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The College of St. Scholastica

Podcasts are far from new, yet many contemporary critics have dubbed 2016 as the year that podcasting exploded in popularity. This is largely due to the increased ease of consumption when it comes to accessing this particular mode of media. With the major advancements in our mobile devices and broadband connections becoming more commonplace, users can now stream podcasts from just about anywhere with a number of different apps, such as the Apple Podcasts app, Stitcher, SoundCloud and PodOmatic.

It’s also true that the now infamous Serial podcast thrust the medium into the limelight, as it quickly became the fastest podcast ever to reach five million downloads. Today, thousands upon thousands of listeners tune in each week to podcasts about true crime, sports, comedy and pop culture. But it’s not all about entertainment. There are plenty of educational benefits that can be reaped from the wealth of topics covered by podcasts made available to the public for free.

Take a look at four distinct ways podcasts can help even the busiest college students expand their knowledge and skill sets.

4 unexpected ways podcasts can help you learn

As college students, it can often seem impossible to squeeze in any extra reading in addition to the school work and other life demands you’re currently juggling. Podcasts are a great way to receive intellectual benefits similar to those you’d get from reading books, essays or news articles without the dedicated time needed to sit down and scan a page or a screen. You can simply pop in your headphones while doing laundry, exercising or cleaning your dorm room.

Consider the following ways podcasts can help you enhance your understanding of the world. You’ll even find three relevant show recommendations for each.

1. Podcasts can help expand your realm of philosophical thought

Podcasts are a great way to get an eclectic mix of voices in the room with you, even if you’re the only one physically present. The mix of the educated thoughts from a variety of different professionals can help expand your mode of philosophical thinking in general, but podcasts that aim to explore the actual topics of philosophy, abstract thought and general mystery can have a profound impact on the way you approach life each day.

Rationally Speaking

The official podcast of New York City Skeptics, host Julia Galef welcomes a variety of different guests to join her in exploring “the borderlines between reason and nonsense, likely and unlikely, science and pseudoscience.” Recent topics include transformative experiences, moral uncertainty, social justice and political philosophy.

Mysterious Universe

The hosts of Mysterious Universe present listeners with a new instance of strange, extraordinary, weird and unexplained happenings in every episode. Each installment is spent discussing the most puzzling and fascinating factors related to each topic. Recent episode subjects include a mysterious string of disappearances connected to national parks across the world, the inexplicable phenomena of surviving death and the disease fighting benefits of our natural environments.

The Partially Examined Life

Created by a couple of guys who once had their hearts set on careers in philosophy but since “thought better of it” and created a podcast instead, The Partially Examined Life spends each episode examining a featured philosophical text and inviting experts along for the ride as they discuss various interpretations and the ways in which it applies to life today. Recent topics include texts by George Orwell, James Baldwin and Confucius.

2. Podcasts can explain complex scientific topics in easy-to-understand ways

Maybe the sciences have always come naturally to you, or maybe you’ve harbored a hidden fascination with them that you’ve avoided pursuing for fear of not being able to excel in that field. Regardless of your interest level, there’s a podcast out there for you.

StarTalk Radio

Acclaimed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson co-hosts this podcast that’s been dubbed a mixture of science, comedy and pop culture. Often including insight from celebrity guests and renowned scientists, each episode discusses an aspect of astronomy, physics and other scientific wonders of our world. From the physics of baseball to surviving on Mars, you’re sure to find an episode that piques your interest.

The Story Collider

The team behind The Story Collider podcast created this show with the belief that our lives revolve around science. Each episode offers unique perspectives from scientists, comedians, librarians and other professionals sharing their personal stories about science. Topics range from the experience of being a woman in a scientific field to an examination of the unsafe water quality in Flint, Mich. and just about everything in between.

The Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe

This weekly science podcast discusses the latest in science news, critical thinking, conspiracies and controversies with the fitting tagline, “Your escape to reality.” In past episodes, the show has cast a spotlight on some of the forgotten superheroes of science, the evolution of cancer, short- and long-term memory, digital age brain disorders and so much more.

