The popularity of podcasts is growing. A growing number of podcasts, easy access, and constantly available technology for listening, including 4G connection basically anywhere in Finland, all add to ever increasing numbers of listeners. Many podcasts are educational. History, science and social sciences, medicine, media, business and economy, as well as crime, sex, sports and many more, are all represented in the vast variety of themes covered by podcasters. These themes can all also be studied in an academic context, and yet it is my experience that audio-podcasting is not very common within higher education in Finland. It is necessary to stress audio, because many studies from the early 2000’s include for example video recordings in the ‘podcast’ concept.
With this study I wanted to get a feel about how podcasting is viewed at within higher education, and especially within continuing higher education. I further wanted to study how the education aspect is viewed at by media professionals involved in podcasting.
In continuing education students are older, often with fulltime work, possibly have children and family and thus have less time for studying. At the same time societal changes urge people to educate themselves. Podcasts free students from screens and enable also health promoting alternatives: study while walking. Audio not only frees students from screens, but also have other advantages. Studies show that using podcasting brings positive effects into the traditionally lecture-heavy methods in higher education, for example.
The empirical data for the study was gathered in four group interviews. The interviewees in two of the groups were media professionals with experience from podcasting. The purpose of including media workers in the study was to better understand how educational podcasts can be created to ensure listeners’ attention. Since media workers must answer to the challenges of catching and maintaining the audience’s attention, educators creating media could learn from them.
The other two groups consisted of more education-oriented interviewees. Adult education professionals were interesting for this study since they in a sense share the challenges of media workers: they must maintain the interest and motivation of the “audience”, the students. Adult education students are not always determined to finish a course and more easily drop out. Financing of adult education however is related to the number of students passing courses, so from the university’s point of view, dropouts are to be avoided.
For me the most interesting results reflect what could be called a movement from two directions towards what slightly misleadingly could be called edutainment. It is misleading because education can be entertaining without losing in academic quality and ‘edutainment’ in my experience has a slightly derogatory connotation.
Higher education in Finland is/will become competitive and students must be accommodated in new ways. Especially adult education must be realized in a way enabling flexibility e.g., in schedules (c.f., https://digivisio2030.fi/en/basic-information-on-the-digivisio-2030-programme/ (External link) ). Flexible schedules – asynchronous activities – require use of media such as podcasts, videos, and why not on-line games, to support and indeed enable learning. Thus, higher education moves towards edutainment – why create a non-entertaining podcast for learning? A vast list of literature to read (text – one of the oldest media) for a written exam is no longer the only, nor in many cases the best, choice for “distance learning”. An instructor can well create an entertaining podcast of high academic standard. The instructor can use dramaturgical means, can add enthusiasm in the tone used in a podcast, and can include other voices, all to make the learning experience positive. The same methods are used by media professionals.
Apart from pure entertainment, documentaries and actualities are popular categories within broadcasting. The number of available podcasts is growing and the competition for listeners is an element that must be considered. Quality thus is an issue. Combining the two facts that 1. documentaries, i.e., educational programs, are popular among consumers and 2. that listeners must be attracted and retained, the entertaining aspect must be included in the educational programs. Edutainment thus is a category of programs that media professionals also work with and possibly move towards, or maybe they already have arrived at their destination. Whichever is the case, education and media professionals will meet if not halfway, at least somewhere on the continuum education – media production.
The relevance of this study for the media field in general and for the academic field Media Management is that a new category of professionals will crystallize even further, i.e., media workers within higher education. Higher education needs media experts because not all subject matter experts within academia will become “tech-savvy” or experts on using dramaturgical means. Universities will therefore employ media workers to co-operate with instructors. The needs of the instructors will have to be considered – not only media logic can be taken into account. This study introduces some of the logic education professionals experience with regards to media production. The media field can gain from this study in that this thesis presents thoughts about podcasts from the perspective of “academic” users. This perspective can for example bring about the need for proper source documentation and the role of the publisher and peer review (c.f., journal articles). An interesting side track are the attempts to introduce audio academic papers: https://seismograf.org/fokus/fluid-sounds/audio_paper_manifesto (External link)
For me personally the work with this thesis has been a learning experience about podcasting and about the media field. Since I first wanted to do a case study in which I would have the possibility to first hand discussions with podcasts I created myself, I began the work by creating a few podcasts. The few then resulted in producing and creating a series of 17 podcasts on memory disorders ( https://www.podden.fi/blog/program/ (External link) ). The whole process including idea refining, finding co-operators, getting financing, scriptwriting, recording, post-production, publishing, and marketing, was for me an exposé into media management. At the same time the experience raised many questions about how to combine sharing information, perhaps educating, with being entertaining enough to attract and retain listeners. The experiences from creating Minnespodden gave a practical foundation for this study. This research again, gave me an opportunity to learn and reflect on my experiences. It also gives me an academic foundation for discussing and creating podcasts within higher education.