What Are Podcasts, and Can I Use Them to Train?

Don’t be intimidated—podcasts are easy to create and distribute, and they can serve a useful role in your safety training program. Our Safety Training Tips editor tells you how.

What is a podcast? According to Wikipedia, “A podcast is a series of digital-media files [MP3 files] which are distributed over the Internet [or an intranet] using syndication feeds [RSS feeds] for playback on portable media players [such as iPods] and computers. The term podcast, like broadcast, can refer either to the series of content itself or to the method by which it is syndicated; the latter is also called podcasting. The host or author of a podcast is often called a podcaster.”

The word “podcast” was coined by putting together the word “iPod” and the word “broadcast.” Just about anyone with a computer, a microphone, some modest computer skills, and free or inexpensive recording software can create a podcast.

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How can you use podcasts? Podcasts can be used in a variety of ways to enhance safety training. Among other things, you could use a podcast to:
–Update safety policies
–Review simple procedural or regulatory changes
–Broadcast safety awareness messages
–Broadcast short interviews with in-house or outside safety experts
–Present brief case studies involving safety issues
–Talk about a recent accident, its causes, and measures required to prevent similar accidents
–Allow employees who miss regular training meetings to listen to the proceedings

Podcasts can also be used by upper management to talk directly to employees at all levels in the organization about new initiatives and strategies, the organization’s mission and goals, and other motivational information.

What are the advantages (and disadvantages) of podcast safety training? Let’s start with the advantages:
–Podcasts are cheap and easy to prepare, and easy for employees to access and listen to.
–Everybody gets the same information, presented in the same way.
–One recording reaches any number of employees, any time, anywhere they happen to be (for example, you can reach workers on different shifts, employees on the road, or workers at remote locations).
–Delivery is on demand, so employees can listen at their convenience without interrupting work to attend a safety meeting.
–Your young employees will probably think it’s “cool” that they can listen to safety training and other important messages on their portable media players.
–Employees who don’t like to read much will appreciate being able to listen to safety training instead.
–Podcasts are easy to update, which is always an important feature when it comes to safety training.
–Podcasts can be downloaded automatically to employees’ computers or portable media players whenever content is changed or added.

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Although the advantages certainly make podcasts attractive for training, there may be downsides of which you should be aware. For one thing, you’re depending on employees to actually listen to the podcast and pay attention while they’re listening. Another problem is that studies show that the best learning is interactive and contains both auditory and visual components. Presenting safety information in an exclusively audio format isn’t necessarily the best way to ensure retention. It is likely that podcasts soon will include a video component, and perhaps even interactive features, if and when they can be broadcast to a BlackBerry®. In the meantime, there are ways around this audio-only problem that can preserve the benefits of training podcasts and minimize the disadvantages. Here are few suggestions:
–Keep training podcasts short and to the point—no more than a few minutes.
–Add some humor and some fun whenever possible to attract attention to the message and maintain interest.
–Back up the podcast with an e-mail that contains a written handout that highlights the information in the podcast and can be printed out and used for reference.
–Require employees to e-mail back a confirmation form that attests to the fact that they’ve received and listened to the podcast. You might also want to have a questions or comments box on the confirmation form so that employees can clarify any issues about which they are unclear.
–Have supervisors follow up on podcast information in subsequent safety meetings and conversations with employees.

Why It Matters…

–Safety training and awareness prevents workplace accidents.
–Much of the safety training you do is mandated by OSHA, so you have to make sure you get the same information out to all affected employees in a timely fashion.
–Podcasts are a cheap and easy way to spread your safety message and provide vital safety information.
–Podcasts are also easy to update, available on demand, and can reach employees at any time and any place (even when they’re not in the workplace).


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