3 Podcasting as a Mode of Motivation in Online and Blended Learning

Sarah L. Lewis, Central Michigan University and Raymond W. Francis, Central Michigan University

Central Michigan University


ABSTRACT: With the emergence of technology from the late 20th century into the early 21st century, many colleges and universities are playing catchup with how modern students learn best. Administrations and instructors are expected to integrate the best use of technologies in their courses and remain vigilant to the ever-changing landscape of educational technology, “Effective use of technology is not an optional add-on or a skill that we simply can expect teachers to pick up once they get into the classroom. Teachers need to know how to use technology to realize each state’s learning standards from day one” (Department of Education, n.d.). Instructors are increasingly expected to become experts in their specialty area as well as in new teaching pedagogies that utilize changing technology. On top of motivating, stimulating and evaluating students, the expectations of adding educational technology to lesson planning can be challenging. Mobile technologies, such as podcasts and vodcasts offer educators a platform to supplement their material. Students are more and more familiar with these modes of learning and are able to adapt them not only to their education but to their day to day lives.


In the simplest of terms motivation is the reason or reasons we do anything and everything throughout our lives. We are motivated to do things as simple as going to the grocery store so we have food to eat, to more complex activities like going back to school to advance one’s career or taking courses to learn a new language. Motivation is defined as, “the act or process of giving someone a reason for doing something, a force or influence that causes someone to do something” (Merriam-Webster, 2017). There are many factors that play a role in motivation and many theories exist that explain how and why humans are motivated. In terms of online learning, finding new technologies and incorporating them into courses is a great way to keep students motivated and attentive to course material.

There are many accepted theories of motivation including: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Knowles’ Andragogy and Alderfer’s ERG Theory. These theories focus on why we do what we do, how we reach a certain goal and conceptualize the meaning behind what we do.

Perhaps the most widely known and accepted theory of motivation is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which assumes that all humans have the same basic needs and move along the same spectrum when it comes to satisfying these needs. The five basic needs that Maslow identified are: physiological (the most basic), safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization (the highest level of satisfaction) (Maslow, 1943). Maslow believed that everything we do follows these needs and once a need is fulfilled we move onto the next basic need, and then the next until we reach our full satisfaction with that need. Maslow also pointed out that needs are not individual, they often rely on each other and are dependent on the prior satisfaction of a different need (Maslow, 1943). Human motivation does not only focus on reaching the self-actualization need but also focuses on not being brought back to the physiological need. For instance, I go to the store to buy groceries to feel satiated (self-actualization) but also to not starve (physiological), satisfying both ends of the spectrum (Maslow, 1943). In relation to online and blended education, learning is a process that can be broken down into a hierarchy. In terms of a hierarchy of a course from the student perspective, they must be accepted into the school first (the most basic need) and they need to have support and self-actualization to succeed in the course (the highest level of satisfaction). When these needs are met, most students will be able to succeed, and integrating what many know best, technology, will help them reach these levels of satisfaction.

Another popular motivation theory is Knowles’ Adult Learning Theory, highlighting the idea of andragogy. Knowles believed that adult learners should be studied differently than just pedagogically, separate from adolescent learners. He hypothesized that adult learners have five key characteristics: self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning and motivation to learn. These traits brought him to the conclusion that adult educators must enforce why the content of their teaching is important and show adult learners how the content they are learning will help them reach their goals. Knowles’ theory encompasses these ideas by stating, “The adult learner brings into the continuing educational arena a rich array of experiences that will affect the learning styles and assimilation of knowledge. Adult learners need to be able to apply the knowledge into their life situations” (June, 2010). Essentially, adult learners are more likely to question educators and educators need to be proactive in their facilitation of their courses and have reasonable justification for why they are delivering their courses in the manner in which they choose to do so.

Being aware of these characteristics, Knowles also believed that adult educators must assume particular implications in their practice of teaching:

  • Set a cooperative climate for learning in the classroom
  • Assess the learner’s specific needs and interests
  • Develop learning objectives based on the learner’s needs, interests, and skill levels
  • Design sequential activities to achieve the objectives
  • Work collaboratively with the learner to select methods, materials and resources for instruction
  • Evaluate the quality of the learning experience and make adjustments, as needed, while assessing needs for further learning (TEAL Center Staff, 2011)

In other words, “Because adults learn by doing, effective instruction focuses on tasks that adults can perform, rather than on memorization of content” (TEAL Center Staff, 2011). A ten-year-old and a thirty-year-old function much differently due to life experience. When it comes to adult learners, many are motivated to build upon knowledge they have already gained to further their careers. A grade school, adolescent learner is learning brand new information in many cases and is fresh to the concepts and ideas. Everyone has to go to grade school in one way, shape or form, while adult learners are often doing so by choice and personal motivations.

