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Parkin Space: Podcasting in Training


Godfrey Parkin
In the autumn of 2004, I wrote a brief guide for TrainingZONE on podcasting, suggesting that this would rapidly become a useful tool in the training world. Eighteen months later, with podcasts proliferating from the BBC, CEOs, neighbourhood gossip bloggers and marketeers, it seems like at least for knowledge transfer the podcast has gone mainstream.

But podcasting is still controversial and largely misunderstood in the training world. There are those who look on podcasts as nothing more than upgraded audio cassettes or books-on-CD. Their objection is that there appears to be nothing new to justify all the fuss. Others will avow that passively acquired audio-only is an ineffective medium for learning, so podcasting must be a retrograde step, even if you can now podcast video and images too.

Then there are those who see accessibility issues looming – what about learners who don’t have an MP3 player? On the other end of the spectrum are the techno-zealots who, predictably, over hype podcasting as a revolution in learning. But in the middle are an awful lot of people who are quietly just getting on with it, and are making learners rather happy.

As for the view that iPods are like CDs or cassettes: is TiVo like a VCR? Is BitTorrent like the BBC? Just because the digestible output is similar does not make the user experience or the benefits the same.

Yes, the end product is audio content, but then you get that from the telephone, the radio, and the towne crier. Where podcasts differ, and they are significant differences, is in:
1) Their ease of creation and immediacy.
2) Their disintermediation of lengthy and expensive supply lines.
3) Their ability to time shift delivery.
4) The user's ability to seek and even automate acquisition of only those targeted pieces that are of interest.
5) The ease with which they can be integrated into other web 2.0 resources such as blogs, discussion forums, communities of practice, and so on.

Try doing that with a commercially produced and distributed cassette system.

What about the argument that audio-only is a poor training medium? Well, that may be true for many subject or skill areas. But it’s not necessarily a poor learning medium for many other fields. You can’t blindly accept the conventional wisdom that you retain only ten per cent of what you hear, and make sweeping decisions about all learning on that questionable precept.

It's alternately amusing and annoying that bogus "statistics" like the "10% from hearing" notion manage to embed themselves so deeply in the folklore of training.

Many have no academic study behind them; others have questionable studies to support them; others may have a sound study or two in the background but have been widely misinterpreted or misapplied. We all like simplistic rules by which to manage our work, but often what we take as fact is nothing more than gross generalisation at best, pure mythology at worst.

Podcasts will be created badly and used inappropriately by many, but this is true of any technology that enables (democratizes?) content creation - PowerPoint, web video, the digital camera. It was only a few years ago that the august professors at Stanford were putting talking-head videos of actual lectures online and selling it as e-learning.

I have wasted a lot of time partially listening to bad podcasts. They suffer from fuzzy audio, atrocious speaking styles, muddled structure, and often simply incorrect content. But, as with other resources, you learn to discern good from bad, and you select those sources which are useful to you.

There are a lot of things that I would not choose to learn in an exclusively audio mode, but I find that podcasts are a very convenient way to stay in touch with what is going on in my fields of interest. Being able to hear the voices of people who I respect adds a dimension that holds my attention, often better than their written words.

It's not easy to podcast well, even if the technology is simple and you have well designed content to convey. I've made many attempts, and find I just don't have the voice, but I keep on experimenting.

I can see a time in the next year or two when podcasting skills training will appear in the catalogues just as presentation skills training or webinar skills training does. Now there's a business opportunity for someone …


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