Updated: Nov 11, 2020
In 2020, it's hard to deny the growing trend of audio learning. More than 70% of Americans are aware of podcasts. 68 million listen on a weekly basis. Perhaps you're one of them, or a friend of yours is.
Sure, some listen for entertainment. But many tune in to achieve new skills. To learn new things.
Because "scientia potentia est." Knowledge is power.
The story of this quote is a fascinating one.
To understand it, you have to go back to the 15th and 16th centuries. This was the age of the great explorers. Magellan, Francis Drake, Christopher Columbus. The world was still largely unexplored. North and South America were still being explored.
Asia was largely a mystery. Scientific progress wasn't something to be shared, but a national secret. Breakthroughs such as how to calculate longitude, shipbuilding, metallurgy, and navigation were closely guarded.
Nations, such as Spain and Portugal, with maps and charts showing the way to the new world, were growing rich off their information. Nations without these maps -- England, Holland, France -- jealously tried to find these secrets out for themselves.
It's in this context that Sir Francis Bacon, one of England’s great explorers, wrote, "ipsa scientia potestas est." Translated loosely: Knowledge itself is power.
Knowledge was indeed power: power to the new world, power to riches, power to maritime supremacy.
500 years have passed, and yet that statement is truer today than ever before. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), we are about to see a massive change in the work force. Job requirements are changing faster today than ever before. 50% of jobs that are relevant today won't be relevant in 10 years.
This means that a massive retraining of the workforce is needed. People need to learn new skills, and fast.
Unfortunately, despite the need, the time and resources to do this are few. Between a 9 to 5 job, family life, and the hour-and-a-half-commute that the average Joe has each day, when exactly are you supposed to learn new skills?
Massive open online classes (MOOCs) and online learning platforms such as Coursera, EdX, Udemy, or Udacity have done a great job putting quality content online, sometimes even for free. Where they've failed, however, is making it accessible. By accessible I mean convenient and easy to consume and learn.
Video courses by their nature, while great for frontal learning, require too much time and attention for most people. It's not surprising really. Even though you might have the best intentions when you start that History of Rome course, that material is competing with every other browser tab you have open. In essence, it's competing with the entire internet.
That's pretty tough competition. This is one of the reasons why most online courses have an abysmal completion rate. Only a measly 5% of students finish a course. 5 out of every 100 students.
It’s ironic in some ways. Online video courses have promised to democratize learning and make it accessible. Unfortunately, they haven't. The barriers to success are high.
That's why audio has seen such massive growth. Because it fits our lifestyle. There’s less competition. By nature, it uses the time when we’re "on the go", as in not in front of a screen. It’s the time we have available throughout our day.
Not only that, but usually it’s “dead time." The moments in our day when we’re “stuck” and would rather be doing other things: standing in line, waiting in traffic, or washing the dishes.
Because of this, audio learning has begun to boom.
Enter Audio Learning
And join that with compounding. You know, when you start with something small and build off of it regularly, until you see unfettered exponential growth.
Compounding is one of the most powerful laws of nature.
“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it ... he who doesn't ... pays it.”
- Albert Einstein
Einstein was talking about money. Put a 100,000 dollars in the bank. Let's say you get 5% interest back. That's $105,000 in the first year. Then, $110,250 the next.
Then it grows: 115,762.50, 121,550.63, 127,628.16, 134,009.57, 140,710.05, 147,745.55.
In just 8 years, your money went from $100,000 to $147,745.55. After 25 years, it would be $338,635.49. That's the power of compounding!
Now let's translate that to audio learning. Or as we say, learning on the go.
Imagine using the hour and a half that you're in the car each day to learn something new. Imagine not only that time, but all the other times throughout your day when your hands, or eyes, are busy, but your ears and mind are free: when you're walking the dog, washing dishes, shopping, out for a jog etc.
In that time alone you could be learning the equivalent of 20 Harvard University courses each year. At least.
And all the knowledge you're learning? Foundations build into skyscrapers. You'll go from adding to multiplying to performing operations to creating your own log functions to measure business performance. Or from drawing the heart to understanding the different valves to performing surgery on one yourself. (Compounding!)
Audio learning is how you solve the skills gap. It's how you achieve more, in the time you have. Because knowledge really is power. I've experienced this myself: being able to put the pieces of information together when others can't, knowing a skill set that others might not. Being able to make sense of a discussion that might have gone over your head. Knowing enough to know what you don't know and ask the right questions.