Knowles’ theory is more focused on adult learners, opposed to Maslow that studied humans in general. In a way, Knowles expanded upon Maslow’s basic ideas and applied andragogy specifically to Maslow’s Hierarchy levels of esteem and self-actualization. The majority of adults who go back to school at a higher education level do so in order to gain prestige in the workplace and feel a sense of accomplishment. It is no small feat for adult learners to maintain a career, go to school and reach one’s full potential, outlined by Maslow and applied to Knowles Adult Learning Theory.

A third motivation theory that expanded on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is ERG Theory by Clayton Alderfer. Alderfer surveyed 110 bank employees on 21 hypotheses based on what effects their morale within the workplace. While not all the hypotheses were supported by the data collected Alderfer concluded that workers have three basic needs, existence (E), relatedness (R) and growth (G). Alderfer did not treat these human characteristics as static, rather he believed they were fluid and one did not need to be met before moving onto the next factor. He did not treat them in a hierarchy which differed from Maslow and did not treat the factors independently. Some similarities between the two theories are, Alderfer’s existence needs encompass Maslow’s physiological and safety needs, the relatedness factor is equal to Maslow’s social and self-esteem and the growth component of ERG theory uses Maslow’s self-esteem and self-actualization features (Alderfer, 1969). A criticism of ERG theory is like that of Herzberg. Alderfer only studied employees of a bank in New York. Translating this to other fields is possible but a deficiency with the original study. Regarding online education, the factors of existence, relatedness and growth all relate to keeping students motivated. Maintaining these characteristics will keep students focused and on track. Working them together and relating the students and allowing them to grow together will create a powerful learning environment.

In terms of online versus face to face (F2F) education, from my perspective of taking classes in both forms, the motivation of the instructor and the instructor’s ability to use technology can make or break a course. Even in F2F learning, if an instructor is uncomfortable with technology within the classroom, learners will react accordingly and if online instructors simply use discussion boards in place of in-person discussion the course becomes a form of a check list where students feel like they need to post a certain number of times and move on. Adults learners specifically, do not just go back to school for fun, they do so because they are motivated to move to a point in their life that they cannot do so without the education.

In the article, “17 Tips to Motivate Adult Learners”, written in 2013, Christopher Pappas makes a clear yet controversial argument for approaching adult learnings in online courses differently than others, “a lot of the learners are often forced to take on your eLearning course to enhance their skills, keep their job, get a job, or continue further with their career plans” (Pappas, 2013). While this theory does not have the most uplifting message, the truth of the matter is, online adult learners are in school for many different reasons than an 18-22 year-old straight out of high school looking to find a career path. To recognize this idea, he gives tips to combat the issue, many of which can be adapted to online learning and podcasting. A few key tips are: Facilitate Exploration, Build Community and Integrate Social Media, accommodate individual interests and career goals, stimulate your learners, ask for feedback and present the benefits of undertaking the course (Pappas, 2013). All of these ideas can help to keep students motivated, and knowing how they participate in classes is an important factor in creating courses that will appeal to them, “it is important to understand participation, to identify the different participation patterns and learner types, and to offer them appropriate support” (Nistor & Neubauer, 2010). If students are aware that a project or class discussion can help them in their job the next day, students are more likely to pay attention and gain interest in the concepts being presented. Adult learners have experience in the real world, so asking for their feedback does not only help the instructor but it makes them feel like a part of the course and like their opinions and experiences matter.

The use of technology is a good way to reach a group of students who are in a course and can adapt well to the use of different course deliveries as a learning material. Effective motivation in education has many facets, including useful promotion of learning and effective instructional techniques. Staying informed with how students learn can be a challenge but universities that accept this challenge will succeed in the long run and their students will benefit greatly, “the intense focus on student success has generated unprecedented pressure for improved retention and completion at institutions across the country and around the globe. At the foundation of an effective student success strategy is harnessing the right technology resources to drive results and positive outcomes(UB Custom Publishing, 2015). Higher education needs avoid resisting or pushing back on new technology since some students may know more about technology than some instructors, however, they do not know how to translate their knowledge into using it as a successful motivator in a course. By educating the educators to maximize outcomes and student’s success, universities as a system will succeed and be as useful as possible for the student.


Online and blended learning are described in many ways with different names that often refer to the same thing. One university describes online as, “Online learning provides meaningful learning opportunities using a wide variety of teaching modalities. In today’s society, learning takes place anytime, anywhere” (University at Buffalo, 2017). The authors of the book, Learning Online What Research Tells us About Whether, When and How, define blended learning as, “the use of online learning in conjunction with traditional teacher-led forms of instruction” (Means, Bakia, & Murphy, 2014). The anytime anywhere concept ties squarely to the overarching reasoning for online and blended learning. Technology is everywhere, it is hard to find someone without a smart phone, laptop, tablet or computer that does not have access to the internet and education is smart to tag on to this trend and incorporate meaningful ways for educators to reach a bigger audience than in traditional face-to-face classrooms.

