1 Comment »Posted on Friday 27 February 2009 at 12:06 pm by Jacob Aron
In Education, Psychology

Well, I think so anyway. A large part of my three years of maths at Bristol were spent learning how to be an inefficient photocopier, as a one hour lecture often produced as many as eight sides of A4 notes. I’d often feel that lecturing really wasn’t the best way of learning, with sometimes just five minutes out of 60 resulting in something actually useful.

As such, I was quite interested to read a report New Scientist that recent psychological research supports my idea. A paper published in the journal Computers & Education suggests that students who receive a podcast of a lecture learn better than those who actually turn up in person.

Psychology students participating in the study were split into two groups. The first attended a lecture on perception, and were given a copy of the PowerPoint slides used during the lecture. They were told the purpose of the study was to examine the use of these slides, and whether they would aid note-taking and later studying. As an incentive to do well in an exam on the material, the student with the highest score would be given a $15 iTunes card.

The other group were told the experiment was investigating the use of technology by students, and given a podcast instead of attending the lecture. They were also encouraged with the reward of an iTunes gift card. The podcast was recorded with software that syncs the audio to PowerPoint slides, thus providing a reasonable facsimile of the lecture experience.

When it came to the exam, the difference between the two groups was substitutional. Podcast listeners scored an average of 71.24%, whilst those who attended the lecture achieved only an average 62.47%. The authors of the study found this result surprising, given that we normally assume attending lectures leads to higher results!

The benefits of the podcast appear to only apply to those students who also took notes whilst listening however. Note-takers on average scored higher on the exam with 76.23%, but those who just listened showed similar results to the lecture group, with 62.08%.

The authors admit that these results were generally lower than they would expect from their classes, and cited lack of motivation as a possible explanation – the exam didn’t really count, other than for extra credit. This applies to everyone in the study however, so motivation alone cannot account for the results.

Dana McKinney, the psychologist who lead the study, does not think that podcasts should completely replace lectures, but believes that students who have “never known a time before cell phones and personal computers” could use additional ways of learning.

“I do think it’s a tool. I think that these kids are programmed differently than kids 20 years ago,” she says.

Personally, I agree. It’s not entirely comparable, but in the module on radio that I am taking at the moment, the lecturer provides us with audio to listen to before the next week’s class. Rather than wasting time listening in the lesson, we can put it to good use with interesting discussion. Bring on the podcasts!


  1. One Comment

  2. I’m not shocked by this. For starters, a lecture isn’t normally interactive in any way – unlike a tutorial group where you clearly need to ‘be there’. Also, making notes from a recording, that I’m assuming can be rewound when you miss a bit, is going to give things a chance to sink in better.

    By Tim Jones on Saturday 28 February, 2009 at 2:19 am

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