Audio is great for learning, and here is how to take advantage of it

Traffic in Metro Manila has its own Wikipedia page. 67 million dollars lost in productivity each day. The worst in Southeast Asia. It takes about an hour, on average, to travel 9 kilometers. Unpredictability is predictable to the motorist—a car crash here, a new traffic scheme there, road construction everywhere.

For the frequent commuter, it is gruesome, exhausting, and miserable. In transit, she is often occupied with one of three things: the default, unenlightened content on the radio, the spinning around of her worn out thoughts, or on-demand bubblegum pop on YouTube or Spotify.

She could have used the lost time to do amazing things that will advance her career, but she is paralyzed by the backward conditions of this seething metropolis….

Hold that thought. In every problem lies an opportunity. Let us look at the bright side, because there is one.

The worldwide web democratized information through text and video, and today, smartphones give rise to audio and voice, a more productive way of consuming content.

Walkman 2.0.
iTunes and the AM/FM are sources of entertainment and daily news, but podcasts, audio articles, and audio books extend the value of this medium—they allow creative refreshment and up-skilling.

I started accessing audio learning in 2016. Today, I consider it to be an instrumental part of my growth. The opportunity in this space is largely untapped, and I write to encourage you, fellow relentless learner, to join the club of rapid self-improvement through it.


Medium 1: Podcasts

On Apple Podcasts is a multitude of productions that entertain, just as good as superhero movies and classic novels, and I believe there is something for everyone. Best of all, they are free.

It might take some getting used to, but listening to the right show might just get you hooked. It is made up of user-generated content, meaning, anyone can host a show but unlike YouTube, it’s a bit tidier. Because of the episodic structure and audio-centricity, shows are more informative and intentional. Podcasts is the medium for substance!

Listen to podcasts for refreshment. They’re like 30-minute energy-boosters, small but potent doses of inspiration. Often, the best shows are less than an hour long, they’re aware of how long they can keep your attention.

Listen to podcasts during mentally-passive time: in traffic, while doing the dishes, in the shower, while jogging. But be sure to allot some of that time for reflecting about them, too. Keep in mind that it’s difficult to retain information you do not process.

Some topics require more cognitive attention, though. For instance, jargon-filled psychologese or multi-layered philosophical discussions might be difficult to absorb while driving. Anchor your listening habits on your capacity to absorb information.

Audio Articles
A sub-category of podcasts, these that are longer forms of journalism. NPR (National Public Radio) does a great job, with award-winning shows such as Planet Money. Online news sites such as The Financial Times and The Guardian deliver human-interest content through their podcasts, too.

This is a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Listen to tasteful writing with The New Yorker’s spoken-word episodes and Medium’s most-celebrated works through Medium Playback.

In an earlier blog post, I listed down ten of my favorite podcasts and the value I find in each of them.


Medium 2: Audiobooks

I remember getting frustrated over wanting to read plenty of books but never having enough time to sit down to complete each of them. Although I can carve out time each day to sit down and read, it won’t be enough to achieve the volume of books I want to finish.

Such is why I think audiobooks is a remarkable innovation, because the works in our wish list can now be absorbed through an alternative medium—one that doesn’t require us to sit down and glue our eyes to one thing. Instead, it allows us to hear a book while doing mechanical work. Two cheeseburgers for the price of one. 

There is some value you can’t extract when listening to, instead of reading, a book. You can’t mark your favorite quotes and re-read them (though you can ‘clip’ a part of the audio with your favorite line). You cannot flip the pages, go back and forth, and circle around. You cannot put a page on pause and appreciate a full paragraph in one glance. You cannot enjoy the pleasure of the sunlight illuminating the words trifle, or piquant, or reverie.

But you can indulge in an animated speech that gives prose more life. You can walk in the author’s shoes as she reads through each line of her work. You can merge two realities at once—watch a policeman signal a car to the roadside as Ray Dalio explains radical transparency—and that convergence can produce the best ideas.

Because audiobooks take much longer than podcasts (some can last up to more than 20 hours), avoid having long intervals while finishing a book. It was more challenging to pick up where I left off after I took a week-long break from listening to Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow as I had to rewind a few minutes back to refresh my memory, whereas with the book, I could have easily skimmed through previous chapters.

I best enjoy self-help books in this format. They are not dense enough to require my full and undivided attention. But, they often require synthesis in the end, so having a printed copy may be handy.

Unlike podcasts, audiobooks are not free, save for works that do not need a license to reproduce.

Librivox is a volunteer-run library that produces audiobooks for literature classics. I once listened to Sun Tzu’s Art of War while on a 10-kilometer jog. Who would’ve thought that old-age wisdom could be energizing for a workout?

Audible is where I get my books. I initially found the subscription fee to be pricey. But, as someone who has adopted the habit and experienced the tremendous benefit of making good use of what used to be idle time, it is worth the $17 monthly subscription. One can start with two free credits—enough to get you hooked—like a tuna in the Pacific.


Medium 3: Book Summaries

The digital revolution is great at one thing—equipping us with shortcut alternatives to save on time. Instead of listening to a full audiobook, you can access 15-minute summaries of non-fiction bestsellers on Blinkist. They are accompanied by PDF guides, too.

Audible stores abridged versions of their bestsellers, too, which may run from twenty minutes to over an hour long.

There are occasions when extracting only key points are necessary. A book strikes your curiosity, but it is far down your wishlist. You badly need a dose of inspiration. You’re doing research and would like to get a hand on as many covers of the same topic within reach. You’re cramming for a presentation and you need fresh material real quick.

For those occasions, it would be wise to try out Blinkist. Download the app and sign up for the free 7-day trial. (Upon writing this article, I actually convinced myself to get the yearly.)

The ball is now in your court.

Gary Vaynerchuk puts it succinctly, “With the ever-increasing value of speed, I am starting to see consumers replace entertainment (music) with information (podcasting) to get ahead.”

That’s what this is about: getting ahead. The speed with which information can now be delivered is phenomenal, and so is the accelerating rate at which we can grow.

The tools are at your disposal, it is only a matter of picking them up and putting them to good use.

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