Center for Digital Education & Converge: research in education technology for K-12 and higher education

Do Podcasts Help Students Learn?

on November 3, 2010
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Before George Washington University renewed its iTunes U contract, the administration wanted to know how the podcasts impacted student learning and engagement.

In fall 2009, the university's Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning studied a world history class of 262 students to find the answer.

But the answer isn't yes or no — the answer depends on the student's learning style, gender and motivation.

“If your goal is to find a magic bullet that makes all students better, this isn’t it," said Hugh Agnew, a professor from the Elliott School of International Affairs who taught the course. "But If your goal is to reach some students better that maybe you aren’t reaching so terribly well, then I think this is worth trying.”

6 interesting results

He created 10-minute podcasts with graphics and audio, as well as a text transcript of the podcasts with visuals to supplement his lecture class. In the first research run, half of the class used the podcasts, and the other half used the text. In the second run, they switched.

Overall, the study found no statistical difference between the performance of students who used the text and the ones who used the podcasts. But in subgroups, the podcasts did make a difference, said Yianna Vovides, director of instructional design at the center who conducted the research.

Three results that Vovides found interesting include the following:

  1. Podcasts grab attention and maintain it.
  2. Students conceptually understood the content, not just remembered it, and the scale of understanding seemed to tip toward the podcasts.
  3. The students who said they weren't that motivated at the beginning of the class scored higher on the test when they listened to the podcasts.

And Agnew found these three results fascinating:

  1. Guys improved their results from the pre-test to the post-test more with the podcasts. But the women's results showed no difference.
  2. From the beginning of the research to the end, the number of students who preferred podcasts nearly tripled, jumping from 21 to 62.
  3. In general, no one saw a dramatic uptick in results with the text or the podcasts. If they did the work, they did better on the test, he said.

Investigating Podcasts in Relation to Student Learning Outcomes


Technology tools

No one can draw a simple conclusion from these results, Agnew said. Podcasts provide another instructional tool that will help some students, and professors should just try it.

After all, the technology doesn't make students learn, Vovides said. And in order for it to be effective, faculty and staff need support so they can implement tools in relation to learning, not just to implement the tools for the sake of the tools.

It’s important to have the infrastructure," Vovides said. "But it’s also important to have the support to help people use it for instructional purposes effectively.”

The traditional classroom ways of presenting information may not be the most effective delivery method to students who have grown up with digital methods, he said. And ultimately, the more ways a professor can present ideas, the better chance he has of infecting students with enthusiasm about what they're learning.

"There’s no particularly good pedagogical reason not to try it," he said, "and it’s not that hard to do.”

Agnew plans to incorporate more podcasts into some of the online classes he teaches. And since the university did decide to renew the iTunes U contract, professors can keep uploading podcasts.

In a chemistry course of 600 students, Vovides is continuing her research this semester. This time, she's trying to find out whether the podcast design makes a difference. The chemistry students will access text, podcasts and guided podcasts.

With a bigger course and a different discipline, she'll be able to see whether the results of the history class study hold up.

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on Nov 11, 2010
If there was no measurable difference in learning between text and podcasts, did GWU renew its iTunes contract?
on Nov 14, 2010
As a high school chemistry teacher I find it interesting how podcasts did not "hurt" learning. Which, in my mind, means they were just as effective as the typical lecture. If podcasts can be used to replace classroom lectures, just imagine how educators could take advantage of that! Instead of wasting valuable class time lecturing, having my students watch podcasts of my lectures outside of class allows me to then use that class time for answering questions, working one-on-one with students and spending time on higher order thinking activities.
on Nov 14, 2010
You are right there is no reason to try it but there is also no reason not to try it. Today however we are so concerned with raising test scores that unless we can show an improvements in scores using a new strategy or technology it will not be adopted. We need to be willing to try new things in our classrooms and schools and unless they show they are hurting test scores we should be allowed to continue using them.
on Nov 15, 2010
@Buddy Yes, GWU did renew its contract because the podcasts positively impacted the students.
on Apr 1, 2011
That's my sister in the picture!:) lol.