I’m a well known advocate of free resources for learning, for good reason. There is so much content available now that it’s changing the role of the L&D professional: we are now ‘curators’, helping people find the resources they need to help them work better, rather than just pushing content at them.

I’ve looked at a wealth of resources across a wide range of different media – books, e-content, video, etc – but one of the areas which I struggled with was audio. I’ve always been a radio listener, much like the vast majority of the population. More than nine in every 10 people in the UK tune into the radio each week, and the average listener tunes into over 21 hours of live radio per week. I didn’t equate audio to learning until I started going to the gym regularly and soon realised that speech radio was a good way to avoid the ‘utz utz utz’ dance soundtrack that accompanies grunts and groans of physical exercise! From searching out talk radio, I discovered the joys of podcasts and am now a confirmed fan. But how and what to listen to? Hopefully this short guide might help.

First find your podcast player

Firstly, you need to find a podcast player – an app that will manage your ‘subscriptions’, which are the podcasts that you want to follow (most are free).

  • If you have an Apple device, then iTunes is the default option and probably can’t be bettered.
  • If you’re on Android, there is greater choice and I can recommend Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts and Podcast Player. Each has their benefits but they all have the same core functionality of saving and playing the podcasts you want to follow.

My favourite free podcasts

So what to listen to first? There are thousands of podcasts across any topic you might think of. This is great for the learning professional since it means there is bound to be a podcast for your industry or subject area. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • TED radio hour: If you’re looking for business related podcasts, then start with the TED Radio Hour. An extension of TED videos they take a number of speakers in a certain topic and combine their TED Talks with interviews and additional insighst.
  • HBR Ideacast: For more general business information, the HBR Ideacast is an alternative listen.
  • RSA podcasts: The RSA Radio podcast which, although new, considers more social and ethical questions.
  • Guilty Feminist: An alternative to the traditional business podcast is the Guilty Feminist which should be essential listening for all. It has challenged my thinking about gender at work and, although challenging, is an excellent listen.
  • Tall Poppy: I was recently put onto Tall Poppy which is a series about leadership and appears to have some interesting topics.
  • Stuff You Should Know and No Such Thing as a Fish are like audio versions of QI.
  • RadioLab is another favourite of mine, which weaves stories into science topics.
  • For storytelling, it’s hard to beat the Criminal podcast series or the Mystery Show. This American Life is the daddy of these type of podcasts and Found has an interesting hook based on the mystery surrounding abandoned items.

Podcasts specifically for L&D professionals

Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History is essential listening to challenge the beliefs we have in our function and the legends we have built our practice on.

Learning Now Radio has some excellent guests

The CIPD podcast series looks at L&D, OD and HR issues.  

The Tim Ferriss Show is excellent for more personalised development – check the Seth Godin episode first.

Making it relevant

When you’ve listened to the podcasts, what then? Well, I’ll use a podcast to explain… Episode three of the Revisionist History looks at the story of a basketball legend, Wilt Chamberlain, who had only one flaw: he couldn’t shoot free throws. In 1962, he switched to making his foul shots underhanded, and fixed his only weakness. But then he switched back. The podcast is an excellent meditation on the puzzle of why smart people do dumb things, why excellence is such a difficult and elusive goal, even for the best-intentioned. If this had been given to a leadership group to listen to, it could easily be used to facilitate a discussion about leadership habits and peer behaviours in a safe and non-threatening way.

Podcasts are a free and simple way that the L&D professional can supply high quality resources to a large staff population. Try them out to uncover different ways to engage people in learning, and let me know what your favourites are.

Andrew Jacobs is the Organisational Learning and Talent Manager for the London Borough of Lewisham. A recognised leader in learning, he is known for innovative thinking about learning, training and technology. He has specific understanding of developing online and digital solutions for learning, social profile and engagement. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewJacobsLD or read his well known Lost & Desperate blog