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:
- This generation is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history.
- Thirty percent of the population is considered auditory learners (versus 65 percent who are visual and 5 percent who are tactile).
- They want options and customization in every aspect of their lives.
- They hate to waste time and want to learn quickly. They rarely read — or need — instructions and prefer to learn by doing and interacting.
- They want to be mobile.
- They were raised on computers and adapt faster to new technologies than any previous generation.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.
- IBM uses podcasting internally to deliver information to its employees and is now publishing real-time updates for its investors, so they can keep up with IBM’s take on the future and direction of business and IT. The new series, “IBM and the Future of …” began with a podcast on IBM and the future of driving (http://www.ibm.com/investor/viewpoint/podcast/05-08-05-1.phtml).
- The “Negotiating Tip of the Week” podcast series, featuring Dr. Josh Weiss from the Program on Negotiation at Harvard, has been downloaded more than 280,000 times since April 2005.
- Herbalife, maker of nutritional supplements, is creating podcast training programs for its distributors around the globe. The company already has given away more than 1 million iPods to its employees.
- The Otter Group recently started offering custom podcasts for clients. The venture has proved extremely successful. Otter Group founder Kathleen Gilroy said earnings from custom podcasts already total more than $100,000, a significant return on her initial $15,000 investment in the initiative. The Otter Group’s latest venture, “Everybody’s a CEO,” helps businesspeople go “Back to School 2.0” and learn the importance of — and how to implement — new media, including blogs, RSS feeds and podcasts.
- In 2006, General Motors launched FastLane radio as an offshoot of its FastLane blog. This radio-style podcast — featuring interviews with top company executives in design, engineering and marketing — offers an inside scoop on the largest auto company in the world (https://www.partcatalog.com/page/gm-fastlane-blog).
- Drexel University in Philadelphia produces a podcast called the “Drexel e-Learning Minute.” It helps students who are new to online education address various issues and provides the prospective online learner with tools for success.
- Financial services provider Capital One hands out iPods as standard equipment for employees who are enrolled in targeted training programs and makes podcasts available on the company’s intranet and corporate Web site. The driver behind Capital One’s use of podcasts is a vexing deficit, not in dollars and cents but in time.
- Pal’s Sudden Service restaurants, based in Kingsport, Tenn., use audio and video podcasts to train all their employees. “Podcasts give us the capability to better train today’s generation of employees,” CEO Thom Crosby said. “They can watch or listen to a 30- or 60-second podcast right at their work station.”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:
- Reinforce training. Podcasts are excellent ways to help people retain information they have learned through other methods — a significant factor for the 30 percent of the population who are auditory learners. For example, podcasts that provide summaries of key learning points or lectures allow people to review the material as often as needed.
- Supplement training. Not everything can be covered in a workshop or seminar. Podcasts can offer supplementary lectures, interviews or case studies that build on what people learn in a classroom or other training program. Podcasts also can be used as substitutes for between-class reading assignments.
- Follow-up training. Once people have participated in a training program on a specific topic, podcasts can be used to provide additional knowledge. For example, podcasts can deliver updated content on a previously taught topic and suggest ways the learner can continue to apply the learning.
- Provide information to people who cannot attend a training session. Podcasts can provide the text of lecture materials, highlights of key points and other content for people who need the information provided in a workshop or seminar but are unable to attend.
- Test preparation. In many industries, people need to take tests or certification examinations. Podcasts can help them prepare by providing a convenient way to review the information they have learned in workshops, seminars and self-study programs.
- Replace content-only portions of training programs. Classroom-based training, online training programs and self-study materials all include portions that simply deliver information. That information can be delivered via podcast, freeing up valuable training time for activities that require interaction, practice and feedback.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.