (the Fleming VAK/VARK model) we can be divided into four broad categories: visual learners, auditory learners, reading/writing-preference learners, and kinesthetic or ‘tactile’ learners; though, studies are conflicting regarding how many people learn by listening. Some research has argued that auditory learners account for only 10 percent of the population as a whole. Despite this conflict, the idea that some people learn by listening is well-established, and podcasts are fit for this purpose.
The Australian Army’s Training and Doctrine podcast series is its first foray in this space and we are open to feedback on its content and mode of delivery. Together with Brigadier Mick Ryan and Major Tom McDermott, we are exploring new ways to use podcasting to deliver education with new perspectives on military training and experiences. If your unit is interested in exploring this medium as an educational and training tool, we’re keen to hear from you.
About the Authors.
Dr Sharon Mascall-Dare is a public affairs officer in the Australian Army Reserve and an award-winning BBC World Service radio documentary producer. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Journalism at the University of Canberra. She is the host and co-producer of the first season of the Australian Army Training & Doctrine podcast.
Mick Cook is an officer in the Royal Regiment of Australian Artillery and hosts The Dead Prussian podcast. He is passionate about encouraging critical thought on war amongst military professionals. He is the Director of Communications and Marketing for DEF Australia. He is also the co-producer of the Australian Army Training & Doctrine podcast.
Views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Australian Defence Force.