Ten Reasons Why Podcasts Are Inferior to Text

March 26, 2008 at 12:17 am 12 comments

Ten reasons podcasts don’t work for education are:

  1. It is faster to read than to listen to text.
  2. It is difficult to skim a podcast (fast-forward can sometimes be used) while most people skim text and carefully read the parts that interest them.
  3. It is easier and quicker to reread text than to replay part of a podcast.
  4. Interesting passages of text can be highlighted or, if online, copied into notes.
  5. Text can be illustrated.
  6. Most people, when driving, working out, etc., do not have the concentration to stay focused on an educational podcast.
  7. When a podcast is of high quality and slickly produced, it seems like entertainment, especially when it starts with music.
  8. When a podcast is of poor quality, the background noise or pauses and speech fillers are annoying to listen to.
  9. It is easier to get into a flow state when reading text because you are less likely to be multitasking.
  10. Deeper learning, as Don Norman says, “takes time and thought”, and it is harder to have deep thoughts when listening passively or when multitasking.

I developed this list after talking to some of Jared Spool’s students, who sent me an e-learning scenario centered on the use of podcasting. While writing this, I listened to a podcast that Jared made, just to make sure that my list was accurate. Part way through, my son called and I dropped off his cleats and then stopped at the track and ran because it is a sunny day and I had been sitting too long. When I got back, the podcast was still playing. Voice can convey nuances that text does not, and Jared is an entertaining speaker, but I prefer text and am unlikely to ever make podcasts for my students.


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12 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg  |  April 14, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    It’s the difference between “efficiency” and “efficacy” – and the pharmaceutical industry is a good comparison. I can listen to a podcast, over and over again, to and from work. I can’t read at those times. So automatically texts have failed for me.

    Also text feels like studying, while podcasts feel more fun – which is why I’m still listening & learning to Chinese podcasts after nearly a year, whereas I’ve tried texts in the past and quit after a month!

    Ignoring the theoretical arguments you present, in practice podcasts have worked for me where a range of texts never have.

    It’s all in the results.

  • 2. Sarahjs  |  April 13, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    You seem to have forgotten about learning languages. You can not hear the pronunciation through reading.

    It depends on what a person is listening to. There are music podcasts, would you rather read music, or hear it played?

  • 3. AuntySue  |  April 12, 2008 at 1:24 am

    While each of your ten points can be a true statement, you have not shown any causal relationship whatsoever.

    Therefore your main argument “podcasts don’t work for education” is not supported anywhere in the text of your article.

    The truth of one statement does not automatically impart truth on its partner statement, even though their juxtaposition tempts the skim-reader to accept both together as a package, given so little time for evaluation.

  • […] Lisa Neal, editor in chief at E Learning magazine blogged a rather odd piece called Ten Reasons Why Podcasts are Inferior to Text. I think the post is misleading to anyone wanting to know about podcasting. I’m surprised the […]

  • 5. Lisa Neal  |  April 2, 2008 at 7:19 am

    Audio can have value in many ways, I agree. Peter’s comment (#7 above) reminds me of the one time I was in Poland and interviewed on Polish television. Instead of dubbing or voiceovers, Polish television has a narrator who tells you everything that is going on and what everyone is saying – including me in my interview! A transcript would never capture this. I guess the next question is the differences between video, audio, and text – and Peter’s article at http://elearnmag.org/subpage.cfm?section=best_practices&article=46-1 offers great insights about the use of video.

  • 6. Peter Fadde  |  April 2, 2008 at 7:10 am

    Although all points are well taken, audio can have value with the EXPLAINING VOICE. Rich Meyer calls it the “personalization” principle of multimedia design.

    It is a great feature to have an audio or video program accompanied by a transcript for taking notes, etc. It would be interesting to research if the explaining voice comes through in the transcript. Maybe that’s part of the appeal of blogs, like this one. More conversational than composed…even in print text.