There is some ambiguity surrounding the term online learning. There are many terms related to online learning that may mean the same thing but are used in different contexts. Some of these terms are:

  • Online learning/online education/online programs
  • Distance learning/distance education
  • Hybrid learning/hybrid courses
  • Blended
  • E-Courses
  • E-learning
  • Web courses
  • Distributed course delivery
  • Independent learning (University at Buffalo, 2017)

All of these terms are used interchangeably to describe learning that takes place outside of the traditional classroom. As this university also describes, within online learning there are multiple types of technology mediations and terms that incorporate not just technology-based modes of learning but include face-to-face time as well:

Technology Mediation




Fully online course

Course that does not require the student to come to the main campus or meet face-to-face

May use synchronous or asynchronous technology

Hybrid/blended course

Course with strong online component and significantly reduced face-to-face classroom meetings


Web-supported course

Traditional course that is supported by online materials, but whose face-to-face schedule is not altered

(University at Buffalo, 2017)

In all these mediations they describe, technology plays a key role in the structure of the delivery of the course. These ideas are constantly evolving and will continue to do so as technology changes.

The authors of the book, Learning Online What Research Tells us About Whether, When and How, by Barbara Means, Marianne Bakia and Robert Murphy, also state four key factors that have led to the emergence of online learning and it’s continual growth that does not show any signs of slowing down:

  1. As technology capabilities have expanded and information technology has become more affordable and mobile, people live more of their lives online.
  2. The belief that it can address some of education’s persistent and emerging challenges including achievement gap and the rate at which students – especially poor and non-Asian minority students – leave high schools and colleges without a diploma
  3. Economics – costs of online learning compared to face-to-face instruction consistently find savings associated with the online option, although variance in costs for both exists
  4. Belief in its power to provide better learning experiences

(Means, Bakia, & Murphy, 2014)

All of these factors have led to a large growth in online learning at all levels of education, from K-12 to higher education. Once universities recognize these reasons, they also need to realize the purpose of blended and online learning to implement the technology correctly and keep students motivated.

A leading issue with online learning is dropout rates, which can be directly tied to motivation. If students are not highly motivated in online courses they are more likely to not stick it out and drop out before completing their classes. Given that online learners tend to be adult learners, special attention needs to be paid to this group of students to prevent them from losing motivation and dropping out of school, “online students were significantly more likely to dropout than campus-based students. Age was found to have a significant unique effect on dropout in both programs with older students more likely to dropout” (Patterson & McFadden, 2009). A key theory related to this concept is Knowles Adult Learning Theory of Andragogy. His theory assumes that adult learners have five key characteristics, including: self-concept, experience, readiness to learn, orientation to learning and motivation to learn (June, 2010). Knowing these characteristics can help instructors create courses with adult learners in mind and keeping students motivated while learning to their best ability should be the cornerstone of any successful course.

Online learning is very popular in the early 21st century, however, it does not come without its controversies. Online universities are popping up nationally and across the globe. U.S News and World Report, one of the most noted publishers of university and college rankings began ranking online degree programs in 2012 as a separate list. Businesses and universities are doing everything they can to stay relevant and beat out the competition. This has caused some skeptics to note a large amount of debt students leave for-profit programs with and the intense recruiting practices some schools implement (Means, Bakia, & Murphy, 2014). Unfortunately, few things in life remain successful without someone trying to take advantage of its popularity and potentially vulnerable users. Major universities with the proper accreditations and history can create online and blended degree programs and maintain their success by keeping to their core values and doing everything they can for their students and instructors.


Podcasting is an emerging technology used to motivate students. A podcast is defined as, “a program, as of music or talk, made available in a digital format for automatic download over the internet” (Merriam-Webster, 2017). The ease of use of podcasts is what makes them so revolutionary:

“when a user subscribes to a podcast, audio content is downloaded over the internet to a user’s computer; when his or her portable media player is attached to that computer, the new audio content is automatically placed on the portable device. As new editions of the podcast become available, the content (usually in the form of an audio MP3 file) is automatically downloaded to the user’s computer and, subsequently, his or her portable device: the subscriber being required to do no more than obtain the initial subscription. It is this simplicity that leads to the true power of the concept behind podcasting, which can be thought of as a series of time- shifted radio shows to be heard whenever and wherever it is most convenient for the user” (Savel, Goldstein, Perencevich, & Angood, 2007).

Unlike many other forms of subscription based platforms, the only action the user has to take with Podcasts is to subscribe and the content is automatically downloaded. This allows the user to subscribe initially and not have to worry about whether or not they are getting the most up to date information or the latest rendition of a podcast.

Another adaptation of podcasts is the changing landscape of higher education student populations, “contemporary higher education reflects increasing diversity from this traditional student profile. As a major grouping, adult students now comprise more than 45% of the current post-secondary population in America” (Knapp, Kelly-Reid, & Ginder, 2010)

It is also important to note that an Apple product is not required to listen to podcasts, they can be played on any portable device or computer that plays MP3 files (Savel et al., 2007). With the wide array of cell phones in the market, the applicability of podcasts to multiple products makes them desirable in education. Every student now has some access to a phone or computer that can play audio, making podcasts omnipresent.

