The American education systems tends to fail students in myriad ways, requiring continual education after the fact to learn the truth behind what we were taught in history, art, science, language, literature, and math. Privileged gatekeepers deciding who and what gets taught can result in the denial of diverse voices and perspectives.
Podcasts radically shift the dynamics around who gets to teach, and who gets to learn. A lot of the most beloved and popular shows, like Radiolab and Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, basically boil down to what you wish your science or history class had been like in the first place. Many others, like 1619 and You’re Wrong About, aim to correct the misinformation in many accepted cultural narratives from both our near and distant pasts.
Now, obviously, podcasts can’t replace a world-class, bonafide, IRL, teacher-to-student relationship. But they can teach us more than a few vital lessons. Here are a few of our most educational favorites.
While Vox is known for explaining complicated ideas in easily understandable ways, it’s new podcast Unexplainable flips that premise on its head. Instead of demystifying the daily information onslaught, Unexplainable sits with the most mystifying unknowns of all time. From questioning whether everything we thought we knew about psychology is wrong to the quest to understand what the hell dark matter is, Unexplainable teaches us to get comfortable with the idea that human knowledge has many limits. And that’s kinda awesome.
2. You’re Wrong About
“You’re Wrong About is doing God’s work by correcting the record on everything we misremember or misunderstand in our collective cultural memory.Each week, journalists Sarah Marshall and Michael Hobbes debunk popular myths, misconceptions, and mischaracterizations of figures like Tonya Harding and Marie Antoinette, or topics like sex trafficking and events like the O.J. Simpson trial.” [From our Best Feminist Podcasts roundup.]
“As all-encompassing as it is powerfully specific and personal, 1619 is the story of modern America — and the people who built it through blood, sweat, tears, and hope. It’s a version of the story a great many of us never hear, purposefully kept hidden in the margins of U.S. history books. But 1619 isn’t just a podcast about the history of slavery as the genesis of almost every aspect of American society and culture today.
This isn’t just a sobering lesson, or hard pill to swallow. By weaving the historical with the personal and the poetic, Nikole Hannah-Jones (alongside other guest hosts) paints a viscerally captivating portrait of Black Americans’ lived experience, and all the simultaneous struggle, strength, oppression, ambition, pain, and humor needed to survive. 1619 is a story about race and the inequalities embedded into a system predicated on its conceit. But above all it’s a story about us, the people we were then and still are now.” [From our roundup.]
4. Encyclopedia Womannica
“History class often paints a portrait of the world that excludes about half of its population. That’s what Wonder Media Network’s Encyclopedia Womannica sets out to fix, by releasing 5- to 10-minute episodes on women who made history in a certain field. Each month focuses on a different area of expertise, which most recently included activism and music.” [From our Best Feminist Podcasts roundup.]
5. You Are Not That Smart
There’s a kind of fallacy that comes with being knowledgable or well-educated: You can start to think you know everything. In reality, human knowledge is always flawed, a work in progress rather than an end goal in itself. That’s the backbone of this psychology podcast, which dives into the ways we think and why they’re often faulty or misunderstood.
6. 99% Invisible
Invisible forces increasingly rule our world, and this legacy podcast is determined to reveal exactly how and why. Host Roman Mars uncovers a different facet of the hidden world of design in every episode, whether it’s the user experience of an app on your phone or your entire home’s architecture.
“NPR’s Peabody-winning, textbook example of rich, expertly-produced documentary podcast-making was started by Jad Abumrad way back in 2002. Hosted by Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, Radiolab tasks itself broadly with ‘investigating a strange world.’ It’s constantly referred to in the same breath as their friends at , but tends toward the more science-related topics.” [From our Best Science Podcasts roundup.]
8. Every Little Thing
Like the teacher who encouraged you to ask all the questions, Gimlet’s Every Little Thing seeks to answer listeners’ questions about, well, everything. Whether it’s trying to determine if a listener’s very specific early childhood memory is real, or investigating why we cry, there’s no quest for understanding too small or too big for this podcast.
9. Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History
Dan Carlin is the history teacher we all wish we’d had in grade school, able to turn the most fascinating and dramatic episodes of our past into multi-part epic sagas. Tuning into Hardcore History‘s three hour-long behemoth episodes transports your imagination. As informative as they are enthralling, each deep dive can transform what you thought you knew about both ancient and modern history.