  • 7. Barbara Bix  |  March 31, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    Hi Lisa,

    I like the list format. As someone who’s always in a hurry, it’s easier to absorb bulleted lists than text–and I’m more likely to read right away than put off for the future–which ultimately means it never gets read…

    For all the reasons you cite, I also prefer texts to podcasts. That said, as a business-to-business marketer, I feel compelled to point out that everyone learns differently. Therefore, in an ideal world, it’s great to do both. I recently attended Me Ah, a course sponsored by Hebrew College in Newton, MA. They podcast all their classes because much of the learning comes from the interaction between students–so here’s at least one obvious exception. In short, it’s all about the audience and the content–so the key to success is starting there–and then let that determine the media. Although I guess Marshall McLuhan would disagree…

  • 8. Learnlets » Serious About Games, and podcasting  |  March 29, 2008 at 9:45 pm

    […] blog has a bunch of interesting 10 things lists. For instance, her most recent post presents 10 reasons why text is better than podcasting. I responded: I recall a story about an […]

  • 9. Yoram Orad  |  March 29, 2008 at 7:47 pm

    Hello Lisa

    I agree with all the points you have raised here. I want to add one more of my own, why a text is better that a podcast. Text frees you from the possibility that you won’t understand or you’ll misunderstand what is being said because of problems in speech. These problems may be problematic intonation , unclear speaking, foreign accent that makes it difficult to undersatnd what is being said or a too fast speed of speaking.

  • 10. Clark Quinn  |  March 29, 2008 at 2:39 am

    I recall a story about an organization where the engineering groups produced white papers that the others wanted to read but didn’t have time. The training group had someone read the white papers to make audio files, so the engineers could listen to them on their commutes. The engineers demanded more! (How often do training groups get demands for more of their services?!?!)

    So, while I personally am not particularly auditory, and you make good points, there are times when they’re the best tool for the job, as the other commenters suggest.

  • 11. Maria  |  March 27, 2008 at 10:27 pm


    I found your title to be a turn-off!

    I love podcasts and am more addicted than anyone I’ve heard of, so at first I was defensive. Then while reading the list I came up with positive suggestioons:

    1 – The right tool for the job. – Teaching math has different requirements that teaching literture.

    2 – Consider the audience. – Not all learners learn in the same way. It is easier for me to listen than read. I find it easier to take notes while listening than while reading.

    3. Trust the learner to consider the environment and timing. I find it just as easy to relisten when in learning mode. I have categories of content that correspond to my activities. I don’t listen to dense content or hard rock while working but I listen to dense content in the evening and hard rock while driving.

    4 – Use the best quality tools available and – Use the correct features. Very few podcasters use the placemarkers that allow the listener to go to specific locations.

    5 – Consider the positives of the medium and whether it meets your specific needs.

    Good luck and let me know if you have any questions or comments..

    Thank, Maria

  • 12. Tom Johnson  |  March 27, 2008 at 5:35 am

    You have some good points, and I don’t meant to outright disagree. I think it’s more a case of comparing apples to oranges. Different situations have different needs. When I’m exercising, driving, or doing a mindless task, I can easily focus on a podcast. But you’re right, if it’s too thick or hard to understand, it can be hard to absorb. It helps if it’s entertaining (this isn’t a bad thing). Simply, you can’t read while driving or running. But you can listen. When I’m in other contexts, such as sitting at my computer, I almost never listen to podcasts.

    Also, the medium of audio is different from the written medium. The medium can almost be the message, at times. Audio has inherent value apart from what the person is saying.

    Additionally, It’s often easier for people to learn through audio because someone has to explain it in vernacular, rather than compressing it into academese, as in a textbook. I can’t imagine simply reading passages from a textbook and passing that off as a podcast.

    Podcasts are often conversations, and include cohosts and discussions. I find that format appealing.

    Just curious, but have you tried listening to podcasts while driving or working out?


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Lisa Gualtieri, PhD, ScM

Lisa GualtieriLisa Gualtieri is Assistant Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. She is Director of the Certificate Program in Digital Health Communication. Lisa teaches Designing Health Campaigns using Social Media, Social Media and Health, Mobile Health Design, and Digital Strategies for Health Communication. Contact Lisa: lisa.gualtieri@tufts.edu


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