Knowing how students are adapting to the technology and if it remains a relevant form of instruction is vital to a successful pedagogy:

“Similar to many other educational technologies in the past, the ultimate use of podcasting and its influence on the traditional lecture may not be determined by the potential of the technology, but rather by the way in which it is perceived within the institution, by both teachers and students. Its use will be strongly influenced by the dominant pedagogies employed in these contexts” (McGarr, 2009).

When podcasts were first introduced to education, many students did not know how to use them. They were unsure how to utilize what they were listening to since so many students are used to taking notes or reading textbooks. Students slowly adapted to using the podcasts, not as more information on top of lectures or readings but learning that the podcasts allowed them to, “manage the rest of the course materials in a more efficient manner. Consequently, the course podcasts allowed for a decrease in the feeling of information overload and an increase in the importance of the rest of the course materials” (Fernandez, Simo, & Sallan, 2009). Relating to online learning specifically, students often undertake online or mobile learning due to family, job and time restraints. Podcasts have been shown to be abundantly accessible, “many students commented that they did not have a permanent place to study, so they appreciated all kinds of materials that could be used in different places, for example while using public transport” (Fernandez et al., 2009). Online learners are constantly on the move and their only focus in life is not their education. They have many things going on and being able to study while waiting in a doctor’s office or on a subway without having to pull out paper articles or a clunky textbook, leads to great student satisfaction with podcasts and their accessibility.

Having the ability to incorporate a form of technology that students use for entertainment in their non-education lives, in a course, is a great way to engage the learner and use something that they are familiar with. A student is probably not going to use a PowerPoint in their everyday life but they may listen to podcasts on their commute to work or while they exercise. Podcasts can be a crucial component of an online courses design and can help bring different instructional pieces together. As a 2010 study, conducted on teaching presence and adult learners in an online course, notes, course design, facilitation and instruction are essential qualities that create positive teaching presence in a course (Ke, 2010). The overall design of the content, discussions, evaluations and interface enhanced students’ interactivity, stated clear expectations, and gave the course purpose. All of these factors help motivate students to succeed and feel connected to the course, “in order to create a community of inquiry for adult students, we should first generate an effective teaching presence with supportive features to reinforce the emerging of cognitive and social presence in an online learning environment” (Ke, 2010). Students can learn the material from different sources, therefore they and the instructor can offer a range of different perspectives.

A majority of the literature points to podcasts as supplemental learning materials. As Fernandez, Simo and Sallan suggest, “podcasting is a powerful tool as a complement to the traditional resources on a course, but not a substitute for them” (Fernandez et al., 2009). Instructors should not simply create a podcast instead of a normal lecture or give students an article to read. The podcast needs to be used to enhance the information relayed in the typical instructional formats and help students expand the knowledge they are learning from simply listening in class or reviewing textbooks. McGarr writes, “if used exclusively as a substitute for traditional lectures such use may further reinforce students as passive recipients of information” (McGarr, 2009). To motivate students, instructors do not want them to be passive learners in their education, or simply using a podcast because it is the only means by which the material has been given to them. Instead, educators should want their students to engage in deep thinking and higher levels of cognitive learning to trigger their learning into eventual skill mastery. McGarr describes the use of podcasts as supplemental materials as,

“providing revision and summary material, supplementary material can also be in the form of additional material which may broaden or deepen the student’s understanding. This type of use can facilitate higher cognitive learning outcomes since the provision of supplementary material can provide students with alternative perspectives on content previously delivered or enable further and deeper exploration of topics” (McGarr, 2009).

Instructors can answer questions asked by previous students and incorporate these concepts into the podcasts to make students think outside the box.

By combining these materials, students learning has been shown to improve. A notable immersive study by Popova, Kirschner and Joiner looked at the use of podcasts as primers for lectures, in other words, the podcasts were given to students before they attended the lecture to help them scaffold their learning to which they could “hang” new information. This is another form of using podcasts as supplemental information rather than simply using it as the sole means of conveying the content. The podcasts were approximately five minutes in length and consisted of an introduction, summary definitions of core concepts and examples, and ended with epistemic questions that were either, exploratory, predictive or argumentative. They delivered a Likert based questionnaire to the students during the last lecture to ascertain their perceptions of the process and use of podcasts. They wanted to study how novel the podcasts were to the ways in which students made used of the podcast materials and why they made use of them. Over half, (55%) of the respondents reported that they listened to podcasts for personal use outside of class related to the topics of, entertainment, news and education. For the podcasts associated with the course, students noted that they listened to the podcasts more than once, and the majority did not partake in other activities while listening. The students also noted that they felt more involved with their education due to the questions posed at the end of the podcasts and that these questions forced them to think more about the content and question their own knowledge in a cognitive learning manner (Popova, Kirschner, & Joiner, 2014).
Students were motivated because the podcast was given by their instructor, helped them become familiar and feel connected with the instructor and the material. This study gives:

“insight on students’ motivation to use such additional resources to gain more from lectures. The evaluation provided by the students essentially confirmed the hypothesis that audio-only primer podcasts were experienced as stimulating for students to (1) engage more deeply with the lecture and understand the content better and (2) reflect on the topics and on what they know about them” (Popova et al., 2014).

