Educational Podcasts: Making Learning Fun Through Audio
Although brushing up on history and science may not always be your go-to way to spend your leisure time, educational podcasts have ushered in a new era of audio learning that is so stimulating and memorable that they just may become your new go-to.
If you’ve ever scanned through a podcast library on a platform like iTunes or Spotify, you’re well aware that there’s already a podcast for almost any topic that you can think of. There are fiction podcasts that tell episodic narratives, there are podcasts whose hosts dissect pop culture and politics in a talk show format, and there are podcasts that aim to impart their listeners with new information that makes them more knowledgeable, offers a different perspective, or provides them with a fresh way to approach an aspect of their everyday lives.
Recent studies have shown that listeners are significantly more attentive when content is presented to them through an audio format. According to a report from Publicis Media, information that is delivered by a human voice was found to be “more engaging, fun, helpful, useful, informative and less boring,” and that “voice offers a real-time connection that heightens relevance and memory with a hands-free experience.” Educational podcasts, then, have an enhanced ability to facilitate learner retention.
If you’ve ever wondered what the strongest method for educating an audience and delivering informative content is, we’re here to explain why creating your own educational podcast is the way to go. In this post, we’ll cover the best practices for producing your own scholastic pod, and we’ll highlight some examples of successful educational podcasts to inspire you as you set out on your researching and recording journey.
What is an educational podcast?
An educational podcast is any podcast whose primary objective is to teach its listeners something new. The entirety of an educational podcast could be devoted to covering one specific concept or historical era over a series of episodes, like 1619 does with the history of slavery in America, or a podcast could spend individual episodes relaying different factoids about daily life that most listeners were probably previously unaware of, as in Stuff You Should Know.
Some educational podcasts take an instructional approach by intending to equip their listeners with specific skills that can be applied under certain circumstances. Others entice a following based on their hosts being charismatic personalities whose voices are fun and engaging to listen to, and who possess that talented quality to turn even the most mundane of topics into something captivating and impossible to press the pause button on.
Different Types of Educational Podcasts
There are several different types of educational podcasts, but we’ve broken them down into four central categories. Your game plan for creating your own will depend on the genre of educational podcast that you’re setting out to produce, so these specific examples of the four key types should provide some inspiration and guidance as you start mapping out your own.
History podcasts transport their listeners back in time to a bygone era. A history podcast may bring its audience up to speed on a historical concept of interest, or it may shed light on a historical topic that routinely flies under the radar and goes ignored by mainstream society.
The 1619 Project, a Pulitzer Prize-winning interactive project helmed by journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones for The New York Times, featured an audio series, 1619, that examined the history of American slavery over the course of six episodes.
Another history-centric podcast, Revisionist History, also goes beyond simply aiming to educate listeners about a pivotal moment in the past. The popular show, hosted by writer Malcolm Gladwell, interrogates commonly-held beliefs about certain topics. Standout episodes include “A Good Walk Spoiled,” which is described as “a philosophical investigation” into rich people and their addiction to golf, and “Food Fight,” which contrasts the student recruitment strategies of elite private schools Bowdoin College and Vassar College.
Self-improvement podcasts are a favorite of many because they’re easy to squeeze into your daily routine, whether it’s during a commute or doing chores around the house.
Self-improvement podcasts usually contain inspirational stories or usable tricks that one can adopt and integrate into their everyday life. Working, a podcast by Slate, is composed of interviews with creative professionals talking about their work and how they ended up in the field they’re in today. TED Talks Daily, a podcast made up of TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Talks, lets listeners listen to powerful, thought-provoking lectures delivered by some of the world’s leading thinkers.
Culture and Society Podcasts
Some of the most fascinating and beloved educational podcasts revolve around various facets of culture and society.
Radiolab, for example, describes itself as a show “designed for listeners who demand skepticism, but appreciate wonder.” It’s one of the most popular podcasts out there, providing a riveting, comprehensive exploration into a new topic each episode, sometimes with a degree of detail and production value that rivals that of an independent film. Radiolab episodes can range from “Sight Unseen,” about a photojournalist in Afghanistan, to “Space,” a deep dive into outer space, but the show has also published multi-episode stories such as “The Other Latif” and “G.”
Stuff You Should Know is an educational podcast that tackles a different concept per episode, beginning with the concept’s backstory to its current position in today’s society. The hosts of Stuff You Should Know have covered everything spanning from the gig economy, global warming, and vocal fry, and it’s grown so popular that it’s packed auditoriums for live recordings of the show several times over.
