In a team meeting last October, after the announcement that our offices were closing, I played for my team a Ted Radio Hour podcast episode called Simply Happy. The episode features six interviews with six different speakers and is 53 minutes long, far too long to hear the entire episode, but I only wanted to play a 5 minute excerpt, just the snippet between 27:55 and 33:00 (listen to it here).

I connected my phone to the conference room’s sound system and within an app on my phone I queued the episode to start right where I wanted. The speaker we listened to was Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert. In his interview on the TED Radio Hour he discusses his life’s work on something he calls the “impact bias”.

Listening to those 5 minutes with my team that day, with our upcoming job elimination fresh on our minds, generated an engaging discussion that brought us together and helped us put the impact of our job loss into perspective.

“If it happened over 3 months ago, with only a few exceptions, it has no impact whatsoever on your happiness.” – Dan Gilbert

In my last post I explained the feeling of “joyfear” and discussed my strategy to focus when you face job elimination (or any of life’s defining moments). I outlined four ways one can act with purpose, one of which was to find and follow a productive routine. Today I’ll examine how implementing one strategy for passive learning into my own routine has helped me to improve my personal and professional life.


Passive learning is generally defined as a method of learning whereby people use their senses to take in information by reading, hearing, and seeing, without participating or receiving feedback (at a lecture, for example). This is different from active learning whereby the learner is getting regular and immediate feedback and participating in the learning process by saying and doing things (think of your college science lab).

“Always pass on what you have learned.” – Yoda

You’ve probably seen Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience. It shows that people generally remember 20% of what they hear. I wondered about the context. If I listen to someone lecture about estate tax laws, I may not even retain 20% of what I hear. However, if I get to choose a topic I’m really interested in, say video production, I might retain 20% or more.

64ff6-imgI looked up the Wikipedia article on Edgar Dale and it says “Dale’s ‘Cone of Experience,’…often referred to as the ‘Cone of Learning,’ has been widely misrepresented”. The article continues, “Dale included no numbers and did not base his cone on scientific research, and he also warned readers not to take the cone too seriously.” Interesting!

Many educators point to the disadvantages of passive learning and look for ways to make learning more “active”. However, passive learning is still learning.

My strategy for implementing passive learning into my life is to listen to educational podcasts during my daily routines.


Since I bought my first iPhone in 2010, I’ve started each morning the same way. I turn my alarm off, pick up my smart phone, open the Stitcher app and start thumbing through programs. When I find one that interests me, I step to the bathroom, turn on my bluetooth speaker and push play on my phone. For the next hour I shower, shave and go through my morning routine while I listen and learn.

“As people become more and more used to consuming media in transit, while they’re cooking, in various parts of their lives, (podcasting has) caught on.” – Emily Condon

As of today, my Stitcher app tells me I’ve accumulated over 950 hours of total listening since 2010. Of course not everything I listen to is meant to teach, some podcasts are pure entertainment, but many of my favorite programs are meant to teach, train, and educate, and I listen every day.

I recently started my job search and it dawned on me that it’s been 15 years since I’ve applied for a job on the open market. LinkedIn is a thing now. Keywords are a thing. Heck, 15 years ago there was no Facebook. Things have changed and I need to get up to speed.


So, I started searching for podcasts dedicated to job seekers. I found podcasts that teach you how to write a better resume, craft the perfect cover letter, maximize your LinkedIn profile, give presentations, nail the interview, increase sales, build your brand, start a business, grow your audience, and on and on. Like anything, some podcasts resonate with me and some don’t. I learn a lot from listening to podcasts and it’s helping me with my job search.

For example, while listening to episode 4 of The Mac’s List Podcast titled “Creating Your Professional Brand”, I learned about the Indeed Job Trend Tool. I recently used it to sharpen my resume. This tool let’s you search all the job descriptions that have ever been posted on Indeed for specific keywords to see which key words have shown up most often. A nice tool when deciding which keywords to include in your resume.

Apart from my work experience, I also study videography and photography. By listening to podcasts, I’ve improved my understanding of DSLR camera settings, video editing, and video production software which has resulted in my ability to produce higher quality videos and photos.


Although not a mainstream method of audio consumption, an article by Nancy Vogt reports that “the increased reach and upward trend line of podcast consumption is evident in every available measure” and that as of early 2015, 33% of Americans over 12 years old have listened to at least one podcast.


Another trend indicating increased awareness is ‘downloads per year’, which increased by approximately 70% from 2012 to 2014. It seems likely that if you haven’t listened to an episode of Serial yet you may find yourself listening to one soon. Episode #1 of Serial is one of the most downloaded podcasts ever made.

 “As people become more and more used to consuming media in transit, while they’re cooking, in various parts of their lives, (podcasting has) caught on,” said Emily Condon, the production manager of “Serial”, in an interview with Kevin Roose last year.


Control. Have you ever been in the car, flipping through radio stations, only to arrive at your destination without having found something good to listen to? Because podcasts give you the choice to listen to what you want, when you want, where you want, there is no need to settle for what terrestrial radio happens to be broadcasting at any given time.

Portable and Versatile. My favorite part of listening to podcasts is this:  your hands remain free to do other things. I love listening in the car by connecting my phone to the car stereo. I also listen with earbuds while I’m mowing the lawn, cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, washing the car, etc. Listening to podcasts makes doing chores fun!

Inspired Learning. Listening to informative, educational content is an excellent form of passive learning. From college football and software training to public speaking and space travel, there are educational and entertaining podcasts out there for everyone. What would you like to learn if you only had the time?

Save Time. Consider this, the average commute in the United States is 50.8 minutes per day. If you work Monday-Friday this amounts to 17.78 hours of commute time per month. That’s over a month per year. Dang! What do you do with those extra 17 hours every month? Now, imagine what you might learn if you spend even a fraction of that time listening to a podcast designed to teach you about a topic of your choice.

Want to see the average commute time in your area? Click the map above and enter your zip code (mobile users can move around the map to see commute times, there is no zip code field).


Want to listen to the world’s best podcast episodes? Have a listen to Slate magazine’s list of The 25 Best Podcast Episodes Ever.

Here are my top 5 podcasts for job seekers (and typical length of episodes):

Mac’s List (1 hour)
Secrets of the Hire (50 min)
The Winbusinessin LinkedIn Podcast (30 min)
Job Search Radio (30 min)
The Public Speaker’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Improving Your Communication Skills (10 min)

And here are my 5 favorite popular podcasts:

Radiolab (50 min)
This American Life (1 hour)
Ted Radio Hour (1 hour)
Freakonomics Radio (45 min)
99% Invisible (20 min)

In 2013, Radiolab took their podcast show on tour and I was fortunate enough to catch it in Portland, Oregon. The show, titled Dinopocolypse, was amazing and will challenge your understanding of a certain ancient historical event. Hint: it involves dinosaurs.

This video clip filmed in Seattle, Washington shows the potential for what an educational podcast can deliver in a live setting.

Thank you for reading!  What are your views on passive learning? Do you listen to podcasts?  If so, please write the name of your favorite podcast in the comments below. 

Posted by Miles D. Shattuck

Courageous Content Marketing Pro & Breaker of Glass.

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