Five Pointers for Podcasts

They’re quick, easy to produce and can add great value to your e-learning. Maybe podcasts are the quintessential rapid e-learning? We’d encourage any designer to consider adding value to their e-learning through podcasts. Here are a few pointers for making the most of them.

1. Who you talkin’ to?

As always, you need to keep in mind your typical listener at all times. Are they on the road, desk-based, or both? This will affect how they access your podcast. What do you know about their attention spans? What do you know about their preferences when it comes to audio? All card-carrying iPod fanatics, or are they new to the idea? Thinking these issues through and working with a user group can help a lot in your podcast planning.


2. Why oh why…

It may not be formal learning, but nonetheless, your podcast must have some kind of objective – be it to support a new product launch, deliver a three-point plan update from the Board, get to know the new CEO, provide ongoing hints on effective coaching to support a workshop event, or share success stories from last month’s sales conference. Be clear on what that objective is and stay focused. Rambling podcasts without a clear goal are not helpful. Just ask Brand/Ross. (On second thoughts, don’t).

3. What’s your flavour?

What’s your style going to be? You’re probably going to borrow from an established radio format. Here are the most common ones:

  • Monologue: one person to mic. Intimate, but you better have something very interesting to say, and you’ll probably need to script it out carefully, and keep it short.

  • Interview: the most common format. Effective for helping the interviewee convey messages in a friendly, conversational format. Some preparation is required to get it right. We’ll come back to that next time.

  • Magazine show: Can include monologue, guests, even phone-ins if you’re canny. Can be very effective if produced to a high standard – but time-consuming to prepare, record and edit.

  • Documentary: Themed show focused on a specific topic, including interview clips from a variety of subjects, and a linking narrative. More involved to pull off, definitely needs detailed preparation.

  • Audio tutorial: A more formalized piece of audio learning with overt learning objectives and structure. This can be a good addition to other learning interventions – but rarely relied upon to be the primary source of learning as dense technical information is not well-suited to the audio format.
You might put together a combination of these of course. But knowing which format will best suit your goals, and what's within your range, means you’ll be off to a good start.


At the same time, decide how often you’re going to do this. Is it a one-off, or are you committing to a weekly/monthly podcast? Budget the time to prepare, record and edit – and be realistic about what you can achieve.


4. Get on your kit

Here’s what you’ll need to get going:

  • A decent mic: Budget around $150 for this. Quality counts for a lot in audio recording, so don’t skimp here.
  • An mp3 recorder: So you can do interviews wherever you need to. A cheap one that you can plug your nice mic into is all you need.
  • Headphones: You don’t need anything fancy – but you will always need them with you when interviewing and recording
  • Audio editing software: You don’t need to spend anything here, just use Audacity. It’s all you’ll need for audio recording: http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
  • Somewhere to put the audio: Are you going to put it on your LMS? Moodle handles audio very well, with a built-in mp3 player. You may just want to put it on your intranet for download, or put it on iTunes so people can subscribe to it.

5. How long has this been going on?

A minute seems like nothing – we generally talk about e-learning being one minute per screen, and a screen’s not a lot, right? But a minute of listening to someone speak on a podcast is a long time. So, plan carefully how long you want your podcasts to be – we’d recommend that any single audio clip is no more than 5-7 minutes, and ideally a lot closer to 3 minutes. There’s a reason pop songs try to stay at the 3 minute level (ignoring prog-rock, as always).

So that’ll get you up and running in planning your podcast. Next week we’ll look at the main event: interviewing someone for a podcast.

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