Less is More: Why audio podcasts are more powerful than video for flipping a class

It’s counterintuitive.

Most of the talk around flipping classrooms assumes the use of video.  That’s understandable.  One would intuitively think that a vodcast or screencast is more effective than a humble audio podcast, but that is not my experience.

I have been flipping my classroom using audio podcasts (see example) since 2005.  Then, as screencasting tools became increasingly user-friendly, I started in 2008 to make e-podcasts and screencasts (see example) – thinking that the visual element would augment the effectiveness of my out-of-class tuition.  I was wrong.

The response my students gave me was quite unanticipated!  Almost unanimously they said that they preferred the audio podcasts!  While this was initially unexpected, their reasons actually make sense, and highlight a fundamental advantage of audio podcasting.

One boy explained that he likes to listen to the podcast while working on the farm on the weekend.  He could no longer do that now that he had to watch the screen.  Another said he likes to listen to the podcast while working out at the gym.  One of the girls said she likes to listen to the podcast while soaking in the bath, another on her morning walk.  Yet another student said she just likes to sit on the bus after a long day at school, shut her eyes and listen – without having to look at anything.

We all have daily activities that preclude us from watching a screen: driving, washing the dishes, walking the dog, shopping or mowing the lawn.  An audio podcast fits perfectly in that space, allowing a student to focus his mind on biology (in my students’ case), while using his hands and eyes for some other mundane chore.  It’s a win-win.  The Podcast makes the chore less boring, while the chore makes the learning feel like a good use of time!

A video on the other hand, can’t be multitasked with anything else.  It competes for time with reading, traditional homework, watching TV and in fact, with most of our other daily activities.

There are of course, some topics that can’t easily be explained in an audio-only podcast (think: calculus, fine art or in my case, genetic pedigree analysis). That’s where video is the right, and only choice.  But in my experience, when there’s an option, audio podcasts have proven more effective and certainly more popular with students.

As an indication of their relative popularity, my weekly 90-minute biology podcast gets more than 1000 downloads per day on average.   Even my most popular 10-minute YouTube screencasts might only get 1000 views per month.

Have others found this too?

10 thoughts on “Less is More: Why audio podcasts are more powerful than video for flipping a class

  1. Hi Andrew,

    This is another great post! Teaching younger students, I’ve never tried the flipped classroom model, however I certainly agree that audio can be much more appealing than video. Like many people these days, I’m a multi-tasker and I love listening to podcasts while cooking, running, cleaning, driving etc. Sometimes I find the thought of watching a video really unappealing and I often find myself listening to video while I do other jobs.

    1000 downloads per day is absolutely remarkable and I admire your fantastic work!


  2. Thanks Kathleen – My favourite time to listen to podcasts myself, is when I drive. The time goes so quickly! I sometimes listen to videos too. Some videos can be listened to (many TED talks for example), but in many cases I think people speak differently when making an audio podcast (at least I do). I tend to paint pictures with my words. Where in a video I would point at something and say “this thing here” – in an audio podcast i have to describe what “the thing” is like.

    • Excellent point – you often miss things when listening to video! I love podcasts when driving too, however, I’m lucky that I am working distance from work so I don’t need podcasts for the daily commute.

      Lately I try to get podcasts that aren’t related to education (eg. ABC radio has so many great ones) so I am not thinking about work 24-7. What sort of podcasts do you enjoy?


    • My very favourite podcast is Radio Lab (produced by WNYC and NPR). I also listen to a lot of technology podcasts – and there’s an awesome maths podcast by Adam Van Landenberg which i love too.

  3. Finally, a man after my own heart! Since leaving a career in IT in 2005 I have re-skilled myself by listening to podcasts (with a single earbud) mainly while riding a bicycle along the Glenelg foreshore.

    I have been trying to convince my clients (and anyone else who will listen) that an RSS feed full of .mp3 files is a very valuable thing indeed. From:

    http://mseyfang.edublogs.org/?p=47 (back in 2006).

    Indeed, one of the most significant learning events in my life happened while listening to a Stephen Downes podcast:


    Good times!

  4. Pingback: Ted-Ed and all that « teaching and learning with technology

  5. I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your site. Do you ever run into any browser compatibility issues? A few of my blog visitors have complained about my site not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome. Do you have any tips to help fix this issue?

    • I’m not sure if my site looks good in IE – I’ve never had a look! I know there are lots of sites that IE does not play nicely with. My advice would be for people to use Firefox, Chrome or Safari instead. This blog is just written in WordPress – there is nothing particularly special about the way I have set it up.

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