Do Podcasts Help Students Learn?

Before George Washington University renewed its iTunes U contract, the administration wanted to know how the podcasts impacted student learning and engagement.

In fall 2009, the university’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning studied a world history class of 262 students to find the answer.

But the answer isn’t yes or no — the answer depends on the student’s learning style, gender and motivation.

“If your goal is to find a magic bullet that makes all students better, this isn’t it,” said Hugh Agnew, a professor from the Elliott School of International Affairs who taught the course. “But If your goal is to reach some students better that maybe you aren’t reaching so terribly well, then I think this is worth trying.”

6 interesting results

He created 10-minute podcasts with graphics and audio, as well as a text transcript of the podcasts with visuals to supplement his lecture class. In the first research run, half of the class used the podcasts, and the other half used the text. In the second run, they switched.

Overall, the study found no statistical difference between the performance of students who used the text and the ones who used the podcasts. But in subgroups, the podcasts did make a difference, said Yianna Vovides, director of instructional design at the center who conducted the research.

Three results that Vovides found interesting include the following:

1. Podcasts grab attention and maintain it.
2. Students conceptually understood the content, not just remembered it, and the scale of understanding seemed to tip toward the podcasts.
3. The students who said they weren’t that motivated at the beginning of the class scored higher on the test when they listened to the podcasts.

And Agnew found these three results fascinating:

1. Guys improved their results from the pre-test to the post-test more with the podcasts. But the women’s results showed no difference.
2. From the beginning of the research to the end, the number of students who preferred podcasts nearly tripled, jumping from 21 to 62.
3. In general, no one saw a dramatic uptick in results with the text or the podcasts. If they did the work, they did better on the test, he said.

Do Podcasts Help Students Learn?

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