My Prediction on Podcasting in Higher Education

I don’t remember when I first started listening to podcasts. I don’t even really remember why. Now my subscriptions are taking up most all of the data on my phone. Some are about higher ed, but most are on topics that I’m passionate about or just make me laugh.

Podcasting through the years

This trend is growing. According to the Pew Research Center, monthly listening has increased 15% since 2008 among adults and the number of podcasts available grow by leaps and bounds year over year. In his own research, Josh Morgan indicated the number of podcasts launched in 2015 was nearly double the amount launched the year prior, accounting for nearly one-third of all podcasts listed in iTunes at that time.

Source: Josh Morgan (The Plural of You). “Podcasts on iTunes” a.k.a. iTunes US Podcast Directory. Retrieved July-August 2015. Full article.

The Pew Research Center also reports nearly 40% of Americans have ever listened to a podcast, and 50% are aware of the concept. While the number of listeners has been increasing at a steady rate since 2006 (when just over 10% of Americans had listened before), it’s interesting to note that podcasting awareness has stayed relatively flat — hovering at the 45–50% number since 2010.

Source: Pew Research Center; Edison Research and Triton Digital, “The Infinite Dial 2017.”

Unsurprisingly, thanks to the growing number and variety of podcasts, this growth in listenership is fairly consistent between men and women, and most podcast listeners are between 18 and 34 years old. And, while the entire catch of a podcast is the ability to subscribe and receive notifications for the latest episodes, only 27% of listeners take advantage of the feature. Most (77%) will click on a podcast and listen immediately.

Higher Education Plays Catchup

With any medium, higher education will anxiously look at this new space and ask, should we have a podcast? and some already have — myself included. There’s a lot to consider before jumping in, but this shouldn’t stop institutions from starting up or entering the podcasting world before competitors do.

There are nearly 2,000 podcasts listed in the Education category on iTunes, with content spanning from learning English to how to be a better parent. Unfortunately higher education has yet to earn its own spot in the iTunes store and other podcast players (although Education is divided on iTunes Preview between Educational Technology, Higher Education, K-12, Language Courses, and Training), but I believe as the medium grows the need for more specific classification of podcasts will be inevitable. Imagine students hunting for colleges first skimming through the “college” podcast category instead of searching on Google! Suddenly, the thing that will make you stand out most is a quirky name for your podcast.

Photo by Juja Han on Unsplash

Ownership

One of the big problems with projects in higher education is that of ownership. Whose podcast is it? As a new communication medium it’s easy to assume that it would live within marketing or communications. But then it possibly becomes an external marketing initiative, and perhaps student life was hoping to reach students on campus. So, is it their podcast? I just hope it won’t turn into a meeting with five different divisions on campus.

There’s no “right” answer to who owns the podcast on a college campus; it really comes down to the overarching goal, as well as division of resources. Whatever department owns it is usually the one who has to see it through, and that’s an important discussion to have as soon as possible.

The Evolution

I truly believe the ownership discussion will come after the ooh shiny period for many institutions. Much like institution’s first dive into Facebook, Instagram, or Snapchat, the department who is most interested in the platform will jump first (and then, likely, Communications will rush in to clean it up and put it on brand). Divisions that decide we need a podcast but don’t have the resources will likely toss the responsibility at students because they’re not quite sure how it all works, but their student was an extra in a high school band’s music video one time.

This method usually results in a great podcast that loses momentum the day after the student graduates from college, or something mediocre because of a lack of resources or experience. That’ll lose steam too. Thanks, senioritis.

It’s inevitable but a shame, really, because podcasting can become a unique and powerful resource for so many divisions of campus. Naturally, some institutions will hit the podcast sweet-spot and really find their stride (and, I hope all of them do!), and suddenly a podcast will feel as “required” as a social media presence.

And Beyond

Once the higher education space has noticed podcasting as a valuable medium (and really, it’s not too far off considering the significant number of podcasts that have launched in 2017 alone), institutions will put more resources into its creation. Remember when social media was an “other duties as assigned” and now nearly all institutions have at least one Social Media Coordinator (or Director?) as part of their marketing teams? There’s no question in my mind that institutions will be hiring podcast producers within the next 5 years.

I also believe the we need this feeling will resonate with departments on campus the same way social media platforms have slowly creeped up from smaller divisions of campus. For better or worse, academic departments, student life, even the Library could (and may) try to enter the space to connect with their niche audiences.

As an avid podcast listener, producer, and host I’m so excited to see institutions in higher education enter this space and find what works best for them.

If you’re listening to a great higher education podcast, add it to the comments!