The podcast. It seems like they are suddenly everywhere, though they have been around for a long time now. Podcasting used to be called "audio blogging" and we can see why that was ditched. It's not just because these days podcasts can also have a video element and not just audio, but also because "audio blogging" makes us sound like we still think gramophones are high-tech.
On every imaginable subject, from conspiracy theories and true crime to an actor who is on a mission to find out why Tom Hanks fired him from an HBO series in 2001, podcasts cover every niche imaginable, and more that you could never have imagined in the first place.
How many of us listen to podcasts? According to this article, there are over 700,000 active podcasts in the world, and 62 million weekly listeners in the US alone. The 2021 edition of the infinite dial study puts that figure on the rise after the pandemic, with 41% of US citizens over the age of 12 now considered regular podcast listeners.
With remote workflows a natural part of producing podcasts, it is easy to see why the medium lent itself well to a lockdown society in 2020-1, but that still doesn't explain why people love them so much.
The niche appeal is definitely part of it. Think of how broad the internet is, with a website or community for everyone. Whether you love Japanese anime or you are obsessed with ancient tribal tattoos, there is a place for you that the mainstream media just cannot provide.
Podcasts are an extension of that. For those of us who want to find our tribe in imagining a new approach to education, we can join in with shows like Gamechangers and find people who see things broadly the same as we do, but yet broaden our horizons and challenge our assumptions as we learn. Podcasts bring these communities to life.
So the depth of podcasts is also very much part of the appeal. TV or radio shows tend to treat issues quickly and superficially before cutting to commercial; trying to hold your attention before you flick over to one of the 500 alternatives on the goggle-box. Podcasts can go deep and explore the issue to such an extent that you can actually learn and retain something through spaced repetition of key ideas, and a more condensed construction of schema-mental models of the idea structures that might actually stick around in the brain long enough for you to access them. Our increasingly busy lives also make podcasts really appealing. Have you ever tried to watch an episode of something on Netflix while making dinner? Your fajitas would have looked much better with your full attention. While driving, running, relaxing, cooking, lying on a beach, or even working on something reasonably automatic, the podcast means we can learn and grow at the same time. This on-demand learning and entertainment that demands nothing of us is a perfect model for the modern world and the balance of responsibilities so many of us have to juggle. The podcast means there can be "me time" amidst the noise, without taking our foot off the gas. Finally, podcasts are pretty short. Committing to an audiobook is like getting into a long-term relationship these days, as we spread the listening over several days or weeks. We love audiobooks, but they have to be really good to hold our attention and commitment for the duration. The podcast is a short and passionate affair, which asks nothing more of you, but has you coming back again and again on your own terms. Perhaps that is why podcasts are on the rise, while audiobook use seems to be flattening out.
You really have to be clear on this before you start. Take it from us when we say that listening to a podcast may be a passionate affair, but producing one is a labor of enduring love. Go in with eyes open and think about the long term.
So why did we want to launch The NEO Academy Podcast? To connect, to be part of a conversation we care about, to have a platform to share ideas in a way that engages, and to do all of the above on a deeper and more substantive level.
Connecting with professionals around the world on LinkedIn is great, but with an algorithm that favors broetry over depth, it is not the best place to share the more complex side of issues and ideas.
There is also the sense that on LinkedIn, there is a persona that people allow you to see; carefully sculpted into a one-page embodiment of the professional presence you wish to convey. Though some might try to inject character by calling themselves a "marketing ninja" we rarely get a true sense of who is behind the tagline. Podcasts reveal that, and we love them for this above all else. Finding your tribe is only half the voyage, connecting is the bit that really matters.
As much as we try to show who we are and what we care about in the world of education, there is so much noise on social media channels that authenticity is hard to perceive. On a podcast, we feel that there is space to say this is us, this is what we care about, these are the people who align with our values and here is what we want to say.
If you feel the same and want to get that message out there, we cannot think of a better way to do it.
We really wanted to do this podcast right from the start, and our experience 3 months in is entirely positive. NEO Academy is an education marketing & recruitment consultancy, but we definitely do not stick to that core topic. We felt that there was more than enough chatter out there about increasing engagement and wanted to explore the wider context of our environment.
We have always felt that, as a purpose-driven team, we had to be conscious of the type of institutions we were supporting to grow. We believe in learner-directed, purposeful, meaningful approaches to education, that equip learners with the skills to be positive and fulfilled members of an increasingly complex and challenging society.
That has given us a broad field! We have talked about finding your why and what creativity really means, but we have also connected with key figures in our sector that inspire us, just to find out more about who they are behind the profile. We have always felt that the worlds of marketing and academics should be far closer in building authenticity and sustainability in equal terms to help their institutions thrive, and so our network spans both.
When we talk about innovations like integrating WhatsApp in student recruitment or Project-Based learning, we are always aware that our colleagues in marketing and admissions will benefit hugely from really understanding these things better too. Likewise, when we see great things happening in institutions, we want to help them share those insights to help others embrace positive change through the inspiration this brings.
Did we mention fun? When you talk about what you love, how could it be otherwise? We learn every week, laugh, connect with passion and emotion and forge more authentic bonds with people and institutions we want to support. We are sure there are challenges to come, but we are yet to see a downside to this.
You. You come next. If reading this has resonated with you, please reach out to be a guest or just to get some advice on starting your own. We are happy to help. You can find some inspiration through back-episodes of our #NEOchats, and a special bonus for those who prefer these articles on an audio basis: #NEOideas.
Though Mark, our host is easy on the eyes, we understand that having a devastatingly handsome* figure on the screen will not help you focus on those fajitas. In service of your busy life and need to focus, we have launched an audio-only version of him: The NEO Academy Podcast. Give it a try, and let us know if, like us, you also feel like he's the next Andy Puddicombe of the education industry**.
*editors note - The NEO Academy Podcast host also wrote this article, and this claim may have been wildly exaggerated.
**Andy declined to comment.