10. Lolita Podcast
“The influence of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita can’t be overstated. From fashion to music to film to sexual expression itself, the novel’s impact on society far exceeds literary circles, affecting the mainstream in ways you may not even be aware of. You don’t need to have read Lolita — a cautionary tale about a predator grooming, kidnapping, and repeatedly raping a child — to be riveted by the podcast, which is more focused on tracing its ripple effects on the zeitgeist.
Comedian, podcaster, and writer Jamie Loftus wrestles with this tangled nexus of significance in a society that perpetually sexualizes young girls. Weaving in her own personal experiences and analysis with expert interviews and source materials, Loftus leaves no stone unturned — no matter how uncomfortable. Diving headfirst into a minefield of impossible yet crucial questions, Lolita Podcast delivers nuanced perspectives that only unfurl more layers of complexity rather than offering easy answers.” [From our Best Podcasts of 2020 roundup.]
11. Grammar Girl
Delving into the ins and outs of grammar can be pretty boring sometimes. (Apologies to our editors.) But this beloved show from host Mignon Fogarty brings a much-needed lack of judgment, accessibility, and fun to learning about the nitty-gritty of the English language. It’s an essential resource for writers of all sorts, diving into not only the rules but the historical and cultural contexts behind them.
“If you want to dig into the niches of study that professionals choose to dedicate their lives to, check out Ologies with science correspondent and humorist Alie Ward. Each episode, Ward takes on a different ‘ology,’ from conventional ones like and , to more niche ones like (the study of kissing).” [From our Best Science Podcasts roundup.]
13. Planet Money
“Planet Money’s success lies in how it tackles complex subjects with great storytelling. A financial instrument like a Collateralized Debt Obligation (CDO) may sound impossibly boring, but Planet Money routinely makes these types of things the heart of a thrilling narrative. The team continues to explore the financial collapse, but they’ve expanded their scope to include all aspects of the global economy.” [From our .]
Alternatively, try NPR’s Indicator: “Its more compact, daily sister podcast is a knockout. But for those a little less interested in talk of money stuff, NPR’s is a great gateway drug. Tackling smaller yet still robust and integral stories related to work, business, and the economy, you’ll be surprised by how much crucial information you can gain in just 10 minutes.” [From our .]
14. Hidden Brain
“NPR’s popular podcast hosted by social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam delves into the recesses of the human mind, and questions why the hell we do and think the things we do. Vedantam conducts excellent, well-researched interviews with experts on complex topics that are made simple to understand, and will have you really getting in your own head.” [From our Best Science Podcasts roundup.]
“No matter how much you think you know about Hurricane Katrina, Floodlines reveals how America has only reached the surface of reckoning with this deep national wound. Through interviews with survivors and reporting that addresses the media misinformation and government incompetence around the catastrophe, host Vann R. Newkirk II shows how the real storm that devastated New Orleans was the same one that’s been brewing in America for centuries.” [From our Best New Podcasts of 2020 roundup.]
16. The Happiness Lab with Dr. Laurie Santos
“Happiness is a tricky goal, especially when we think about it in terms of things that will finally make us happier. But no ‘thing’ can make you happy except yourself, and achieving that state of mind takes daily work. That’s what Dr. Laurie Santos, who studied the science of happiness at Yale and has a doctorate in psychology, makes clear in her podcast tackling the wide range of questions about how to live a life with more joy in spite of, well, all of it. While many other podcasts tackle similar topics, Dr. Santos sets this one apart by taking them to panels of experts and researchers in psychology, behavioral science, and more.” [From our Best Self-Improvement Podcasts roundup.]
17. Nice White Parents
“Nice White Parents, released on July 30, is a five-part limited series from [Serial,] the team that redefined podcasting . Instead of complex true-crime cases, however, Nice White Parents puts a different criminal on trial: the white liberalism that has helped perpetuate the segregation of public schools in America for decades under the guise of progressive ideals. This American Life producer Chana Joffe-Walt tells the story through an on-the-ground investigation into the School for International Studies (SIS), a New York City public school that was predominantly serving students of color.