Another educational podcast that falls under the genre heading of culture and society is 99% Invisible. Hosted by radio producer Roman Mars, 99% Invisible is “a weekly exploration of the process and power of design and architecture.” The show crafts compelling, thought-provoking narratives out of the secret designs that make up and govern our daily lives. Episodes we urge you to check out take on topics as disparate as skateboarding, bank heists, and the US postal system.
Science and Technology Podcasts
Educational podcasts are a perfect medium through which to make science and technology, which can often feel too complex and inaccessible to be studied casually, fun and digestible. No matter whether you’d consider yourself a science geek or techie, here are a few that you ought to have on your radar:
The Brain Science Podcast, hosted by Dr. Ginger Campbell, “explores how recent discoveries in neuroscience are unraveling the mysteries of how our brains make us who we are.” The BBC World Service publishes an illuminating podcast entitled Discovery, which delves into a different scientific topic each week. Last but not least, press play on an episode of Overheard at National Geographic, where every episode is a new investigation into “one of the curiously delightful conversations overheard around National Geographic’s headquarters.”
How to Create Your Own Educational Podcast
There are a number of reasons why you may be excited by the boom of interest in educational podcasts and are now eager to create your own.
Perhaps you’re trying to build an audience and attract customers to your company, which you can achieve by informing listeners about your service and how customers can take advantage of it. This was one of the primary reasons that Voices developed the podcast The Voices Experience, which guides listeners through the history of doing voice over work online, and how to best use the marketplace that is Voices.
In general, when somebody listens to a podcast, they’re often just as—if not more—receptive to learning something new about the world than they are while watching a movie or scrolling through social media. While podcasts can be deeply engaging and entertaining, they’re inherently stripped of the visual or tactile nature found in movie-watching or posting on social media, which causes listeners to hang on to your every word and thoroughly absorb most tidbits of information that are shared.
Educational podcasts are also a robust way of teaching listeners about a factual occurrence or phenomenon that would benefit from being woven into a story. Instead of developing an elearning course or prompting your audience to read a series of essays, offering a compelling vocal performance of your content in podcast form can be a great way to educate and entertain at the same time.
With that being said, here are some tips for how to create your own educational podcast.
Conduct extensive research into your subject
Once you’ve finalized the main focus of your educational podcast, make sure that you conduct thorough research into your subject so that you know it inside and out. This stage of the process is critical and ongoing, because when you publish a podcast about a certain topic, your audience will naturally assume that you’re an authority. Ensure that your information is factual and valid, and keep up to date with changes in the material if it’s a contemporary subject that may experience new developments.
Reach out to subject matter experts
Consulting experts in the field that your educational podcast is addressing, whether they’re academics, authors, or other professionals who have made a name for themselves in the discipline, is an optimal way to make sure you’re approaching your subject from an in-depth and well-rounded perspective.
Subject matter experts also make for fantastic interview guests that you ought to invite to speak on your educational podcast. On top of adding some variety to your show, subject matter experts can bring veteran viewpoints that might have been inaccessible otherwise, and enhance the breadth of your educational podcast. There are numerous professionals who have devoted years of their lives to comprehensive study of particular topics, and they are often happy to share their work and educate you and your listeners.
Know how to script an educational podcast
The format of your educational podcast may have to stray from the typical format of a more casual, conversational podcast, especially since you’re striving to teach your listeners about a particular topic.
If your show is one episode within a larger series, it’s best to start out with a refresher about your last episode. Remind the listener what you addressed last week, and let them know when they need to double back and listen to said episode if it’s required listening in order to fully understand the newer one.
You should follow your opening refresher by providing some learning objectives for the episode. Let your listeners know what they can expect to learn as they listen to the episode, and what they need to have at the ready in order to follow along—i.e., should they have a pen and pad of paper, or a particular webpage loaded?
A great resource for aspiring podcast creators (and a worthwhile educational podcast in its own right) is the podcast Gimlet Academy, which features Gimlet co-founder Alex Blumberg as he draws on his career experiences to explain what it takes to produce a good podcast.
Educational Podcasts Inform and Entertain At Once
According to Improve Podcast, “an educational study took 50 percent of a college class and had them listen to podcasts. The other half sat through in-class lectures. Students who listened to the podcasts received a higher grade (C average) compared to the rest of their classmates on tests (D average).”
Voices will connect you with a roster of professional voice actors who can pull off a flawless vocal performance for your educational podcast.