These are moments I've experienced. Where knowledge has meant the difference between success and failure.
Audio learning can make that difference.
Now that we've established the why and the what, let's move on to the how.
How does auditory based learning work?
How can you learn while you're driving or washing the dishes?
Will the learning stick?
What if you're a "visual learner"?
All of these are good questions, and luckily, cognitive science, i.e the science behind how our brain functions, has great answers.
Let's look at them one by one.
How does audio learning work?
Just like regular learning.
Learning is based on a few principles:
1. Our working memory can only focus on a few things at once.
2. We remember things - ideas, knowledge, events, because of a combination of meaning and repetition. Meaning helps us focus on it and notice it now, repetition makes sure we remember it for the long run.
3. Learning is active. You can't passively absorb everything, but have to actively engage with it.
All three of these have nothing to do with the method by which you're learning, rather these are key principles that underlie how our brain functions and learns new things. Use these four principles in your learning or teaching, and it's sure to stick, whether you're seeing or hearing the material.
At Alpe, we use these three principles in every lesson, course and summary to make our audio learning stick.
We follow Einstein's maxim that “Genius is making complex ideas, simple”. If you truly understand something you should be able to explain it as simply as possible.
Mastery of the material comes in the ability to convey it simply and concisely.
By keeping the material simple, understandable, and concise, we ensure that your working memory never feels overwhelmed. This is especially needed for audio-based learning, when multitasking is frequent. All of these take some mental capacity, so the material has to be built for simplicity.
Learning starts with caring about the material and being interested in it. That's what gives it meaning. At Alpe, we interweave stories and examples into each lesson to infuse meaning and make sure you're paying attention. We use repetition of key concepts within lessons and in between lessons to make sure that the material is sinking in. Meaning and repetition make up the magic formula for meaningful learning.
Making learning a part of your daily routine is a powerful tool for learning. It makes repetition, which is usually one of the hardest parts of learning, easy. What’s unique about audio is how seamless this otherwise difficult habit becomes.
“The recall principle gives us an important insight into memory, and why we remember what we remember. That principle is that memory is the residue of thought. In other words, when something means enough to us, to make us think and focus on it, that is the foundation of memory... The opposite of this principle is that if we DON’T pay attention to something, we definitely won’t remember it.”
- Rethink Learning, an Alpe course
Active learning is critical. It’s not enough to ingest material passively, you have to take an active role. You have to be challenged. Real learning happens when the going gets rough.
So, Alpe lessons enable learners to ask questions from a teacher assistant, answer quizzes, and engage with the material after the lessons. We believe that the magical moment of learning occurs when you apply what you've learned in your life, on problems that you've been working on. We aim for every course to have that moment.
“One really good way is using a technique called Recall. Trying to recall information from your long term memory to your working term memory forces your brain to find the pathway leading to the right memory warehouse, and bring that information back to working memory, because that’s where active thinking is done."
- Rethink Learning, an Alpe course
Basically, applying learning to active and real-life applications helps you learn and remember even more!
What about complex equations or photography techniques? Can that really be translated to audio?
We have to admit, audio learning doesn’t work for every topic. The question I get asked most often is “How can you teach math or computer science with just audio?” followed by the statement “I’m a visual learner”.
While the first statement is true, the second definitely isn’t.
Some material just doesn’t lend itself to audio. There are topics that have to be practiced by hand or seen to be understood: art, programming, math.
But, that’s only 10% of the curriculum. The rest – humanities, social sciences, soft skills all fit audio. And I'm sure you'd fail to find a time when a conversation didn't help your photography technique, artistic eye, or ability to solve a problem. Audio surely adds to the visual.
As for learning styles, it’s a myth that persists, despite all the research that cognitive science has unearthed to debunk it. While seeing is necessary for visual material, such as reading a map, analyzing a painting, or memorizing a graph, it’s not necessary for other kinds of material. The myth of “seeing the text written” is simply not true.
“In fact, the researchers were able to conclude that learning in a preferred style was not more effective than learning in another style. Students who learned in their preferred style, did not remember more information when tested.”
- Rethink learning, an Alpe audio course
The bottom line about audio learning
When it comes down to it, audio learning breaks down into Einstein’s “eighth wonder of the world": the power of compounding.
When you make learning a habit, it compounds over time.
So while some might doubt the power of audio learning, you can never doubt the power of compounding over time. That's the true power of audio learning. It's learning that's with you throughout your day. Each and every day.