3. Podcasts can expand your knowledge of the world, both past & present

Whether you’re a proud history buff, you’ve discovered a deep affinity for modern-day politics or you’ve developed a curiosity to learn more about the inner workings of our legal system, you will find no shortage of podcast options to help you feed your hunger for knowledge in this arena.

Revisionist History

A podcast project from Malcom Gladwell and Panoply Media, Revisionist History committed in mid-2016 to spend 10 weeks releasing weekly episodes. Each episode — all of which are now available — dials back to reinterpret an event, person or idea from the past, things often overlooked or misunderstood. Topics include the political turmoil of mid-1990s Britain, a top secret research project sanctioned by the Pentagon in Saigon in the early 60s and even Wilt Chamberlain’s inexplicable free throw technique.


A project from The Washington Post, the Presidential podcast spent 44 episodes leading up to Election Day 2016 exploring the character and legacy of each of the American presidents. Featuring insight from esteemed journalists and Pulitzer Prize-winning historians, each in-depth analysis is still available for listening today.

We the Podcast

Produced and hosted by Minneapolis congressman Keith Ellison, this podcast series takes a deep dive into elements of our U.S. economy that are far more granular than the stock market report and unemployment rate you can find reported on the nightly news. Ellison’s aim is to cast a light on the ways people far outside of the millionaire class are coping with things like prison phone rates and the high cost of diapers in today’s economy. You can expect episodes filled with up-close interviews with political scientists and commentators as well as citizens whose lives have been directly impacted.

4. Podcasts can prepare you for life as a working professional

There are obvious intellectual benefits to brushing up on your knowledge of science, the economy, history and philosophy. But if you’re seeking some more practical takeaways from listening to podcasts, you may want to turn your direction toward shows that can help prepare you to become a successful working professional.

Back to Work

This show specializes in the inner workings of day-to-day professional life, with the team of hosts digging into elements like productivity, communication, work barriers and more. In addition to compelling episodes on topics such as mental health and creativity, finding success within failure and tools that will make your work life more productive, the hosts will often directly answer questions submitted by listeners.

The Accidental Creative

This veteran podcast hosted by author Todd Henry features interviews with artists, authors and business leaders that center on building practical everyday practices that will help you achieve a successful and healthy work life balance. The professionals interviewed provide tips acquired through their own laundry lists of experiences, with episodes examining whether your instincts are killing your creativity, the value of “strategic slacking” and strategies for leading creative teams.

Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders

A Stanford eCorner production, Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders is a weekly seminar series in podcast form that discusses all things related to entrepreneurship. Episodes include expert insight on everything from lessons in situational leadership and evolving with your company to Facebook design strategies and crowdsourcing cybersecurity. With weekly episodes, you’ll be sure to find several that can help you begin building the foundation of your own entrepreneurial mindset.

What will you add to your playlist?

If you’re looking for a low maintenance, easy-to-access means of learning more about topics you’re passionate about that won’t require too much of your coveted time, it’s clear that the world of podcasting may have the exact solution you’ve been seeking. In addition to the categories listed above, you can also find shows related to everything from mathematics and architecture to creative writing and more. Scan the iTunes podcast charts for categories that may interest you, and you’ll surely find handfuls more than you’d expect.

Once you’ve added a few shows to your subscription list, you can learn at your leisure. If you’re hungry for discussion on the topics covered above, many podcasts have Facebook discussion groups or forums on their websites designed for just that.

As a college student, there are numerous topics that apply specifically to the phase of life you’re currently in. In addition to relying on educational podcasts as an active resource, be sure to visit The Sentinel Blog for a wealth of content, interviews and resources pertaining to your college experience. For example, you may be interested in exploring the question, “What does ‘diversity in college’ actually mean?” or heeding the tips offered in our compilation of “8 essential college roommate rules to promote a harmonious habitat.”