What Are Narrative Podcasts? Why Use Them in eLearning?

“Great stories happen to those who can tell them”

—Ira Glass, host of This American Life

In the modern adult learning community, there tends to be a strong focus on innovation—how can we best grab our learners’ attention and “wow” them with a training experience? Technologies such as virtual reality and augmented reality are all the rage, and rightfully so. The potential of these modalities is immense. The problem for many organizations is that these technologies may prove to be too expensive, or the resources and time needed to effectively produce content may not be readily available. If this applies to you, please allow me to suggest an inexpensive, easy training solution that you can start utilizing today—narrative podcasts.

What is narrative podcasting?

Narrative podcasts are story-driven audio recordings. As opposed to more traditional interview-style podcasts, where a single person or group is interviewed, narrative podcasts splice together a number of interviews, recordings, and sounds to present a more complete listening experience. They tend to lean more heavily on production effects, such as the use of music and sound effects, as well as narrative storytelling techniques such as multiple characters, scene setting, backstory, hooks, framing devices, and cliffhangers. Narrative podcasts can be either fictional or non-fictional, but at their core both teach learners by presenting concepts as an immersive experience, allowing listeners to become a part of what they are learning.

Why use narrative podcasting?

  1. We are in the Golden Age of podcasting. Let’s be honest: podcasts aren’t new. So why is this an exciting medium we should be using today? Podcasts have never been more popular than they are right now. According to a 2017 study on podcast statistics (see References at the end of this article), 112 million Americans have listened to a podcast at some point and 67 million Americans listen to podcasts on a regular basis. The success of narrative podcasts such as Serial, This American Life, and S-Town have created a culture of adults who crave audio stories. Now is the time for the adult learning community to jump on the bandwagon and present training in a medium that people already enjoy.
  2. Podcasting is inexpensive.  You don’t need a large budget to get into the podcasting game. The only things you truly need to start podcasting are a microphone, a set of headphones, and audio editing software that you can even access for free. Realistically, you can begin podcasting with less than a $100 investment.
  3. Podcasting has a low barrier of entry. Creating narrative podcasts doesn’t require a high degree of specialization or skill. The heavy lifting of a narrative podcast is all done by the story. To some degree, we have all grown up learning from stories, and we tell stories every day. All that is left to do is transfer that innate skill into content design.
  4. Podcasts are transposable media. One of the beauties of podcasting is that podcasts have the ability to stand on their own, or to be part of a larger learning event. They can be packaged as part of a curriculum, utilized in instructor-led or self-paced training and eLearning programs, and offered as part of a blended learning approach. They can be the main focus of a learning event, or simply one of the many parts offered.
  5. Podcasts are portable. Unlike many other content delivery modalities, podcasts do not require a person to be in any one particular space at any one particular time. They can be listened to in a classroom, at one’s desk, through a mobile device, out in the field, while driving or working out, or anywhere else a learner might be.

Why are narrative podcasts a good way to learn?

The true power of narrative podcasts lies in the effect that storytelling has on retention. Stories are the foundation of how we understand and remember information. They do this by triggering our emotions and tying information to the way we feel when we learn something new. By intertwining content with a story, learners are better equipped to recall information by recalling the way they felt when they learned the information. According to the London School of Business, learners retain facts at only a rate of about 5 – 10 percent. Tying these facts to images can help increase retention up to 25 percent. However, if facts and concepts are interwoven into stories, retention levels can reach as high as 65 – 75 percent. Narrative podcasts present an excellent opportunity to increase learner retention levels without much need for monetary investments or specialized skillsets.

So how can I get started podcasting?

This is the first of eight articles that will give you essential information about podcasting. They will cover the equipment requirements, production, scripts, audio editing, tips and tricks, and copyright.

The important thing to remember is that the most critical part of any narrative podcast is the script. It doesn’t matter how flashy production techniques end up being if ultimately your story isn’t compelling. Focus on finding a good story to tell, write a script, and once you have something you are happy with, all you need to do is get your story down as a recording. The best advice I can give new podcasters is to identify what professional podcasts you enjoy and listen to them again with an ear out for the way they are produced. How do they use music, sound effects, pacing, breaks, and character changes? How does the dialogue between characters flow? There is a reason successful podcasts are successful; find what works for the best in the business and think about how you can use similar techniques. Other than that, all you have to do is start creating! I think you will be happy with the results. After all, “great stories happen to those who can tell them.”

References

Baer, J. “The 11 Critical Podcast Statistics of 2017.” March 15, 2017. Retrieved June 20, 2018, from Convince & Convert website: https://www.convinceandconvert.com/podcast-research/the-13-critical-podcast-statistics-of-2018/

Davis, M. “Stories – Not Statistics – Are Memorable.” November 7, 2016. Retrieved June 20, 2018, from speakingcpr.com website: http://speakingcpr.com/2015/11/the-numbers-dont-lie-stories-not-statistics-make-you-memorable/

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