So I’m kind of a podcast fanatic. Aside from hosting a couple myself (one on research and the other on surviving and thriving in higher ed), I’m also an avid podcast listener.

I first started listening to podcasts as a form of entertainment. About five years ago I stumbled across a podcast about fiction books hosted by two employees at Random House called *Books on the Nightstand. I loved hearing about the latest books and these two hosts were extremely well read. When they recommended a couple more podcasts on books, I started listening to those as well. Then Serial came along and it seemed like podcasts exploded. I was able to find a podcast talking about pretty much any topic under the sun.

Fast forward a year or so and I’m now subscribed to about 50. I don’t actively listen to them all, but I’ve put a bunch in my queue so that I know where to find them when I’m ready.

Now, I still listen to podcasts for entertainment, but I’ve also started to really rely on them for learning. I’ve found that it’s like carrying around a digital course in your pocket. I listen to episodes mostly during my driving commute to work, but also sometimes around the house when I’m cleaning or on the weekends when I’m running errands. They’ve also pretty much replaced my audio book listening altogether.

Basically, I’m hooked.

After listening to several shows, I’ve realized there is definitely a range when it comes to podcast quality. When I’m looking for a good podcast for learning, these are the characteristics that I keep in mind:

  • Hosts with experience in the topic. Some of my favorite podcasts are hosted by people with years of experience in the topic of their show. One that I’m loving right now is Being Boss, which is hosted by two female small business owners. They talk about their experiences growing their businesses, working with clients, and generally what it means to them to be successful and in control of their professional lives. I can’t get enough.
  • Hosts with passion. Being really interested in a subject is always contagious for me. It could be something I’m not that interested in myself, but if you’re passionate all of a sudden I’m fascinated. Case in point: Young House Love Has a Podcast. I’m not planning to renovate, redecorate, or rejuvenate my house any time soon, but I love this podcast by a husband/wife team who are known for their popular blog Young House Love.
  • Hosts that are having fun. One of my favorite podcasts to learn about new books is Literary Disco. The show is hosted by three friends who met when they were in a creative writing graduate program together. Not only do they have great chemistry, but they are also clearly having fun. They joke, play games, and laugh a lot and it is super fun to be along for the ride.
  • Hosts with a broad network. The best thing for me about a podcast is that I can hear quality interviews and learn from people that I find interesting and smart. This is what I try to do on my own research podcast where I bring someone on the show each week to talk about a topic related to research in higher education. I’m learning a ton from all the guests and I hope that our listeners are as well.
  • Hosts that are consistent and committed. I tend to favor weekly podcasts. Even when I can’t listen to them all the week they are posted, I like the consistency of having regular episodes being produced. I also think that makes for a more committed, and a better quality, podcast. The practice of the host shows over time. One of the more committed pair of hosts I’ve listened to are on Happier, a podcast where two sisters talk about their lives and how to apply information about habits and well-being to improve our day-to-day lives. Not only is the show well-produced, but they’ve also recently started posting two episodes a week.

Podcasts have a range of uses — the best ones (in my mind) are the ones that combine entertainment with a learning opportunity. Each of the podcasts I mention above teach me something, whether it’s about a new book I should read, a new habit I should pick up, or how to paint my kitchen cabinets.

When I hear a great podcast episode, I just can’t believe how amazing it is that podcasters give away their knowledge and expertise for free. It’s an incredible resource that I plan to keep taking advantage of.

To think on:

  • What podcasts can you not get enough of?
  • How do you use podcasts in your life?

*That first podcast I started listening to stopped producing episodes this year. They had been around for 8 years and had recorded almost 400 episodes. It was an amazing commitment. They episodes are still available on their website if you want to take a listen.