A user holding a tablet with an audio podcast with different formats.

The podcast that put mainstream podcasting on the map – “Serial” – sparked a new wave of using audio-only as entertainment. What is it that makes this form of media so compelling? Podcasting wasn’t a new idea. Series such as “This American Life” on WBEZ have been using the medium of podcasting long before the launch of “Serial.”  True crime is a genre that has been explored to such a degree that it is nearly a caricature of itself, complete with multiple television channels dedicated to it. One of the primary reasons “Serial” was a runaway hit and pop culture phenomenon is because it told a story that built upon itself, explored theories and ideas, and led people to question everything they had previously heard. It sparked the desire to learn more about the case, central characters, and legal procedures – subjects that may have never otherwise piqued some people’s interest.

Podcasted training materials may not be as compelling to listen to as the case explored on “Serial,” but instructional designers can take a nod from the presentation of the format and apply it to training. Storytelling is one of the simplest yet most memorable and effective ways to present content. Build the presentation of new content upon content from previous episodes, and post all archived episodes, so that participants may go back to refresh their memory.

Use Different Voices

Think about some ways in which the hosts of “Serial” would weave episodes together through the use of many different voices. In podcasts, one person should never do all the talking. By using interviews, the hosts should be able to build their case and present a series of events that feel real. Contrast this method with the prospect of one narrator relaying information for an episode at a time – it would be difficult for listeners to stay engaged if they had to listen to the same voice all the time.

Build an Online Community

One best practice that helps to increase engagement among learners is building an online community of listeners. This community will enable learners to stay current, even when they are waiting for a new episode to come out. To increase the effectiveness of podcasts, instructional designers can create useful content or short posts of updates on the topic of the podcasts, add links to additional materials, design images/infographics, and even extra listening material. Adding an online space for podcast listeners to visit between presentations will give them more touch-points to connect with the material. Another benefit of adding a web component is that instructional designers will not need to talk through every piece of information in the podcast – some can be left for the learners to read on their own time. Message boards or other forms of live communication on the site allow users to explore their particular interests in the content in their own way. Adult learners desire something unique to themselves, and can find ways to personalize their learning through the partnering website.


Be sure that any podcast that you use or link to has a transcript. You would be surprised how many well-known podcasts are not accessible. CourseArc supports adding transcripts for any type of audio or video.

sample transcript for a workflow

Technical Tips

microphone with pop filterLastly, practice the art of podcasting. It is important that the recording space is free of background noise and distraction. Editing out mistakes is a good practice, but, keep in mind that, frequently, material sounds more natural if there are small hiccups. Additionally, it is easier to listen to a real conversation than canned audio. Clearly, podcasts can significantly enhance eLearning courses; however, because they are not interactive in nature, it is best to use them as supporting material as opposed to stand-alone courses.