Students do not typically conduct self-reflection on a lecture or podcasts. However, by adding in the epistemic questions the instructor forced the student to think holistically about the topic and bring questions to class that was sparked by the scaffolding podcasts.

Podcasts allow students to connect with instructors anytime and anywhere. The ease in which students in the 21st century can connect to a podcast is unmatched in most forms of technology, “Although podcasts are composed of MP3 files, it is the automatic distribution method combined with the potential for portability that makes podcasts what they are” (Bryans Bongey, Cizadlo, & Kalnbach, 2006). The majority of students, high school or adult learners, have access to a smart phone that can play podcasts and MP3 files. They can play them anywhere they want, as opposed to a video recorded lecture that has to be played on a computer and must have the visual attention of the learner to be effective. One author states this simplicity as, “What is novel with podcasting is the way that – a simple change in file format and delivery method – can meet students’ mobile and lifestyle needs by transporting a professor’s teachings away from the confinements of the lecture hall or computer/audio carrel and into any environment of the listener’s choosing” (Bryans Bongey et al., 2006). If a student attends a traditional class in person or reviews a PowerPoint and reading materials online or an online or blended course they are still able to enhance their knowledge or supplement the materials with podcasts on their own time. Podcasts can also be used to review material before an exam or to catch up on a missed lecture (Bryans Bongey et al., 2006). The reach of podcasts is limitless and not constrained by a particular topic. They have the ability to break through the constraints of traditional classroom learning and time with its on-demand features and accessibility (Bryans Bongey et al., 2006). Finding new ways to relay information and adapting these techniques continually helps students stay motivated and connected to the course.

This concept of anytime, anywhere use of podcasts, relates to medical students as they must cultivate independent teaching skills and are in a profession where you never stop learning, medicine. In the profession of medicine, doctors must complete board exams to recertify their credentials. The knowledge base for medicine is constantly evolving with new guidelines from different groups and boards based on the latest accepted treatments. The nature of residency is very similar to that of blended learning. In most cases, residents will have weekly lectures referred to as grand rounds where they present cases and discuss different treatment plans. They stay attuned to new research, practices, regulations and treatment options to supplement this learning with their own dedicated time to study the latest literature to keep themselves up to date and to contribute in grand round settings. A recent study conducted on emergency medicine residents and their use of podcasts suggested, “that residents spend a greater percentage of their time listening to podcasts than they do using other educational materials, including textbooks and journals” (Riddell et al., 2017). This group of students was motivated to use podcasts over traditional forms of educational resources for many reasons, including: portability, ease of use, ability to listen while doing something else, to “keep up with current literature” and to “learn EM core content” (Riddell et al., 2017). The students also noted that they were able to translate the knowledge learned from the podcasts into their own clinical practices (Riddell et al., 2017). While doctors are in the elevator or on lunch or driving to and from work, they are able to continue expanding their knowledge with podcasts. They can also choose podcasts based on topics they are interested in to keep their attention.

As the authors of a study on the use of podcasts by emergency medicine residents state, “As we adopt new technologies, we must also understand how and why they are being embraced by our learners in order to employ them more effectively” (Riddell et al., 2017). Another result of the study conducted by Riddell et al, was the fact that residents on average, preferred podcasts that were thirty minutes or less in length. They also, noted that the topics the residents preferred to listen to were based on themes that were more controversial new topics and related to cutting-edge analysis as opposed to emergency medicine core content. While this may not be problematic, knowing how and why students are choosing the content that they are listening to can help those creating the podcasts incorporate what they feel is necessary into cover into ideas that may spark listeners interest.

While modernizing education must be on the radar of all institutions and instructors, maintaining effective learning must remain a goal in the efforts of adopting new technologies. Knowing the potentials of podcasting and vodcasting can help instructors implement it properly and assist the students along the way that will find it advantageous. Knowing the rationale behind podcasting is crucial for instructors to be comfortable with the technology and eliciting proper student response and use of it (Heilesen, 2010). A way to address this issue is to evaluate the use of podcasts in multiple courses over a long period of time. Studies have shown that having students engage in the podcast and actively engage in the content learned in the podcast can assist in retaining knowledge and creating a better academic atmosphere, “When it comes to actively engaging the students in the creation of course podcasts, it is a well-known fact that having to transform and communicate information increases retention rates dramatically” (Heilesen, 2010). By helping students accept the use of podcasts the instructor can improve the academic environment and get recognition from those most affected by new technologies, students.

