Podcasts as a Learning Concept
Throughout 2019 podcasting has gained attention worldwide. Apple is hosting more than 700k shows on Apple Podcasts and Spotify has increased its market share as podcast-platform significantly. There seems to be a hype that is moving forward to become a sustainable business.
But let’s have a quick look into the history of podcasting first. The story began in 2000. RSS (Real Simple Syndication) had just been established as a technology to create and manage individual news and blog pages and with mp3 as an audio format the handling of digital music and voice recordings was somehow convenient and widely used. The combination of both – RSS and mp3 – made it possible to subscribe to audio content as well.
Some years later, in 2004, audio subscriptions got a boost when Apple integrated RSS and audio files in iTunes. In the same year the tech-journalist Ben Hammersley introduced the term “podcast” as a combination of the word “iPod” – Apples first portable mp3 player – and broadcast, the transmission of audio and video known from radio and TV.
First shows had been created by Adam Curry and John C. Dvorak with “No Agenda” and Leo Laporte’s TWIT podcasts – both still active.
In the USA as well as in Europe the number and quality of podcasts continuously grew year over year on a stable level. In 2014 the US-podcast “Serial” marked the starting point of another wave of new shows and podcasters who tried to make a business out of it. The US podcast community evolved much faster than Europe or Asia, however the number of shows grew significantly worldwide and new podcast labels and hosting platforms were started. One famous start-up business was “Gimlet-Media”, a network for narrative podcasts. The start-up story of Gimlet had been documented and posted as a podcast series – StartUp – itself which made the founder Alex Blumberg a star of the community and the young company a success. Finally, it got acquired by Spotify for $230 million in 2019.
The US market for podcasts in the US in 2020 is predicted to be up to $1 billion – twice as much as in 2019! In Europe and Asia/Pacific the commercialization is moving slower, but it has the same story – the business is growing and so is the number of shows. Especially in Germany this evolvement is a contentious issue in the community. There are concerns that some very positive characteristics of podcasts could get lost in the process of commercialization and platform business – as it happened to the blogosphere in the first decade of this century.
But where’s the link to learning? – You may ask now.
Podcasting was from its beginning a channel to instantly exchange knowledge and experiences! And this works extremely well because of the characteristics I mentioned above. Today 40% of the US podcast listeners subscribe to learning podcasts intentionally, in Germany it’s about 34%. Let’s have a closer look in what makes podcasts so special:
- Podcasts are very personal. You listen to people’s voices usually while wearing your earphones. No medium is closer to your brain and your thoughts. The proximity of the voices gives listeners a very immersive experience. When you meet a host of your favorite podcast for the first time, it feels to many people like meeting an old friend. This may as well be the reason why the way feedback is given and discussions take place, is much softer and more polite than it is in social networks and other discussion forums.
- Podcasts are a perfect medium for the niche. Podcasts can be produced fast and with low effort. This makes it possible to address small audiences. These audiences are usually very loyal and reliable. Once they subscribed to a podcast, they usually stay tuned. This encourages the producers to continuously deliver new episodes.
- Podcasts can be consumed while doing other things. Driving a car, riding a bike, cooking, running, going for a walk outside. All are activities you carry out while listening to a podcast at the same time. It’s the most mobile medium and if you missed some words, just rewind and listen again. This is not surprising when considering that language is one of the oldest and most successful cultural- and communication skill humans have. Podcasts may become a companion you don’t want to miss anymore!
- Podcasts take longer. The attention span is getting shorter and shorter – TicToc videos are usually only some seconds long. But that’s not the complete picture. At the other end of today’s attention span we find podcasts. Shows of 1 hour are the normal case. And podcasts of 3 or 4 or even more hours of duration are quite often bestsellers. People take the time to listen! Seriously!
- Podcasts are always up-to-date. The feed makes it easy to stay always updated. Once you subscribed to a show with your podcast app, you will automatically get the latest episodes pushed right into your playlist. You will not miss anything.
These main characteristics make podcasts in the learning domain to be a format to learn new things or to stay current in different topics. Let me give you one example. Together with the SAP UI5 team, we decided to launch a learning podcast pilot in 2018. The basic idea was to give a general introduction into what UI5 basically is, what the main concepts, tools and frameworks are. In addition, we wanted to inform the developer community about new innovations and changes in technology and usage. All this worked very well, and we got great feedback from the community. But we went a bit beyond this concept of “knowledge transfer”. The podcast was presented at the main community event, the UI5Con in St. Leon Rot in 2018 and 2019, where some hundreds of developers, consultants and experts meet and exchange. We reported what happened, talked to participants on site and had interviews with SAP experts, customers and consultants. This was the chance to become a part of this community. One great feedback we’ve got was that one young man applied to SAP to become a UI5 developer after having listened to the podcast!
This example shall depict the huge potential of podcasts in the world of learning. It is so much more than just a formal learning format such as learning-videos or traditional web-based-trainings. It builds a personal bridge between the experts who have the knowledge and the learners. So, it’s obvious that this perfectly connects likewise with networked learning concepts and informal learning. And it can act as a supplement of e-learning and classroom trainings.
At SAP Knowledge & Education we early saw the potential of podcasts in learning and together with the openSAP team we could present the first “learning shows” produced by quite a few enthusiasts. Now openSAP is investing in a completely new podcast platform as well as a production and publishing service to support knowledge podcasts addressing external and SAP internal audiences at the same time.
To summarize, here are the main arguments for using podcasts as a learning concept:
- Fast and easy to produce
- Established medium and widely used
- Builds on existing publishing and consumption channels (Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podcast apps, …)
- Creates a close relationship between learners and experts
- Helps building and supporting a community
- Works well for basic conceptual knowledge and continuous updates
- Supplementing other learning formats and concepts
For those who want to learn more on podcasting and especially using them as a concept for learning, here are some links and resources of this blog post:
openSAP podcast landing page (https://open.sap.com/podcasts)
UI5 NewsCast (https://open.sap.com/static/ui5-newscast/)
Education NewsCast (https://open.sap.com/static/education-newscast/)
History of podcasting (on Wikipedia) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_podcasting)
No Agenda Podcast (http://www.noagendashow.com/)
TWIT Podcasts (https://twit.tv/shows?shows_active=1)
Serial Podcast (https://serialpodcast.org/)
StartUp Podcast (https://gimletmedia.com/shows/startup/episodes#show-tab-picker)
Gimlet Media (https://gimletmedia.com/)
Spot on Podcast Study, 2018 (https://www.ard-werbung.de/spotonpodcast/)
ARD/ZDF-Onlinestudie 2019 (http://www.ard-zdf-onlinestudie.de/)
Trendmedium Podcast Study (https://www.splendid-research.com/de/studie-podcasts.html)
Audio and Podcasting Fact Sheet (http://www.journalism.org/fact-sheet/audio-and-podcasting/)
The Growth of Podcasts and Why It Matters (https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/306174)
Podcast-Consumer-2017 Study (https://www.edisonresearch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Podcast-Consumer-2017.pdf)
Podcast-Consumer-2019 Study (https://www.edisonresearch.com/the-podcast-consumer-2019/)