Don't listen to podcasts? Here's what you're missing!

Podcasting is the most under-appreciated, under-utilized media ever. Some people never try it. And many who do wind up giving it up unimpressed. Too bad. A new study found that students who listen to lectures on podcasts test better than those who listen in class. Podcasting is a powerful educational medium, second only to books, in my opinion. But unlike reading books, you can listen to podcasts while doing the dishes.

I believe the reason people give up on podcasting is that they don't take the time to choose the best podcasts. In that sense, podcasting is no different than other media.

For example, the average book isn't worth reading, and bookstores are filled with garbage. But when you shop for books, you browse and consider many books before choosing the one or two -- out of theoretical millions. 

Likewise with TV. Almost all of the shows on TV are a complete waste of time, even for people who love TV. But once you discover that one show and reject 100 shows, you can really enjoy TV.

Radio, magazines -- all media are the same way. Most of the content is lousy, but if you take your time and find what you really love, the media is wonderful.

Trouble is, people don't take the time with podcasting. They try a few podcasts, then give up. And because podcasts are free or nearly free to produce, the ratio of junk to gems is even more extreme. There are a huge number of really bad podcasts out there. And it can also be surprising when a great source of content produces lousy podcasts -- which in fact often turns out to be the case. The New York Times podcasts, for example, are horrible. Great newspaper, lousy podcaster.

Finding the right mix of podcasts, in fact, takes weeks of trial and error. But once you find the best podcasts for you, you're set.

Note that you don't need an iPod to enjoy podcasts through Apple's iTunes store. You can subscribe, then drag and drop the sound files onto just about any media player or phone.

The basic process for developing the ideal list of podcast subscriptions is this:

1. Download and install iTunes

2. Click on the iTunes Store on the left

3. Once at the store, click on "Podcasts" on the left. Browse podcasts, and click "Subscribe" when you think you've got a winner on your hands.

4. Listen. If you don't like something go on to the next one, and next time you're at your PC, delete the subscription from iTunes.

5. Repeat this process of adding new podcasts and deleting bad ones regularly. Eventually, you'll be subscribed to the ultimate list of podcasts.

Podcasts are wonderful precisely because they can be listened to while you're doing other things, such as driving, exercising or doing otherwise boring household chores.

People are too busy these days, and don't spend enough time reading. Podcasting solves both of these problems at once. By listening to content that would otherwise be read, and doing it while engaged in other activities, you're getting an incredible education without spending extra time.

Podcasting is truly wonderful, if only people would give it the time it deserves. And it's the best source of education since the invention of the printing press. Better, it turns out, than lectures from top universities.

So if you want to learn a lot more without spending any extra time on reading, why not give podcasting a try again?

Here are just a few of my favorite podcasts, which you can try as a foundation to building your own library of podcast subscriptions:

BrainStuff with Marshall Brain (search iTunes Store for "Brainstuff")

EconTalk with Russ Roberts (search iTunes Store for "Econ Talk")

BBC Global News (search iTunes Store for "BBC Global News")

In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg (search iTunes Store for "Melvyn Bragg")

Philosophy Bites with Edmonds and Warburton (search iTunes Store for "Philosophy Bites")

Slate's Spoiler Specials (search iTunes Store for "Slate's Spoiler Specials")

This Week with George Stephanopoulos (search iTunes Store for "Stephanopoulos")

Also check out iTunes U, which is Apple's collection of incredible lectures from Carnegie Mellon, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, MIT, Texas A&M and other universities.

Find the subjects here that match up with the classes you're talking, and listen!

Podcasting represents the possibility of education without effort, and a universe of ideas, knowledge, information and wisdom that you can listen to while you're doing the dishes. Podcasts give you a better education than students at the top universities are getting while listening to their class lectures in person.

It's time to reconsider podcasting. It's just smart.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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