As noted earlier on the general concepts of online and blended learning and potential consequences of implementing it, there has also been concern with the adaptation of podcasts that attendance in class or in online and blended learning requirements would be affected in a negative manner. “several studies conclude that all fears of students skipping classes when lecture podcasts are available so far seem unjustified” (Heilesen, 2010). While this is an issue to be aware of, it should not deter universities or professors from using podcasts in their course materials. If it helps some students to supplement the other materials and allows them to expand their knowledge, they will be able to reach these students and teach them in a way they may not have been able to without the podcasts. Offering options in a course design for students will help them feel motivated to try new things and they may learn more about their own ways of learning that they did not know before and be able to relate their personal use of podcasting that they are already familiar with to their education.


Podcasting has also evolved into video podcasting or vodcasting since its inception. A vodcast is simply formatting video into a podcast, a video podcast (Merriam-Webster, 2017). Similar to regular podcasting, vodcasting allows students to review material for missed classes, control their own learning and improve their learning on content that may have been presented in a different manner. Kay describes, “Receptive viewing of podcasts assumes that learning material in whatever format is to be viewed by a student in a relatively passive manner. Students may search for desired segments or pause and review noteworthy concepts or facts, but the main pedagogical strategy is the delivery of information” (Kay, 2012). Students can rewind a vodcast or podcast and review material that they may question, and skip over the material they feel they have mastered.

Vodcasts can also assist in motivating students in many learning formats. Notably, students are motivated by video podcasting because the format helps them sustain attention, they are intellectually stimulating, they were relevant and the format allowed the students to connect with the instructor and build a relationship they might not have been able to in a large classroom or by simply reading a textbook or article (Fernandez et al., 2009). Podcasting has been noted to have the same effect on creating a sense of community and proximity to the instructor. Hearing the actual instructors’ voice rather than reading printed documents, the non-pre-established nature of podcasts material based on comments and suggestions from students and the ability of all students, no matter their skill set or learning methods allowed students to feel like they had a permanent connection to the instructor. Students were also able to manage their time better and study with more purpose which, as one study noted, “have a common consequence: an increase in student motivation, which constitutes one of the main principles of good practice in higher education” (Fernandez et al., 2009). Giving students the freedom to manage their own time and learn their best skills when it pertains to studying can give them independence. However, too much independence, and disconnection from the course can be a disadvantage, podcasting has allowed instructors to circumvent this issue with the students being able to hear their professors voice and personalized messages.

Knowing the ways in which the majority of students utilize vodcasts to their best ability is crucial for the teacher the use best practice. Students benefit from video podcasts because they can learn at their own pace, they find the technology useful, helpful, effective and stimulating and they have allowed students to study in a different manner that has helped them succeed in earning higher test scores and increased performance of skills (Kay, 2012). A specific way for instructors to be sure that they are reaching both to auditory and visual learner alike is by creating vodcasts that run parallel to podcasts, a traditional podcast that is audio only and a second that contains PowerPoint slides in an enhanced format. While podcasts are readily available and cover a plethora of topics, some students will still not be familiar with them, so easing them into the process and adding in visual aspect can be helpful to many learners (Fernandez et al., 2009). This idea helps the instructor reach all learning types of students and helps the student feel connected and included in the class.

iTunes U

Given the overall success of Podcasts and the ability of the technology to adapt to most topics, professors should be aware of the effects of them compared to in-person lectures. As stated previously, podcasts can be used as a supplemental mode to traditional PowerPoint slides or face-to-face lectures or they can be used to assist students who miss class or want to refresh their memories on a particular lecture. With this idea, came the emergence of iTunes U which began as a storage space for classrooms to keep their podcasts and has evolved in 2017 to include, “homework hand-in, an integrated grade book, and private discussions, it is a seamless way to organize your classroom. See how simple it is to deliver lessons, grade assignments, and stay connected — all from your iPad” (Apple, 2017). McKinney describes the usefulness of iTunes U, “Apple points out that the benefits of iTUNES U include that it is easily accessible 24 hours per day, students can listen to the podcasts whenever and wherever they choose, and it helps to keep the students motivated because it engages them in a way that is very familiar to them (iTunes U is a link on the iTunes website)” (McKinney, Dyck, & Luber, 2009). While this technology is Apple based, it can be accessed on non-Apple products. iTunes U is a new and innovative way to not only used podcasts in a traditional online learning platform, such as WebCT or BlackBoard, but in this manner, the instructor can have their entire course, including grading in one place.

A unique aspect of iTunes U is the free access anyone that wants to access it can use. Any course that wants to put content onto the platform can do so, and any students or person with interest in the content can access it. Matt Breed states this as an advantage of the software advantages of iTunes U along with being supplemental to other courses. He identifies that podcasts on iTunes U come from many universities, including recognizable names like Harvard, Yale and MIT. While a lot of people may not think they can get into schools like these or have the money to pay for them, iTunes U allows the user access to a great deal of the information their students are learning in the classroom. He also notes that if a student is not excelling or working well with a certain professor or course, they can look up a similar course on iTunes U and study the material that way. While it is not identical to what their own professor may be learning, the supplemental qualities of podcasts can be taken advantage of in many ways (Breed, n.d.).