That is, until a flood of white parents who couldn’t get their kids into preferred white schools instead decided to enroll them there, causing it to become a battleground of racial tensions and inequalities. It’s a story that comes from a personal place for Joffe-Walt. She began reporting on it after shopping around for schools as a new parent herself, only to discover she was part of a larger history of white parents who have shaped our public school education system into what it is today — which is to say, a system that overwhelming and repeatedly fails students of color.” [From our .]
18. Philosophize This!
Philosophy, aka that insufferable elective you skipped each week in college, can get a bad rap for being elitist and impenetrable. But Stephen West makes Philosophize This! precisely for those who want to delve into the nuanced ideas of our great thinkers, only without all the BS. Meant to be consumed somewhat in chronological order, you’ll gain a working, buildable knowledge of everything from media theory studies to multiple theories of justice.
19. Making Gay History
“History isn’t often told through a gay lens and Making Gay History looks to change that, telling the stories of the people who fought for decades for LGBTQ civil rights. Many of them have largely gone uncelebrated — until now.” [From our Best History Podcast roundup.]
20. The Experiment
The American experiment, often repackaged as the American dream, is one of the biggest sources of miseducation in our country. In this WNYC Studios and Atlantic collaboration, host Julia Longoria applies the ideals of America’s past that were held to be self-evident, then measures them up against our current reality. Bringing the high ideals of this country’s founding to everyday experiences, The Experiment can even find lessons in trash reality TV shows like 90 Day Fiance.
Art history isn’t for everyone, but curator and art history student Jennifer Dasal is definitely the one who could spark your interest. With a distinct theme for every season, she brings what might otherwise be dry material to life by telling the strangest and most enthralling stories behind the art. Season 9, which is all about cursed art, feels especially right for the general vibe of the past several years.
“OK, first a disclaimer: Blowback is an unapologetically left-wing podcast. Like very left-wing. If that’s not cool with you, then it’s not the podcast for you. It tells the story of the Iraq War from that leftist point of view, and it’s both fascinating and necessary. Much of the Iraq War, as the American public knew it, was laundered through a right-wing government, and it was some time before anyone was open to admitting the disastrous war was just that. Blowback details how horrific and wrongheaded the Iraq War was, how its tentacles still shape America today, and how few consequences befell the people who sold it to the public.” [From our Best History Podcast roundup.]
23. Coffee Break Spanish (or other languages)
Not everyone vibes with language learning apps like Duolingo. Alternatively, what’s great about podcasts like Coffee Break from Radio Lingua Network is just how casual it feels — digestible enough to compliment your coffee break (as the name suggests). The lesson plans in each successive season increase in difficulty, with Season 1 being for true beginners. But the podcast really sings in its travel log episodes, applying those lessons to a conversational grasp of the language. There’s also versions in French, Italian, German, Chinese, and Swedish available too.
24. Curiosity Daily
“Curiosity Daily is kind of like the r/TodayILearned subreddit but in podcast form. Every weekday, you can learn something new from hosts Cody Gough, Ashley Hamer, and Natalia Reagan. They offer 10- to 15-minute summaries of interesting, research-backed news and facts relevant to our everyday lives from the science, psychology, and technology fields.” [From our .]
25. Spotify Original Audiobooks: Hear the Classics
Let’s be real: many of us skipped the reading when we were in school, only to regret it later on. That’s why Spotify’s list of original audiobooks, some even voiced by A-list actors like Hilary Swank, is a great treasure trove of educational audio. Currently, it offers many of the classics for free, like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein and the memoir Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. They even have a separate podcast for unpacking the literature called Sitting with the Classics. You can check out the full collection here.
Source: 25 of the best educational podcasts
- Small Tech: The Culture of Digital Tools. Hawk, Byron., Rieder, David M., Oviedo, Ollie O. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2008. ISBN 9780816653850. OCLC 213436323.
- Riddle, Johanna (2010). “Podcasting in the Classroom”. Retrieved 19 April 2018.
- Parsons, Lee (3 September 2005). “Lockout at the CBC—”Canada’s public broadcaster““. World Socialist Web Site. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
- Andrews, Robert (25 August 2005). “Locked-out journalists strike back online”. Journalism.co.uk. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
- Liguori, Priscilla (5 November 2020). “ABC27 Exclusive: Chambersburg Police to release podcast to increase trust, transparency”. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
- “Mount Pleasant Police look to connect with community through new podcast”. ABC News 4. 5 August 2020. Retrieved 28 December 2020.
