While many educators have ignored podcasts as learning resources creators of podcasts have been developing and posting audio, video and enhanced podcasts by the hundreds of thousands and learners of all ages have been using them to supplement or replace formal classes.
In a recent article University Challenge: The Dawn of the Cyberstudent in The Guardian Harriet Swain surprised even those who work with cybereducation with the numbers of students who are using podcasts.
Professors in some institutions have their lectures recorded and posted on iTunes U. While access to lectures may be limited to those on a particular campus most are available to anyone, anywhere. While most of the Universities and Colleges in iTunes U are from the USA there are many from Australia and Europe as well as a few from Canada (University of British Columbia, University of Lethbridge, University of Western Ontario and Queens University).
iTunes U allows instructors to use class time for discussions and other activities rather than relying on the traditional 50 minute lecture ('I'm up here and you're down there. My job is to talk and your job is to write what I say and reproduce it later.') It also allows students to listen to material more than once, at any location they choose. Many innovative and progressive instructors are using podcasts and other new technology.
There are some podcasts developed for the use of K-12 students in several American States. These are available on iTunes U.
Learning resources are not exclusive to educational institutions, as I've explained in Cappuccino U. Other institutions, private firms and individuals publish podcasts. iTunes U includes podcasts from museums, galleries, foundations, television stations and libraries.
I'm amazed and overwhelmed by the learning opportunities available from iTunes U, other podcasts, blogs and social media. I can learn virtually anything I want to learn from what I download at no cost. I could sit at my desk – or on a lawn chair in my backyard – and learn just by turning on my computer or listening to my iPod. And I do.
If I were a student choosing a University I would choose an institution that would allow me to mix my experiences from resources throughout the world, as Peter Scott suggests in the article cited at the beginning of this post. I would include some travel in my educational plans so that I could learn on site as well as online. However, if I were pursuing a University degree while working full-time or part-time asynchronous learning would be the logical choice.
Currently most educational institutions have no arrangements to share courses and instructors with other institutions and no interest in pursuing such an approach. Students will not allow this one size fits all approach to continue. They were born digital and they will want to work with institutions that use technology and resources effectively.
People who do not need or want degrees will simply take courses or learn informally from whatever source is the easiest and most effective.
Play with podcasts. Find them, listen to them on your computer or your iPhone or iPod (and, yes, there are other players), watch video podcasts, ask your friends about podcasts they enjoy.
Once you listen to a lot of podcasts you may decide that you'd like to create some yourself. The wonder of new technology is not how it works or whether you know the details of the technology: the wonder is what we do with this technology and how each of us may think of new, unique uses for it.
Have fun. That's how we learn.