According to the U.S. Census, American workers now spend more than 100 hours a year commuting. Not only is this “new” workforce more mobile, it is more decentralized — a single manager might have employees in several areas of the country, or even scattered around the globe, all of whom need to receive the same information at the same time.
These new workers are far more technologically savvy, as well. Totally accustomed to computers, cell phones, personal electronic devices, mobile audio players and the Internet, they expect instant communication.
They also multitask as a matter of course. They see nothing unusual about sending and receiving instant messages, making phone calls, listening to music, reading and replying to e-mail and writing reports all at the same time over a latte at Starbucks.
Always busy, they carry their work with them and consider downtime (such as the time spent waiting for an airplane or an appointment) as an opportunity to get something done. Yet, even though they put in long hours, they never seem to have enough time. As a result, many of the traditional approaches to corporate education don’t meet their needs. It’s hard for them to see the value of time spent sitting in a workshop or seminar. Even much of the e-learning organizations spend a great deal of money to produce or purchase is too slow and plodding for their fast-paced, fluid environment. They want — and need — information delivered as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Richard Sweeny, university librarian at New Jersey Institute of Technology, has done research on the newest generation of college students, whom he refers to as “Millennials.” His studies of those students born between 1979 and 1994 show that:
The challenge for corporate learning organizations is threefold: How to deliver a learning experience when and where these new learners need it, how to deliver it in a format that works for them and how to ensure the content is kept up to date.
Podcasts rapidly are becoming a viable option. They use the electronic media that are integral to the 21st-century environment. They present information in the snippets that members of the new workforce prefer. And they offer an alternative for addressing many of the realities of today’s learning landscape.
Leading the Way
Some trailblazing organizations already have begun to take advantage of this new form of media to improve the performance of their workforce.
Plugging into Learning
The adoption and practical application of podcasting as a learning option seems to be inevitable. As the technology becomes more commonplace in the larger environment, it seems natural the corporate learning function will follow. It’s been estimated that in 2006, 700,000 households in the United States used podcasting. That number is projected to grow to 12.3 million households by 2010.
To put this into context, 11 million households in the United States have adopted the MP3 format. The expectation is the number will grow to 34.5 million households by 2010. Research shows people are adopting podcasting as a listening option faster than they adopted the use of MP3 players. So, it’s not a big stretch to assume that about a third of the owners of MP3 players will be listening to podcasts in four years — not merely plugged into music as they commute, garden, exercise or work.
It’s important to keep in mind, of course, that podcasting cannot replace all the other types of learning-delivery methods an organization offers. As with a radio program or an audiotape, podcasting provides information in a one-way format. Because podcasting does not allow for interactivity and feedback, it is more like a lecture or an explanation than a stand-alone learning program. It’s best suited to provide just-in-time information about topics that are subject to frequent change and to expand and reinforce what people learn in seminars, workshops, self-study and e-learning programs.
But when used with other training or performance improvement methods, podcasting can be a very useful tool to achieve a variety of workforce learning objectives:
Podcasting has virtually limitless potential as a tool to improve workforce performance and enhance the effectiveness of learning and development initiatives. To make the best use of this tool, however, learning organizations need to understand what this dynamic medium can accomplish, what its limitations are and how to integrate them with more traditional forms of enterprise education.
Kaliym A. Islam is the director of development and technology services for the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is Podcasting?
As with any new high-tech buzzword, “podcast” has a certain amount of mystique associated with it. But the reality is quite simple: It’s basically an audio file. “The New Oxford American Dictionary” defines “podcast” as “a digital recording of a radio broadcast or similar program, made available on the Internet for downloading to a personal audio player.” According to Wikipedia, the term (a combination of “iPod” and “broadcast”) was first noticed by a mass audience when Ben Hammersley used it in an article in the Guardian on Feb. 12, 2004. As with “radio,” “podcast” can refer to both the content and the method of delivery.
A podcast, then, is a digital audio program. It’s a multimedia computer file that can be downloaded to a computer, an iPod or other compatible device and then played or replayed on demand. Updated content and new “editions” can be downloaded quickly and, in some cases, automatically. Given the functionality of the new iPod models, there’s room to expand the definition to include both audio and video content.