- Bowers, Andy (24 February 2006). ““Textcasting,” Anyone?”. Retrieved 30 March 2018 – via Slate.
- “Discover LGBTQ History By Taking a Virtual Pride Tour of NYC’s Greenwich Village”. Travel + Leisure. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Sauchelli, Liz (11 April 2020). “Out & About: Hear the history with a Norwich podcast tour”. Valley News. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- “Mission Hills Heritage to launch podcast walking tour series”. San Diego Union-Tribune. 1 August 2020. Retrieved 29 December 2020.
- Kennedy, Randy. 2005. “With Irreverence and an iPod, Recreating the Museum Tour.” In The New York Times, 2005-05-28.
- firstname.lastname@example.org, Kelsey Samuels. “Look who’s talking: Two women tell Plano’s hidden stories in new podcast”. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- “The Infinite Dial 2017 – Edison Research”. 9 March 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- “Curious Characters: Inside Plano Podcast – Plano Magazine”. 27 March 2017. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- “Podcasts with local focus can help stations own their markets”. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- O’Bannon, B.; Lubke, J.; Beard, J.; Britt, V. (2011). “Using podcasts to replace lecture: Effects on student achievement”. Computers & Education. 57 (3): 1885–1892. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2011.04.001.
- Warren, K (2011). “Utilising podcasts for learning and teaching: a review and ways forward for e-learning cultures”. Management in Education. 26 (2): 52–57.
- McFadden, A. (2008). Podcasting and really simple syndication (rss). Unpublished manuscript, College of Human Environmental Sciences Institute for Interactive Technology, The University of Alabama, Alabama, mississippi.
- “More Teachers ‘Flipping’ The School Day Upside Down”. NPR.org. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
- O’Bannon, B., Lubke, J., Beard, J., & Britt, V. (2011). Using podcasts to replace lecture: Effects on student achievement. Computers & Education, 1885-1892.
- “Teacher’s Guide on The Use of Podcasting in Education”. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Copely, Jonathan (2007). “Audio and video podcasts of lectures for campus‐based students: production and evaluation of student use” (PDF). Innovations in Education and Teaching International. 44 (4): 387–399. doi:10.1080/14703290701602805. S2CID 62162520.
- Hill, Jennifer; Nelson, Amanda; France, Derek; Woodland, Wendy (2012). “Integrating Podcast Technology Effectively into Student Learning: A Reflexive Examination”. Journal of Geography in Higher Education. 36 (3): 437–454. doi:10.1080/03098265.2011.641171. S2CID 144984248.
- Kay, Robin H (1 May 2012). “Exploring the use of video podcasts in education: A comprehensive review of the literature”. Computers in Human Behavior. 28 (3): 820–831. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.01.011. ISSN 0747-5632.
- Evans, Chris (1 February 2008). “The effectiveness of m-learning in the form of podcast revision lectures in higher education”. Computers & Education. 50 (2): 491–498. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2007.09.016. ISSN 0360-1315.
- Gatewood, K (2008). “Podcasting: Just the basics”. ProQuest Education Journals. 44 (2): 90–93. doi:10.1080/00228958.2008.10516502. S2CID 62138990.
- McFadden, A. (2008). Podcasting and really simple syndication (rss). Unpublished manuscript, College of Human Environmental Sciences Institute for Interative Technology, The University of Alabama, Alabama, mississippi.
- Shamburg, C. (2009). Beyond podcasting:a paradigm shift. In Student-Powered Podcasting (pp. 4-12).
- Shamburg, C. (2010). DIY podcasting in education. In Knobel, M & Lankshear, C. (Eds.), DIY Media: Sharing Creating and Learning with New Media (pp.51-75). New York: Peter Lang.
- “mgsPodcast”. mgsPodcast. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- LEAVER, TAMA (4 November 2005). “All Good Things …” (Blog). iGeneration DIGITAL COMMUNICATION & PARTICIPATORY CULTURE. Retrieved 1 June 2012.
- Carliner, Saul; Shank, Patti (12 May 2016). The e-Learning Handbook: Past Promises, Present Challenges. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-1-119-26066-0.
