Ask yourself: how divided is your attention right now? Are you already composing an email response in your head? Did you just add bread to the grocery list? Are you listening to music in the background? Or maybe a podcast?

If the latter is true, you may be aware of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History. The title of the second episode of season 3 is called “Burden of Proof”, which asks how much evidence is needed about harmful behavior before we act. It’s one of those provocative phrases Gladwell uses to tee up each of his essays, written or oral, that effortlessly weave seemingly disparate ideas, data, and anecdotes into a compelling conclusion. Gladwell has garnered international success with books like Outliers and The Tipping Point – success that has followed him into his recent jump to podcasting.

I just now tapped the button to start the “Burden of Proof” episode in the podcast app on my phone. No recording booth or TED talk stage… Instead, I am instantly in someone’s home – a bungalow outside Allentown, Pennsylvania. Gladwell describes in meticulous detail where we’re transported in order to orient ourselves to the story to come, to humanize it. The environmental sounds fade in, filling my ears with tangible ambiance akin to in-the-field NPR segments from the radio. On cue, two children scamper in the background, a dog collar jingling behind them. Someone rummages through drawers while Gladwell asks his first questions of the Thomas family, which kicks off a revelation about the death of their son, Owen. The parents’ voices are pained, desperate to rationalize what happened, their emotions clear.

Over the next 33 minutes, Gladwell presents persuasive facts and harrowing stories from families like the Thomases who have endured indescribable loss for reasons Gladwell ultimately ties together in a meaningful way. It’s an evocative and thought-provoking episode that challenged me to think differently.

Put simply, I learned something.

Podcasts Are Bigger Than You Think

We don’t often think about podcasts as a potential learning solution, particularly given our desire to have someone’s full attention. And as the visual design manager at BLP, it’s practically blasphemous of me to even suggest an entirely auditory medium as a learning tool. Where are the pictures? Where is the video? Podcasts aren’t as robust as instructor-led training; not as interactive as eLearning; not as immersive as virtual reality; nor as immediately helpful as other just-in-time resources.

“It’s just people talking,” you may think. “Who has time to listen to all of that?”

Evidently, 50% of all US homes. According to Nielson, 16 million people label themselves as “avid podcast fans,” perhaps because of the variety of offerings. Apple Podcasts features more than 500,000 active podcasts, including content in more than 100 languages, and those numbers are only growing. If you include audiobooks, the numbers are even more impressive. In 2017, audio book sales eclipsed $2.5 billion with 26% of the US population having listened to an audiobook in the last 12 months because “audiobooks help you finish more books.”

Do you know why? The Audiobook Publishers Association reported the top three reasons why people enjoy listening to audiobooks are:

  1. People can do other things while listening;
  2. Audiobooks are portable and people can listen wherever they are;
  3. People enjoy listening to others read.
Remember how I asked how divided is your attention?

At BLP, we talk a lot about the power of storytelling as an effective element to help people learn, and what better example of this than the audio version of a captivating narrative? It’s not just entertainment to listen to while multitasking either; after comedy, the next two most popular podcast genres are education and news. Podcasts are a way people are actively trying to stay informed, both at home, on the road, and perhaps most interestingly, while working. Spotify data reveals podcast streaming reaches its peak at around 4 pm each day during the workweek. Imagine if your workforce listened to your content during the day… 

3 Things to Consider When Implementing Podcasts

Hopefully, I have at least convinced you that several of your employees may already be primed to use podcasts to learn, despite competing forces for our attention. What are some ways you can implement podcasts into your training right now?

1.Embrace Mobile

While 49% of podcasts are listened to at home, 69% of Americans who listen to podcasts primarily do so via mobile. Luckily, in our 2018 Learning Trends report, we concluded that mobile learning adoption was finally speeding up to accommodate modern training approaches.

learning podcasts

The unique strength of podcasts is its hands-free, asynchronous portability. You can download them onto your phone to access later in the car, in the office, or in the field, without an Internet connection. Be sure to analyze your company’s technological considerations for such a rollout. But podcast-listening learners should already be accustomed to consuming mobile content.

2. Have Realistic Expectations

Podcasts are inherently limited. It is a one-way medium with no hands-on practice. Do not expect to fully train employees on a given subject via podcast lessons alone. Learning podcasts should generally be used as spaced microlearning opportunities to supplement meatier training materials. Use them as ongoing training touchpoints that extend beyond conventional training. Some examples could include:

  • Customer testimonials about the benefits of a product.
  • Leadership messaging to energize a workforce around a common goal.
  • Interviews with relatable employees about their experiences with the training material to tell a story.
  • Conversations with subject matter experts that allow for a deeper explanation of research studies, data sets, or other substantial resources that your learners may not have time to sift through at the computer.
  • Mock sales conversations highlighting the sales person’s thought process while handling a customer objection, positioning a feature or benefit, or where they could have improved in the conversation.
3. Production Matters

Podcasts may be simpler to create than ILT or eLearning courses. However, they still share many of the same substantial production considerations as a video shoot. It is important to have an objective for each podcast that will relate back to one of your learning goals, which you can document in the form of detailed outlines for an episode or fully written scripts.

Next, organize the talent and equipment needed for recording. Clean audio is paramount to reducing friction for listeners; be sure to test your audio equipment in the recording setting in advance to prevent poor audio quality issues.

Finally, just like with a video shoot, an editor should ultimately splice your audio segments into the optimal narrative you wish to tell. This is also where you can add music, sound effects, or other contextual information in post-production that enhances the listening experience.