How Podcasts and Other Media Feed Learning Addiction

In a recent series of blog posts (1, 2, 3) I talked about the concept of ‘learning addiction’, and that for some people, it can be very tempting to continue acquiring vast quantities of knowlege far and beyond any practical abaility to apply it. Unfortunately, I guess this hilights a problem with podcasts – there […]

In a recent series of blog posts (1, 2, 3) I talked about the concept of ‘learning addiction’, and that for some people, it can be very tempting to continue acquiring vast quantities of knowlege far and beyond any practical abaility to apply it.

Unfortunately, I guess this hilights a problem with podcasts – there is very little navigational control one you are in a ‘chunk’ of audio. Thus it is much harder (than with a newspaper or internet article) to:

  • skip to the next topic,
  • read a topic heading and decide if it is relevant to you,
  • skim through a topic of minimal interest,
  • bookmark a topic to look into further later,
  • or jump to the references and read about that item in more depth.

It can even be a pain finding a list of the topics in a particular audio file in order to decide if it is worth listening to. Of course there is no technical reasons that these forms of navigation are not possible, so given time we are likely (hopefully) to see them become more widely available. QuickTime’s ‘enhanced podcasts’ are making some progress in this area, but there is still a lot more work to do.

But in the here and now, this still poses a problem, in that the system generally makes us consume more information than we need to – possibly causing, but at the least, supporting ‘learning addiction’.

It is intersting to see how this differs across different media forms. TV and radio are similar to podcasts and vodcasts, in that you get, e.g. a 1 hour chunk of news with the topics chosen by someone else, and minimal navigational control, although with TV and radio it is arguably slightly easier to change the channel. Newspapers and print media offers a lot more navigational control which, if used with dicipline can make you a lot more efficient, however, it is still a big ‘chunk’ (10’s of pages) of topics chosen by someone else, and because they are so readily available and have such tantalising headlines, people can still be easily tempted to feed their learning addiction. Online news probably has the best navigational control, but the concept of ‘chunking’ gets a little gray. A chunk could be interpreted as what story is on the page, what stories are linked to from this page, all the stories on the site, or all the stories on the internet. Thus the contribution to learning addiction is quite variable. I wonder if artificially increasing the time to load a new page might actually help curb learning addiction by increasing the cost in the cost:benefit ratio, and thus making the decision to read it more consciously “is this information valuable or just entertaining – am I going to apply it?”.

These comparisons can’t be limited just to different media forms – within a single media (e.g. podcasts) there can be different uses of the media (a news show, a panel discussion, a seminar or interview, or a novel etc). Interestingly, the same Audible interview with Ben Bova and Orson Scott Card as referred to in a recent post talked about the advantages of audio books (some audio books are also released as podcasts, or at the least downloaded in segments, so the distinction is blurred) because they had limited navigational control. They liked that story is delivered at the pace and in the detail the author had envisaged – it is very hard to skip ahead or skim over certain parts. In one anecdote, Orson (I think) had started listening to a long book which started quite slow – if he had been reading it he would have skimmed throught the start, but as he was listening he didn’t, and his opinion was that this resulted in a much more pleasurable and fulfilling experience. In this case, I don’t think it contributes to learning addiction, as the entire novel is on a single topic that the listener chose ahead of time, and it is more a form of entertainment and relaxation, which may not need to be ‘applied’ to anything more than that.

Author: EricWoods

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