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How to Create a Podcast for e-Learning, DevLearn 2010

Rick Nielsen, who has hosted a podcast about e-learning for the last five years, put together a primer for first-time podcasters and presented it at DevLearn 2010 this week. DevLearn is one of the largest e-learning conferences in North America, held in San Francisco this year November 3-5.
His talk covered the how-to’s of podcasting: an overview of the process, some tips on quality, and a selection of tools on a modest budget.
Overview: The 7 Steps Podcasting Process
Nielsen says the process of creating a podcast can be understood best when broken out into seven steps:

  1. Plan it. What will one episode of the podcast cover? Nielsen recommends using a mindmap (such as Freemind or Mindmanager, for example) to plan the episode. Alternatively, use a bulleted outline. While some podcasters like to write out a full script, Nielsen personally doesn’t like to stick to a written text. He prefers adlibbing and recommends it to other people who know their material cold.
  2. Record it. This step, explained in more detail below, involves running a sound check and recording the actual podcast segments. Recordings should be done in an uncompressed wav format (or the Mac alternative) in 44Hz stereo or mono. Audacity is a free piece of software for recording and other functions, which Nielsen highly recommends for its multitude of uses.
  3. Edit and mix. Editing and mixing a podcast means simply cleaning it up. Again, Audacity is a great tool that automates a lot of the process of optimizing and compressing the file.
  4. Tag it. For any piece of content to be found online, whether an image or an MP3, it needs to be tagged with descriptors that tell users what it is. Again, the free tool Audacity helps podcasters walk through much of the process of tagging each episode: title, associated web site, “artist” or podcast host, and so on.
  5. Upload it. Uploading the podcast means putting it somewhere that other people can access it. Nielsen says podcasts (and really any large files) should be uploaded using an FTP client, such as Filezilla or Fetch, both of which are free.
  6. Embed it. Create a post for your podcast on a blog or web site with text that introduces it and a link to the uploaded audio file
  7. Burn it. “Burning” a podcast means publicizing that it is available on an RSS feed. Before buring a podcast, think through the title and description because these will be included when burned. Use Feedburner, and it will prompt the user through all the steps.

Tips on Podcasting Quality
The most important tip Nielsen shared is: Enjoy what you do. The enthusiasm a podcaster shows absolutely comes through in his or her voice, and if it’s lacking, so too will an audience be lacking.
Other tips:

  • Clearly define the podcast’s purpose.
  • Know your audience. What is your strategy? Just as an instructor must think through how she or he will engage the learners, a podcast host needs to think about what will engage the podcast listeners. When will they listen — on their commute, while multi-tasking and completing e-learning assignments, in a group? (It would be impossible, says Nielsen, to develop learning objectives without these first two points.)
  • Select an episode structure, and use it consistently. A structure with a beginning, middle, and end works best in the podcasting genre. “Having an intro — current events, and just what’s going on,” says Nielse. “Tell what happened to you this morning. People like that. They like knowing a little bit about you.” The intro and outro (an outro might be, “Thanks for listening to the e-Learn Podcast. I’m Jane Doe. Next week in the podcast I’ll be interviewing John Smith.” Also in the outro, Nielsen recommends giving the listener an action, such as visiting a web site or taking a quiz.
  • Don’t tackle too much in one episode. Each episode should feature one key segment, or one main topic.
  • Develop episode continuity. Build on concepts from one show the next. “These planning and strategy initiatives are community builders in themselves,” Nielsen says.
  • Deliver episodes consistently. People hate to be stood up, even in the podcasting world, so if they are expecting an episode weekly or monthly, it’s important to deliver on that promise.
  • Choose an appropriate episode length, and stick to it. Nielsen says 20 minutes is just about right for most podcasts. Remember that most listeners take in a podcast in one sitting.

Tools on a Budget
What does it cost to create and publish a podcast?
First, a computer is required, and Nielsen recommends a good laptop for portability. One need not spend more than about $800 for a good notebook these days, says Nielsen, and certainly, many people already own one.
Second, podcasters will need a decent sound card. Oftentimes PCs and Macs will already include one, but to upgrade or buy a new one, it shouldn’t cost more than about $100 for a sound card.
Don’t skimp on good speakers, running upwards of $75.
A USB headset with a microphone for $40-$50 is an indispensable tool. Pick one with a flexible mic, too, such as Plantronics’ USB headset.
While it’s not necessary to build a full sound booth, it is important to find a quiet space with little to no ambient noise. Working on a combo headset/microphone helps a lot with ambient sound, but in general, seek out a small, furnished and carpeted room. Draw the curtains to eliminate additional echo.
Avoid large rooms, tile, linoleum, air conditioning units, mobile phones, heaters, and ceiling fans.
Option tools include a voice recorder with a speaker for remote recording when lugging a laptop is too cumbersome (try the Edirol). And for video podcasts, hosts will need something a little more upscale than a cheap flip cam, such as the Kodak Play Touch (1,080 pixel HD video) or the Kodak Zi8.
For software, Audacity (free) will really meet almost all podcasting needs.
For more about Rick Nielsen, see eLearningRadio.com and businesslearningsystems.com.

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