Listen and learn with podcasts

If you listen carefully, you’ll hear one of the sounds I hate most in this world... that’s the sound of wasted time. How many hours a week do you spend cleaning the house, working out, driving, or doing other things that put your brain on idle? Put those otherwise wasted hours to good use by listening and learning with podcasts! I’ll tell you why you should listen to podcasts, which ones to listen to, and how to listen to them.

First, what is a podcast? The word podcast is a combination of the words iPod and broadcast. A podcast is a series of recorded audio episodes that you download from the Internet, usually as MP3 files. Shows can be daily, weekly, or less frequent. Think talk radio, except that you can listen to the show whenever you want. Speaking of radio, there are now more podcasts than radio stations in the world.

Why listen to podcasts?

Why should you listen to podcasts? You should listen to podcasts to reclaim dead time and learn. When I started college in 2004, I found myself with a lot of dead time. I was commuting to school and work, walking all over campus, and spending time at the gym. I had an MP3 player full of music, but I soon tired of hearing the same songs. Also, music isn’t mentally stimulating, and I’m an insatiable learner. I discovered podcasts at this time, just as they were becoming popular.

Podcasts keep you informed. Are you interested in news, politics, or sports? There are hundreds of podcasts focused on these and other current events. Every day I listen to NPR’s five minute news summary to catch the day’s headlines, and I’ve started listening to political podcasts to prepare for the upcoming midterm elections. I’ve found listening to the news beneficial because I hear the proper pronunciations of the names of people and countries. Just like learning a language, it’s easier to pick up pronunciations and and speaking styles by hearing than by reading.

Podcasts often provide an “insiders” perspective. Authors of textbooks and articles usually write formally, but podcast hosts are conversational, especially if there are several co-hosts. They often include personal experiences and stories in their episodes, giving you a more complete understanding of the “culture”, or how people act and speak. You pick up jargon and memes more readily. Technology podcasts have really helped me keep up with the lingo.

Podcasts are excellent gateways into communities. As a podcast audience grows, listeners congregate on the podcast’s website or social networking sites, like the podcast’s Facebook page. You can reach out to dozens or hundreds of people that share your interests. Also, you can call or write into most podcast hosts, giving you the opportunity to interact with the community. I’ve sent in a few questions about nutrition and investing, and heard them answered “on the air”.

Which podcasts?

Now you know why you should listen to podcasts. Which podcasts should you listen to? Any topics that interest you personally or professionally. As a geek and information systems student in college, I started with computer technology podcasts, and soon found an abundance of entertaining and informative podcasts providing news, opinions, theory, and practical knowledge. In addition to tech podcasts, I listen to podcasts about the Bible, personal finance and investing, nutrition, and entrepreneurship. I’m now up to monitoring over 70 podcast feeds. Toastmasters members will be interested in the many podcasts about public speaking, including the official Toastmasters podcast.

Where can you find podcasts? Start with your favorite books, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, and websites. Many of these media have podcasts on their websites. Next, check the podcasts section of iTunes or your media software. I’ve found most of my podcasts by simply googling the topic I’m looking for plus the word “podcast”; for example, “web design podcast”. Also, many colleges offer free podcasts of their classes. Wouldn’t you like to take a course from MIT, Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, or Harvard for free?

How to listen to podcasts

Now you’ve downloaded hours of podcasts. How do you listen to them? It’s remarkably easy. Despite the name, you don’t even need an iPod or iTunes; you can use other MP3 players or even many phones. Buy comfortable, high-quality headphones. You can even get headphones designed for wearing in bed or while swimming. You can listen on the road if your car plays MP3s; otherwise you can plug your player into a cassette adapter or FM transmitter. Of course, you can always listen directly on your computer as well.


Now you know that you should listen to podcasts to reclaim dead time and learn. You know how to find podcasts on topics that interest you, and you know how to listen to them at home or on the go. Make today the day you start listening and learning with podcasts!

I delivered this speech, titled “Listen and Learn with Podcasts”, to my Toastmasters club on October 19, 2010. The objective of the second project, Organize Your Speech, is to present an organized talk that leads the audience to a clear goal.

Podcast websites

Educational podcasts

News and informational podcasts

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