Podcasts are surging in popularity, and it’s not difficult to see why. With nearly 700,000 active podcasts and approximately 48 million podcast episodes available, there is a podcast for everyone. And while we may be more accustomed to using podcasts to consume our news or as a source for entertainment, there’s a case to be made for why podcasts may be the format we need to revolutionize learning and development (L&D).

Though the L&D community has typically been slow to innovate, the professional transition to a hybrid work model shined a light on the need for a true blended learning approach to content. For some, that means complementing the latest consumer and technology trend through the realization of an audio-first format, one of the fastest growing modalities for learning.

The number of monthly U.S. podcast listeners will increase by 6.1% year-over-year to 125 million in 2022. People are also spending more time with podcasts — time spent listening to podcasts is expected to increase by 16.1% in 2022. Morning Consult echoed these findings in a recent survey, which found that 22% of consumers say they listened to podcasts more than usual throughout the pandemic.

As the pandemic continues, it’s important for companies to meet their employees where they are. For the 36.2 million Americans expected to work remotely by 2025, that means meeting them in the comfort of their own home. In-car media consumption also increased, currently half of the total U.S. population has engaged in online audio listening in the car through the use of their mobile devices, up from 45% of the population in the year prior. For those in human resources (HR) and L&D, using podcasts during the learning process gives employees the flexibility and mobility that is now expected of organizations across sectors.

Due in large part to the ambiguity and uncertainty of today’s business environment, we are continuously changing the ways in which we engage with content. Given the increased interest in podcast consumption as a personal form of entertainment, it’s important for L&D leaders to mimic that interest in a workplace setting by providing learning content through mediums best suited for the average consumer.

When L&D teams begin to think through new opportunities for learning content, there is also usually a visual element included for the sole purpose of engaging readers in hopes of evoking an immediate, more visceral reaction. What most leaders do not consider is that adding images and motion also increases the cognitive load which, in turn, impacts retention. By default, podcasts offer a preferable user experience by eliminating that burden, empowering listeners to internalize new information in the flow of work.

Podcasts present a unique opportunity for L&D leaders to add variety to their existing libraries of expected learning formats (i.e., eLearning, videos, etc.) and to capitalize on a growing consumer trend. At Cornerstone, we find that audio-only learning content works best when stories and storytelling anchor the course. For example, we’ve partnered with Masters of Scale to bring their popular podcast series to our curated learning subscription offering Content Anytime, to deliver learning in a preferred modality and to bridge the gap between typical workplace learning topics (e.g., leadership) and more consumer-focused topics (e.g., entrepreneurship). We believe these podcasts will be especially valuable for managers and organizational leaders in recognizing how business skills like selling an idea, identifying a new opportunity and scaling operations can be directly applicable to the workplace.

Whether it’s through podcasts or another format, organizations will need to refocus their L&D efforts to prioritize the most effective mediums for their employees. To leverage a podcast format specifically, businesses must be strategic in their storytelling efforts, focusing on key objectives and ensuring the learning content is both educational and compelling, without relying on motion, visuals or graphics to tell the story. Organizations will be most successful when they embrace new formats that follow consumer trends and push workplace learning beyond a classroom or computer screen. We all win when we empower employees to engage and learn in new and unexpected ways.

As learning leaders, it is our responsibility to re-envision and improve on existing L&D course offerings. Our learners want to be delighted and engaged by modern, creative content. However, many current product offerings are dated and uninspired. The future of L&D is now, and podcasts can help us get there.

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