In a 2009 study comparing the use of podcast lectures versus in-class lectures by McKinney, Dyck, and Luber, 32 students participated in the in-class condition and 34 students completed the podcast condition. Since the podcast group was based on students having an mp3 player, students self-selected into which group they wanted to participate in. In both conditions, students were given the PowerPoint slides for note taking to utilize while listening or taking part in the in-person lecture. They were also instructed to log their study time and activities used in preparing for the exam that both groups would be given at the end of the process. Of the students in the podcast group, the majority appreciated viewing the slides while listening to the podcast. They found it easy to go back and review material based on the chapter markers that were integrated into each PowerPoint slide and found this helpful for studying purposes (McKinney et al., 2009).

Based on the exam administered at the end of the study, the students in the podcast group as a whole scored, on average, 8.77 points higher than the in-class lecture group. The authors also found that the 22 out of 34 students who were in the podcast group, who took notes while listening to the podcast, scored significantly higher than those who did not. Interestingly, the students who listened to the podcast without taking additional notes scored similarly to those in the in-class lecture group (McKinney et al., 2009). The authors assess that universities, instructors and students cannot yet jump to any conclusions about using podcasts as replacements for current content delivery systems, whether they be in-person or technological. However, knowing how students utilize podcasts is key to knowing how an instructor can deliver a constructive message in their courses on their use. Knowing what else students are doing while listening to podcasts and how this is similar or different from what they are doing in in-class lectures can be beneficial to study and lead to greater understanding of the changing world of course delivery.

As with any new concept there are trends and unforeseen consequences that cannot be planned for but being able to deal with them swiftly and in a positive manner is key. Means, Bakia and Murphy state four major trends in online learning in higher education”

  1. Self-paced, adaptive instruction and competency-based learning
  2. Blended learning
  3. Learning analytics
  4. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

(Means, Bakia, & Murphy, 2014)

The last trend, Massive Open Online Courses is a noted unintended consequence related to online learning and podcasting specifically. MOOCs began when instructors in Canada wanted to offer their normal 25 student enrollment online theory course to anyone that wanted to take it and not pay tuition. Users had access to all readings, newsletters, discussions and all course material. Over 2,300 people signed up for access which began a new trend of offering courses to non-tuition paying students. The intent was to give access to information to people with simple curiosity or those that could not afford tuition. Other instructors and universities caught on to this success and began to offer their courses in this manner as well.

A very successful case of offering a normal online university course as a MOOC was in 2011 when two professors, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig, offered their Introduction to Artificial Intelligence course to anyone outside of the 200 Stanford University students who were already enrolled. An astounding 160,000 people from 190 countries signed up to take the course. The university had to enlist 2,000 volunteer translators to translate the course materials into 44 different languages. After three weeks of the course, the actual number of people participating online was 45,000, still more students than the entire Stanford Universities enrollment. The main piece of their course design was one to five-minute videos to explain key concepts, very similar to podcasting. Also, at the end of the course, students who were non-tuition paying enrollees that completed all course assignments received a “letter of accomplishment”, to note their successful completion of the course (Means, Bakia, & Murphy, 2014).

Another case of the MOOC concept that portrayed the “viral” nature of podcasting took place in a 2005 study on Podcasting. The authors of this study aimed to, “explore the benefits, challenges and impact of podcasting on higher education” (Bryans Bongey et al., 2006). They describe the unintended success of the implementation of the podcasts in a traditional biology course:

“However, with a small amount of time and experience, we began to appreciate what has been referred to as the viral nature of podcasts, in which knowledge and use of the new podcasts spread rapidly and uncontrollably from one listener to the other. The distribution of the podcasts extended beyond the parameters of campus or students. Soon, Dr Cizadlo started receiving e-mail messages from out-of-state and non-US listeners. As one listener stated in an e-mail message, “I have directed friends (and yes, even my current Human Physiology Professor) to the podcasts” (personal communication, March 2, 2006)”

(Bryans Bongey, Cizadlo, & Kalnbach, 2006).

With the popularity where it was, the school and professor made some minor changes to their podcasts. They registered all of their podcasts to a directory, they were all made to be iTunes compliant, and all included an introductory statement and included a logo of the college’s crest. One user commented on the addition of these elements to the podcasts that kept the students motivated and wanting to come back for more. The academic experience created by the podcasts and the attention to detail the university and professor paid to the student feedback motivated the students and felt them feel like they were part of their education. They were intrigued by a new way of learning and the university was smart to grab ahold of the situation and work hand and hand with the students and those outside of the university to deliver online learning in the best possible way.


The integration of podcasts into online learning has been shown to successfully reach a new kind of student cognition and blends well into online and blended learning. The accessibility and comprehensive nature of podcasts lends itself to learners who need another mode of learning other than traditional face-to-face interaction and allows students to learn anytime and anywhere they choose to. Podcasts are also easy for the professor to learn how to use and allow for adaptation along the way. Allowing students to be integrated into their education, and have their voices heard will help them remain motivated. The scaffolding and supplemental use of podcasts adds another layer to learning that can help professors and educators reach the greatest number of students and educating those around the world.


