A great learning innovation is the podcast. They are an excellent way to learn while walking, on a long car ride or just waiting for the bus. Most are completely free and give you access to a whole new world of fascinating materials. Here are five favorites by subject — fun, interesting and sure to be easier to digest than your textbook!
Let’s start with life itself: Biology. The BBC’s Infinite Monkey Cage podcast provides a hilarious yet interesting take on biology. Topics include life in the world’s deepest oceans, the human voice and the future of antibiotics. Another series of great Bio podcasts can be found at Microbe.tv, while This Week In… provides some excellent podcasts on the topics of Evolution, Microbiology, Parasitism, Virology and more.
From Biology it’s a quick jump to Chemistry. The Science History Institute delivers Distillations, a quirky look at the links between Chemistry and everyday life. Discover the world of nixtamalization, a chemical process that made the Mesoamerican empires thrive and tacos taste good. Other topics include the history of deodorant, and why replacing cotton with synthetic fibers could become our “yoga pant problem.” The UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry’s podcast focuses on specific chemical elements, with weekly storytelling on existing and newly discovered members of the periodic table.
If you are interested in Physics, check out the awesome collection of NASA podcasts. With titles such as “On a Mission”, “Welcome to the Rocket Ranch”, and “Houston, We Have a Podcast,” these audio gems show you the latest in our discovery of the universe and how NASA continues to push the envelope.
Math is covered in Math Mutations – a quick five-minute series on interesting (or just plain weird) corners of mathematics that you would not have heard in school. The Relatively Prime podcast covers the history of Math, explaining the groundbreaking work done by Gauss, Laplace, and Poisson.
What better way to learn History than to listen to it? Unsurprisingly, there are dozens of excellent history podcasts out there. To name just a few: Stuff You Missed in History Class, Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, and the more lighthearted Ridiculous History.
English is another subject that is perfectly suited for learning by listening. Grammar Girl, a multiple winner of the Podcast Award’s Best Education Podcast, teaches you the right pronunciation of words, how they came into the English language and why mice is the plural of mouse. Inspired by Oscar Wilde’s question, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”, the The Times Literary Supplement brings a wide-ranging weekly podcast on literature. And if you just have a few minutes a day and still want to expand your vocabulary, listen to a new Word of the Day in just under two minutes!
The Economist brings a daily update on how Macroeconomics and politics intersect. The Freakonomics podcast is just as interesting as the original book – showing how economics, statistics, and human behavior can explain almost everything. Macro Musings by George Mason University’s David Beckworth features a weekly interview on important macroeconomic issues of the past, present, and future.
Of course, there are more podcasts out there – on many more topics and subjects. Studies have shown that listening to an educational podcast will boost your learning, retention, and even mood. Now that’s something worth listening to!