Learn from the Narrative

Title Image: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/

This blog post explores the idea of leveraging Podcasts to support the learning and instructional process. With the connectivity of the Internet age and the increase of social learning, Podcasts have become a very popular way for people to learn new ideas and gain new skill-sets.

In my personal life, I have enjoyed the narrative of podcasts like Radiolab, Serial and S-Town. Although these podcasts are true stories, that are gripping and enlightening, they do not necessarily build a definable talent or even marketable knowledge, or do they? These immensely popular podcasts do generate a deeper understanding of the human condition and I have enjoyed them immensely. If nothing else they increased my sense of empathy for other people who are not like I am. Did they teach me a new skill? Well, no, not really but does all learning need to give you a practical skill?

HEY! I work for The Man.

So, I am looking at this from the corporate perspective simply because I am currently employed as a corporate trainer, working for “the man”. From my perspective what is learned is defined by business needs and ways to increase the profit margin. When you introduce a topic, in the corporate training environment, you list the behavioral learning objectives using verbs that describe what learners will be able to “DO” (to better serve the business) at the end of training. I do not mean to cheapen the concept of what learning is, much the opposite in fact. So, with that in mind let me dream about pure learning for the sake of learning, say at a school…


Podcasts in Class?

In his article for The Atlantic, Michael Godsey, shares of his difficulty to get students to read but how he discovered the same students were activity engaged in discussing podcasts, such as Serial, outside of class. He even compares this difficulty to adult’s excuse that it is hard to find the time to sit down and read but Podcasts, on the other hand, present a learning modality with a different set of rules. So, he introduced a unit that leveraged the engaging power of the Podcast. Michael shares are feelings on the subject:

“While I felt guilty the students weren’t reading very much during this unit, their engagement with a relevant and timely story—their eagerness to ask questions, their intrinsic motivation to use critical thinking—seemed to make it worth it, at least temporarily. The students voluntarily studied maps, evaluated clues, argued with each other, and wrote twice as much in their journals as they previously had.”


Freakonomics Radio

freakenomics Radio - The hidden side of everything
The hidden side of everything


There are other Podcasts that I have enjoyed in my personal life that I feel have come closer to teaching me an actual skill. Freakonomics is a podcast that I have listened to the most. This show aims to debunk common misconceptions of the modern world through the discoveries of Economics. Branding themselves as “The hidden side of everything” they ask experts in niche areas of Economics to share what they have deduced from their data-sets. If nothing else this show has helped me think more critically and analytically. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt, or the Steves, got their start on the subject by co-authoring “the book and blog by the same name” and then decided to break into the Podcast space. I for one am certainly glad they did.


“The Steves”- (Dubner seated Levitt standing)          Image:https://commons.wikimedia.org.

This podcast (and Blog) work in with my Personal Learning Network because the content cuts through all of the emotional baggage and lies we tell ourselves. We are looking at data to locate the truth and it is less important how we feel. An instructional designer must use a needs analysis to find the truth of what is really needed by the learners. It is up to them to build the curriculum around those needs and involve actions that train to those needs, not use some activity they like which does not serve the higher purpose of what needs to be learned; or use the latest trick in Captivate or Storyline to make them look fresh and cutting edge. In addition, serving the needs of the learning is also up against resistance from business leaders who want to add insignificant granular details or destructive animations and sound effects to the training. A true ID will stand up for the truth. They will become an outsider and build a training that will actually improve the world. Not just add more noise.

Bigger Pockets

Another Podcast that I think does a fantastic job of training people in their everyday lives to build a valuable skill-set or knowledge base is The Bigger Pockets Podcast. The Bigger Pockets team actually started out by creating a social network around real estate investments which has grown to be one of the (if not the biggest) to date. Biggerpockets.com is a social media site of sorts where you can log in and network with other real estate professionals (and novices) from around the world to grow your real estate prowess. At one point the creators noticed that their plan had actually worked so they decided (the verdict is out on who decided to) start a Podcast. Now, over 200 podcasts later the show is a smash success.

Brandon Turner (left) and Joshua Dorkin (right)

The reason the show works as a learning model is that it relates to the listener on a social level. Joshua Dorkin and Brandon Turner are not afraid to take cheap shots at each other and even throw in some amazing (as well as questionable) humor when they speak with their incredibly successful guests. This realness of the show leaves the listener feeling as though they have simply met up with the team at a coffee shop or bar somewhere and are listening in.

As studies have shown, this communicative storytelling narrative drastically increases knowledge retention. Research supporting the personalization principle shows that more knowledge is retained when it is presented in a conversational tone. (Moreno and Mayer 2000) Similar to Freakonomics the Bigger Pockets crew also invite the best of the best on to their shows, subject matter experts if you will, who have amassed millions of dollars through real estate and are proven experts on the subject. So, you know you are getting solid methods that have been tested in the real world. One of my favorite parts of the show is they ask every guest what their favorite real estate book (that they did not author) is. In this way, I have discovered (and read) numerous books on the subject that I otherwise might never have heard of.

At this point, the interview with Austin Fruechting is still one of my favorites. Check it out here.


The Bigger Pockets podcast is a large part of my Private Learning Network (PLN). I am a designer, a performer, a teacher, a trainer and I am an instructional designer with an emphasis in Learner Experience. The interest I have in these topics revolves around a love of learning and sharing what I have learned. However, when I have achieved a certain amount of capital it is real estate that I am ultimately interested in. I like buildings, I like houses and I am excited by the prospect of owning more of them… Ultimately, I would like to design learning content around real estate investing but I am simply not there yet.

So what are your thoughts? Have I convinced you to use Podcasts in your teaching or training efforts? Please leave your thoughts below.

playerfm.pngAnd if I have convinced you then check out this list of featured Learning Podcasts that were hand selected by our friends at Player.FM

work cited

Monero, R.& Mayer, R.E (2000b). Engaging students in active learning: The case for a personalized multimedia message. Journal of Educational Psychology, 93, 724-733.

Godsev, Michael (2016, March 17). The Value of Using Podcasts in Class- Ironically, they can encourage students to read more. Retrieved from URL https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/the-benefits-of-podcasts-in-class/473925/



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s