- “Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies – an Archive of the Centre website 2000-2015”. http://www.caret.cam.ac.uk. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- “A Journey to Podcasting” (PDF).
- Klose, R. & Schreiber, Chr. (2013). PriMaPodcast – A tool for vocal representation. In SEMT Proceedings 2013.
- Richardson, W. (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and the Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.
- “SCCM – iCritical Care”. http://www.sccm.org. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Chan, A.; Lee, M. J. “An MP3 a day keeps the worries away: Exploring the use of podcasting to address preconceptions and alleviate pre-class anxiety amongst undergraduate information technology students. In DHR Spennemann & L. Burr (Ed.), Good Practice in Practice: Proceedings of the Student Experience Conference (pp. 58-70). Wagga Wagga, NSW”. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.115.1023.
- Guardian Staff (13 December 2005). “THE RICKY GERVAIS PODCAST ON GUARDIAN UNLIMITED HITS NUMBER ONE IN UK AND US”. the Guardian. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
- “The Best of Podcasts: Stephen Fry’s Podgrams”. The Good Web Guide. 2012. Archived from the original on 23 February 2012. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
- Dudley, Joshua. “Adam Carolla Makes History With 1.1 Million Live Video Streams Of ‘The Adam Carolla Show‘“. Forbes. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
- Harris, Ashley (18 August 2016). “7 Essential Episodes of the WTF with Marc Maron Podcast”. Phoenix New Times. Retrieved 30 December 2020.
- “Joe rogan”. Joe rogan. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
- Goldberg, Kevin (2018). “The Serial Effect: How True Crime Came to Dominate Podcasts”. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
- “Scifi.com”. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- Locker, Melissa (2018). “Netflix is launching a pocast to help you keep up with Netflix”. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
- “9 podcasts for all the latest sports news and action”. http://www.radio.com. 29 July 2020. Retrieved 31 December 2020.
- Dibdin, Emma (18 October 2019). “7 Podcasts for the Sports Fan (Published 2019)”. The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on 8 August 2020. Retrieved 31 December 2020.
- “Russillo Stays With ESPN, Adds Show To Ringer Podcast Network”. Insideradio.com. Retrieved 31 December 2020.
- Pazzalia, Casey (24 April 2018). “The Definitive Power Rankings For The Ringer Podcast Network”. Slackie Brown Sports & Culture. Retrieved 31 December 2020.
- Foley, Maddy (2018). “9 Fiction Podcasts That Are Just As Entertaining As Any Audiobook”. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
- Lichtig, Toby (24 April 2007). “The podcast’s the thing to revive radio drama”. The Guardian. London. Retrieved 27 May 2010.
- Miller, Nick (20 December 2007). “ABC’s Chaser comedians are officially ‘top of the pods‘“. The Age. Retrieved 23 March 2021.
- San Francisco Chronicle Podcast.
- South China Morning Post Podcast.
- “Archived copy”. Archived from the original on 15 June 2006. Retrieved 24 June 2006.
- “Subscribe to RSS”. Whitehouse.gov.
- “Radio Atlantic: The Atlantic’s flagship podcast”. The Atlantic. Retrieved 12 December 2017.
- Ralph, Pat (2018). “10 of the best podcasts that will make you smarter about politics”. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
- “Guide: How to use podcasting in your content marketing campaign”. Search Engine Watch. 25 June 2020. Retrieved 8 July 2020.
- “Podcasting as a Business Content Marketing Strategy – Search Engine Journal”. 2 June 2013. Retrieved 30 March 2018.
- “iTunes – Podcasts – CARS Video Podcast by Disney Online”. archive.is. 15 July 2012. Archived from the original on 15 July 2012. Retrieved 16 August 2018.
- Scott, D. M. (2009). The new rules of marketing and PR: how to use news releases, blogs, podcasting, viral marketing and online media to reach buyers directly. ISBN 9780470379288.
- Green, H.; Lowry, T.; Yang, C.; Kiley, D. “The new radio revolution”. Business WeekOnline.
- “Podcasts”. NHMRC. Ralli, Tania (29 August 2005). “Missed Church? Download It to Your IPod”. The New York Times. Archived from the original on 22 December 2018. Retrieved 25 December 2020.