Podcasts provide a new way to package up audio recordings for learning purposes. While tapes and CDs do provide reasonable sound quality, they are difficult and expensive to duplicate and distribute, whereas podcasts need only to be edited, converted to MP3 format and then distributed online.
While a single podcast can be easily accessed online for playback on a PC or Mac, the real power comes when you distribute your podcasts using a subscription service through software such as Apple’s iTunes. The software will then automatically download each new ‘episode’ as it comes available and, if required, copy this to the user’s iPod or similar portable MP3 player. The next time the user is out and about, perhaps commuting to work or on a business trip, they will be able to listen to the latest podcast without having to be involved in any way in the mechanics of download and transfer.
However sexy the technology, a podcast is still just an audio file, limited in content to speech, music and sound effects, and without any in-built facility for interaction. Having said that, audio material can undoubtedly make a contribution to the on-going learning process, particularly when used as part of a broader programme of interventions. Podcasts are particularly well suited to interviews and panel discussions, which tend to be much more compelling to listen to than monologues. If in doubt, try to copy the techniques used on radio programmes, which rarely rely on a single voice.
- at their best when they use an interview or discussion format, are not tightly scripted, are kept short or divided into several short sections;
- best avoided when restricted to a single voice, when that voice is monotone, when over-long.