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Connecting with e-Learners Through Podcasting

By Heather Zink / July 2010

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Online instructors often struggle to find ways to connect with students on a consistent basis through a means other than written discussion such as forums and emails. In an online learning community where students are primarily reading a body of course material, the goal of an online instructor is often to establish a sense of connectedness between the student and the material. Words in a textbook or PowerPoint presentations do not provide enough engagement to ensure students are actively participating in their learning, therefore it is crucial to use additional modalities to facilitate connectedness.

Podcasting offers an opportunity to connect with students and enhance the instructor-student interaction. It also provides an avenue for instructors to meet students at a time most convenient for the student with information that can be repeated as often as the student needs. Students already use various types of mobile devices, which provide access to the most current news stories, weather forecasts, movie trends, and restaurant reviews. Being able to add on-the-go course content and guidance related to textbook readings would resolve the "non-interaction" that occurs between students and their online instructors, as well as greatly enhance an instructor's "visibility." Busy students want to receive information through a convenient delivery method... enter the RSS feed. The utilization of an RSS feed captured in a podcast allows instructors to "push" course content out to the students instead of students needing to search for information.

By definition, a podcast is a series of digital content files that are released as episodes through the use of Web syndication or RSS feeds. The files can be audio or video, and—if crafted carefully—can create an environment similar to a face-to-face classroom, but with the advantages of availability, accessibility, and repetition. The podcast can be played over and over again until comprehension is achieved. As modern learners experience an increasing demand on their time, podcasting can facilitate a more flexible, mobile learning option.

The Journey to Connect: A Case Study
As a teacher of online pathology courses, I have come across instances that present perfect segues into possible podcasting topics. Traditional textbooks use strategically placed "think about" questions throughout each chapter to force the reader to review the material in manageable segments. This format provided a perfect template for the webisodes. I began the episodes with a brief discussion of the assignments for the week. The bulk of the episode consisted of me answering the questions posed throughout the chapter of the textbook. This methodology provided the students with time to read each section, answer the question on their own, and then play the podcast to hear my answer. I used a "disease of the week" to wrap up each episode, choosing conditions that were not covered in the class but were of professional interest.

Concept Development
How do I get started? What do I say? How do I say it? How often do I create a new episode? These questions are all common and can be answered by creating a plan for your podcast. Brainstorm ideas on what types of subject matter would best suit your particular course. Think about it episodically as well: Do I have enough content to discuss in each episode? The answer here is "yes" whether you realize it yet or not.

Choose a Theme
When choosing a theme for your podcast, pick something of interest to both you and your students. A weekly lecture that you might give in an actual classroom setting would be a great place to start. Other ideas could include an overview of the weekly assignments, hot topics in the news, key terms for the week, personal areas of expertise, or a review of journal articles pertinent to the topic of the module. Adjunct instructors with full-time jobs in the industry could talk about "what happened at work today" The ideas are endless.

Here is a list of questions to consider when deciding on a theme:

  • Are you passionate about the topic? Will your passion resonate as you speak to students?
  • Can you speak on the topic(s) over the course of several episodes?
  • Can you design the episodes so that you are not "recreating" the wheel each week? Is the content similar enough each week that your energy can be focused on the same types of information each week?
  • Is the content of interest to your students? Will they be asking for more episodes?

Develop a Plan of Attack
Now that you've selected a theme, you need to develop a plan for your podcast and the episodes. Developing a consistent format for each episode will ease the apprehension of actually creating the recorded session.

Strategize. Figure out how often you will publish new episodes. A successful podcast consistently and frequently produces fresh material in order to create and meet the expectations of the listener.

Design. Having an episode template to follow each time you record a podcast allows you to focus your efforts on the actual content and not the format of the episode. This includes using a consistent introduction for each episode, using the bulk of the episode to deliver pertinent and interesting content, and then closing each episode with a similar parting message.

Time Management. Prior to recording it is essential to schedule time to create the content; more than three-fourths of the work that goes into a podcast occurs off camera. If you have a consistent format you follow each week, the time involved in planning each episode diminishes greatly. Also, make sure the content you want to produce can be delivered in the time you have available.

Prevent Podfading. Keeping to your strategy, planning content each week, and managing your time well will allow for the production of a successful podcast. You should have no problems with your students listening in or you losing interest thus avoiding the risk of podfading.

About the Author
Heather Zink, BS, MT (ASCP) is a full-time instructor for the School of Allied Health at Rasmussen College Online in Eden Prairie, MN. She worked in the clinical laboratory as a medical technologist for more than seven years prior to making the jump into educating allied health professionals. Zink received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Medical Technology from Ohio Northern University and is currently working on her Master's of Health Administration from St. Joseph's University. Her professional interests lie in using a variety of voice tools to enhance student interactions in the online classroom.


  • Tue, 03 Aug 2010
    Post by werner

    Hi all!

    What I was looking for. Thank you.

  • Sun, 23 May 2010
    Post by Jeff Hammond

    Mr. Schank-thank you so much for these insights. I am just beginning an on-line graduate program in instructional design, and what you've articulated really hits home. For example, my initial observations (and frustrations) of the e-learning I've experienced (not with my ID program, mind you!), is that the learner tends to play second fiddle to the instruction, and most of the intended on-line content ends up going in one ear and out the same one in a very short amount of time. The concept of teaching diagnosis has really inspired me, and really raises the bar for me in terms of my teaching, as well as what I would expect from any ID program. I'm barely into my program, and I don't yet know enough to work it into whatever ID programs I eventually end up being a part of, but I am bookmarking this page, and suggesting this article to my fellow classmates. Our next module is on front-end analysis, and this article dovetails in beautifully with our coursework.

  • Tue, 23 Feb 2010
    Post by Jason West

    Great are mired in huge amounts of detail, that is then tested in a standardised, fact-oriented way...many students I come into contact with have no idea how to problem solve or think for themselves. Our course works incredibly well but initially we need to educate learners about the way it works and how they need to follow the process. My gut feeling is that technology is going to serve youngest students better than it has the generation before that. Facts are easy to find now, using and applying them is the skill whereas 10-20 years ago education policy was still trying to teach and test facts. There's a movement/website/CD called 'We are the people we've been waiting for' launched by David Puttnam and others (film producer and all round mogul) that shows how our current education systems are failing our students because we are still trying to teach and test stuff that is that their fingertips...time is being used in the most astonishingly wasteful way.