For a few years now, professors have been experimenting with iPods in the classroom, supplementing their lessons with podcasts. And Apple has helped the trend by introducing iTunes University. But no one really considered podcasts as a legitimate replacement for classtime. Until now: Psychologists studied if students tested better after attending a lecture or listening to a podcast, and the podcast won. The difference was significant: 61 for the lecture group, and 72 for the podcasters. Students who listened to the podcast multiple times scored, on average, a 77.
Researchers now aim to study podcast use across an entire semester. But it makes you wonder: Why did this happen? Is it that the experience of listening over headphones leads to better concentration? Are lecture halls intrinsically inefficient for learning? Perhaps it’s the latter: As anyone who has managed to fulfill requirements for a degree can attest, listening to a professor drone on about, say, physics is infinitely less interesting than texting friends, oogling a crush, or just drawing in your notebook.
On a business note, it’s interesting to speculate if, just like with future-forward textbooks, this widespread use of podcasts might actually do two things: Make top-quality lectures available to all, while radically changing the economics of higher education. Both seem intriguing, since education costs are rising at alarming rates, while professors are usually tenured based on their research and not their teaching. Having sat through courses taught by a number of famous professors, we can testify that most are lousy teachers.