Audio: solving engagement for the new generation of workers?


The proof is right in front of us that audio is a hyper-effective delivery mechanism. And yet it doesn’t have a seat at the table in our content delivery systems. For whatever reason, that needs to change. Using audio for worker training allows people to learn *without* having to find the time for it. It can be done alongside other things. And if a potential solution to the number one obstacle for learning isn’t attractive enough, there’s also the discretion afforded by audio that enables us to dive into sensitive content. It’s accessible, it’s cost-effective and fast to produce thanks to a lack of visuals. It uses minimal data relative to video, which is key for those who like to learn on the move. There’s a long list of reasons audio should be part of every content library. 

It may surprise you to hear just how ubiquitous audio is today. Over a billion hours of radio were consumed in the UK over the last three months of 2021. The data shows 89% of the population – 49.5 million adults – listened to live radio on average for 20.3 hours per week. But what is perhaps *more* surprising is that, among the next generation, audio engagement is actually GROWING. Spotify saw a 40% increase among Gen Zs in podcast consumption from Q1 2021 to Q1 2022. With all of that in mind, it’s time for learning and development departments to take note: a truly blended learning approach demands audio as a modality.

It’s common knowledge that the number one reason people give for not learning at work is that they don’t have enough time to. We’re time-poor, and burning out. A 2021 survey from jobs website Indeed showed millennials and Gen Z workers were reporting the highest rates of burnout, at 59% and 58% respectively. People are fed up with sitting in front of a computer screen all day. 

In 2018, Josh Bersin coined the phrase ‘learning in the flow of work’ when addressing the issues around the lack of convenience for time-poor learners. But what about learning in the flow of life? Currently, most digital corporate training is either ‘e-learning’, videos or articles, which all require you to sit in front of a screen and focus exclusively on them. If everyone is complaining about a lack of time, why do we persist with offering so much content in formats that demand carving out more time to use? 

Well, audio for worker training doesn’t. You can work on certain tasks while you learn. Or, if you just want a break from the screen, go and do a bit of gardening, go on a run, or bake a loaf of bread to break up the monotony while you listen to a podcast on emotional intelligence or supportive leadership on your phone. 

Man with headphones lifting a weighted bar
Podcasts can be consumed while doing other things, like exercising.

And, as a format, podcasts are already primarily used for learning. According to Spotify’s 2022 report, How Gen Z Is Using Audio To Hear and Be Heard, “18-25-year olds use podcasts to go beyond sheer entertainment and serve as spaces for knowledge [and] learning...”. In fact, according to data from Statista, around three out of every four podcast consumers in the US say they enjoy tuning in to podcasts to learn new things. That’s right - while L&D departments struggle to solve the problems around learning engagement, the same employees are willingly, even enthusiastically learning outside of work via podcasts. It’s fertile ground for upskilling and reskilling. Delivering content in a familiar, preferred format has the potential to combat the problem of learner engagement. 

Admittedly, audio worker training is not a panacea for all of the problems faced by learning and development departments. For example, you can’t teach someone how to code through a podcast alone. But what about mandated leadership and management? DEI? Mental health? 

Soft/human/behavioural/power skills are ideal for audio delivery, and the data tells us we need to try something new. According to iCIMS proprietary research, one in three recruiting professionals believe candidates’ soft skills have actually declined in the last five years. That’s an alarming trend. Clearly, we need to try something different. Something more convenient, more likely to be engaged with, rather than another great expense that ends up gathering digital dust.

There’s also mounting evidence that audio may be the best format for covering sensitive topics. Mental Health is the top podcast genre among Gen-Zs globally, and it witnessed a 26% increase in the number of streams among this generation of listeners in the U.K. in Q1 2022, compared to 2021. 64% of millennials and 70% of Zs in the U.K. said they use audio to understand themselves better. In fact, 58% of 18-to 24-year-olds in the UK even said they turn to podcasts to get answers to hard or personal questions. As learning departments evolve, and content becomes more inclusive, audio may well be the right vehicle for sensitive content. Would people in a packed office feel comfortable watching a video or reading an article on their screen about grief, managing menopause or living with a mental health condition? Ideally, they would, but the reality is quite different.  Audio offers the option to learn about important topics with the option of some privacy.

There’s another reason audio needs to have a place in any learning structure: accessibility. Two million people in the UK are living with untreatable sight loss. Great strides have been made in accessibility, with most videos now containing subtitles and things like images requiring alt text and visuals needing sufficient contrast to be WCAG compliant. But, ultimately, these accessibility features aren’t a perfect substitute for the ‘proper’ experience - in the case of using audio for worker training, a human voice. For example, as wonderful as screen reading technologies like NVDA and JAWS have been in revolutionising the web experience for people with accessibility requirements, automated text-to-speech will likely never replicate the nuance intended by an author. Audio-first content gives people with sight issues the opportunity to experience training exactly as it was intended, without having to try to infer intention and tone. The current dearth of quality audio training means a significant subset of people don’t get to experience training as it was intended.

It’s no longer debatable whether audio has a place in a blended learning approach - if you don’t have it, you’re doing learners a disservice. Anyway, I could go on, but people tend to lose concentration when reading for too long. Unlike when listening…

Interested in bringing audio training to your business? 

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