Alderfer, C. (1969). An empirical test of a new theory of human needs. In Organizational Behavior and Human Performance (pp. 142-175).

Apple. (2017). iPad – iTunes U – Apple. Retrieved from Apple Inc.: https://www.apple.com/education/itunes-u/

Breed, M. (n.d.). What is iTunes U? Free College Courses From Top Universities. Retrieved from Money Crashers: https://www.moneycrashers.com/what-is-itunes-u-university/

Bryans Bongey, S., Cizadlo, G., & Kalnbach, L. (2006). Explorations in course‐casting: podcasts in higher education. Campus-Wide Information Systems, 23(5), 350–367. https://doi.org/10.1108/10650740610714107

Department of Education. (n.d.). Teaching – Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved from Department of Education – United States of America: https://tech.ed.gov/netp/teaching/

Fernandez, V., Simo, P., & Sallan, J. M. (2009). Podcasting: A new technological tool to facilitate good practice in higher education. Computers and Education, 53(2), 385–392. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2009.02.014

Heilesen, S. B. (2010). What is the academic efficacy of podcasting? Computers and Education, 55(3), 1063–1068. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.05.002

June, B. M. (2010). Adult Learning Theory (Andragogy). Retrieved from Northern Arizona University: https://sites.google.com/a/nau.edu/educationallearningtheories/adult-learning-theory-andragogy-by-barbara-miroballi

Kay, R. H. (2012). Exploring the use of video podcasts in education: A comprehensive review of the literature. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(3), 820–831. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2012.01.011

Ke, F. (2010). Examining online teaching, cognitive, and social presence for adult students. Computers and Education, 55(2), 808–820. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.03.013

Knapp, L. G., Kelly-Reid, J. E., & Ginder, S. A. (2010). Enrollment in postsecondary institutions, fall 2008; graduation rates, 2002 and 2005 cohorts; and financial statistics, fiscal year 2008. Education, i–x, 1-19, A-1-A-31, B-1-B-7. Retrieved from http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2010152rev

Maslow, A. H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 370-396.

McGarr, O. (2009). A review of podcasting in higher education: Its influence on the traditional lecture. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 25(3), 309–321. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.1136

McKinney, D., Dyck, J. L., & Luber, E. S. (2009). iTunes University and the classroom: Can podcasts replace Professors? Computers and Education, 52(3), 617–623. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2008.11.004

Means, B., Bakia, M., & Murphy, R. (2014). Learning Online What Research Tellus us About Whether, When and How. New York: Routledge.

Merriam-Webster. (2017). Definition of Motivation. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/motivation

Merriam-Webster. (2017). Definition of Podcast. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/podcast

Merriam-Webster. (2017). Definition of Vodcast. Retrieved from Merriam-Webster: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/vodcast

Nistor, N., & Neubauer, K. (2010). From participation to dropout: Quantitative participation patterns in online university courses. Computers and Education, 55(2), 663–672. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2010.02.026

Pappas, C. (2013, Aoril 26). 17 Tips to Motivate Adult Learners. Retrieved from eLearning Industry: https://elearningindustry.com/17-tips-to-motivate-adult-learners

Patterson, B., & McFadden, C. (2009). Attrition in Online and Campus Degree Programs. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration.

Popova, A., Kirschner, P. A., & Joiner, R. (2014). Effects of primer podcasts on stimulating learning from lectures: How do students engage? British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(2), 330–339. https://doi.org/10.1111/bjet.12023

Riddell, J., Swaminathan, A., Lee, M., Abdiwahab, M., Rogers, R., & Rezaie, S. (2017). A Survey of Emergency Medicine Residents’ Use of Educational Podcasts. Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 18(2), 217–220. https://doi.org/10.5811/westjem.2011.5.6700

Savel, R. H., Goldstein, E. B., Perencevich, E. N., & Angood, P. B. (2007). The iCritical Care Podcast: A Novel Medium for Critical Care Communication and Education. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 14(1), 94–99. https://doi.org/10.1197/jamia.M2205

TEAL Center Staff. (2011). 11_ TEAL_Adult_Learning_Theory.pdf. Retrieved from Literacy Information and Communication System: https://lincs.ed.gov/sites/default/files/11_%20TEAL_Adult_Learning_Theory.pdf

UB Custom Publishing. (2015, January 16). How Technology Empowers Students Success. Retrieved from University Business: https://www.universitybusiness.com/article/how-technology-empowers-student-success

University at Buffalo. (2017). What is Online Learning? Retrieved from Center for Education Innovation (CEI): https://www.buffalo.edu/ubcei/services/online-learning-support/online-learning-overview.html


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License

Learning in the Digital Age Copyright © 2020 by Sarah L. Lewis, Central Michigan University and Raymond W. Francis, Central Michigan University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book