Monday, October 30, 2006

Podcasting - really any use for learning?

When the world came to podcasting I was excited at its potential for fun, but really sceptical of its application with regard to learning. After all, all an iPod is is an up to date Walkman, and people have been sitting around listening to tapes for, well, decades!

But the fact is podcasting IS fundamentally different to what has gone before it. It is a new way of accessing content. As Donald Clark, never one to miss an opportunity to state something over the top, puts it in this example here (don't ask me which one he says it in - they're all good, try 'em all) tapes are the equivalent of papyrus, what with all that scrolling back and forth.

And he's right! I attended a language class recently (no prizes for guessing which) and the teacher used tapes still. They were dreadful things: all that rewinding and interference. And the sad fact was, the quality of the things (part of the 40GBP set to accompany the text book) was actually worse than you find at my favourite language learning site, which is predicated on easy access to their principle materials, which are - you guessed it - podcasts.

But that's all very well. Language learning was always one to use tapes anyway (arguably the principal use in education). How are podcasts any different?

I see their value as being these:

1 - you are freed of the tyranny of distribution costs. If you have a server (check!) and your learners a PC (check!) then it will cost you nothing to let them have a copy of what you produce.
2 - players are bountiful. PCs play 'em, iPods play 'em. Me? I use my phone, coz it plays 'em too. And for the luddites who don't own any of the above, well, simple players with enough capacity to play an hour's audio in mono are less than Walkman clones cost these days - probably cheaper even than the tapes they replace!
3 - new expectations. These have actually gone down. You don't need flashy production values. People are used to dreadful quality recordings thanks to YouTube et al, and since it hardly takes anything to produce passable quality, this simply isn't an issue any more.

You can pump out as much stuff as you like and people can and will listen to it anywhere: the commute becomes useful; trips to meetings are not dead time; people can actually get something done without staring at a screen and give their eyes the rest from burn out that H&S have been kidding themselves people take for years.

Long live podcasting (well, at least until the next big thing!)

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