Podcasting and Learning

I’ve been orbiting and occupying this big ol’ Ed Techy world for quite a long time. So, I’ve read countless papers, proposals, articles, and chapters on “Why my media is better for learning than your media.” I’ve studied this from a cognitive, social, motivational, and developmental perspective, and I am still not convinced that one medium is better for learning than any other. I do believe that all media have different affordances that make them better-suited for certain contexts, learning styles or learning tasks. Needless to say, I’ve done (and continue to do) my homework  on this one, and I get a little annoyed when people who just perhaps haven’t done as much homework on this topic make blanket statements like this one:

 A new study found that students who listen to lectures on podcasts test better than those who listen in class. (You can read the entire article here.)

The “new study” in question is taken from a 2009 article in New Scientist, and it’s reporting on a study done in the same year by Dani McKinney. I found these links in a 2012 blog post by Michael Hyatt. My issue is not with bloggers quoting bloggers quoting bloggers, some of whom don’t understand educational technology research. The problem I have with this quote, and those like it, is that it is stated as if this were “proven” fact. Here are some things to consider when reading results from this type of research:

  1. Learning is complex and influenced by many, many factors: motivation, engagement, prior knowledge, environment, aptitude AND delivery method. To say that students who listen to a podcast at home will score better on a test than those who come to class and listen to the lecture is absurd. This can lead to all kinds of misconceptions about learning, multi-tasking, learning styles and media. “You can learn astrophysics while washing the dishes and updating your Facebook status!”
  2. Most educational technology research studies have a long list of limitations. The findings are almost always limited to the study in question, with some suggestions on how to scale it up or replicate the results. This is called “job security” for us academic types.
  3. Teacher-created exams may not be the best measure for student learning. Sure, they’re great for assigning grades, but they are often mismatched with the learning objectives, and if they are multiple choice, there’s a chance the students could guess and get the right answer. The test items may also be written in such a way that it is easy to eliminate answer choices and choose the right one without really knowing the material. I did not read the entire research article, so I will not make any judgments about this instructor’s exam.

Online and hybrid learning environments are here to stay, and the research into best practices and learning outcomes for this model of teaching will only get broader and better. Studies such as the one I reference above are an important part in this process and must be done. Any research study should produce more questions than answers, which this one obviously did (Do podcast lectures have the same effect over an entire semester?) But please, if you are going to quote studies like this, look at the original research article and temper your statements with a qualifier or two. Michael Hyatt and Mile Elgan have thousands and thousands of readers. If I go back and read this tonight, I will have one. People believe what they read, and they especially believe what they read when they WANT to believe it. If you want to do better on tests, or learn something new, try the time-tested strategy of applying yourself and taking ownership of your learning. Don’t expect media, podcasts or otherwise, to do for you what you aren’t willing to do for yourself.