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November 16, 2005

How to Become an Audio Learning Junkie, Part One


A bunch of people have asked for it so I think it's time I finally produced. It's time to write the definitive guide to audio learning. The thought of sitting down in front of Microsoft Word and cranking it out bored me so instead I'm going to blog about it in a bunch of installments and then once it's done we'll wrap it, put a bow on it and post it in the articles section of our site.

Why Audio Learning?

Let's start with the most basic and most important question: Why should you learn on audio? For me the answer is pretty easy. I truly feel that how you spend your "dead time" is one of the most important factors in becoming successful and achieving your goals. Sure, you can listen to boring talk radio on your drive to work or pop in that CD you've heard 100 times before. But the minute you start to view drive time as learning time everything changes.

A while back I blogged about something from Brian Tracy's newsletter. It's so good that it bears repeating here:

Your mind is your most precious asset. You must be continually working to increase the quality of your thinking. One of the best ways is to turn driving time into learning time. Listen to educational audio cassettes in your car. The average driver according to the American Automobile Association, drives 12,000 to 25,000 miles each year, spending 500 to 1000 hours that you spend each year in your car. That is the equivalent of 12 1/2 to 25 forty-hour weeks. This is the same as two full university semesters spent behind the wheel of your car each year.

If you did nothing but use that traveling time as learning time, this decision alone could make you one of the best educated people of your generation. Many people have gone from rags to riches simply by listening to audio programs as they drive to and from work.

So for me that's the main reason why I love audio learning. Books that I never thought I would listen to. Languages that I never thought I'd learn. Ideas that I never thought I'd be exposed to. All of that is now at my fingertips and the best part is that it doesn't need to take up one additional second of my day.

What Can I Learn?

Another common question. The answer? Just about anything. Certain things work better with audio. There's no doubt about that. At the top of my list are foreign language titles. We have a tremendous selection on our site and some of the ones you'll definitely want to check out include titles from Pimsleur, Rosetta Stone and Transparent Language. The goal of becoming bilingual one day used to seem daunting to me. It no longer is. I fully expect to become fluent in at least one, if not two, or maybe even three, additional languages at some point in my life. It's not easy but it certainly is easier with programs like this that you can listen to while commuting, exercising, etc.

Next up? University courses. There's an amazing amount of college and university-level material available on audio. On the best sources of this material are courses from The Teaching Company. If you've never listened to a Teaching Company lecture you are in for a real treat. Remember that one great professor you had back in college? Well The Teaching Company scours the country looking for professors like that and makes a high-quality recording of one of their courses. Very, very cool.

I could go on and on but let me offer just one more area of content for your enjoyment and educational advancement. That's the area of self-development. Chances are that regardless of who you are there is an aspect of your life that you are looking to get better in. Maybe it's your diet or your spirituality or your relationships. Audio learning offers you a tremendous way to "work on" this aspect of your life without having to take additional time out of your day.

Someone looking to improve their diet could check out Andrew Weil's The Beginner's Guide to Healthy Eating or Tony Robbins' Living Health. Folks looking for spiritual guidance may find it in an audio book from Wayne Dyer or C. S. Lewis. People seeking better relationships could listen a book like The Relationship Cure or Marianne Williamson's classic A Return To Love.

There is SO much to learn on audio it's unbelievable. This article isn't going to be a sales pitch but do check out our Catalog where you can find almost 10,000 different audio learning resources.

OK, I'm Sold. Where Do I Start?

Good, you've joined the Audio Learning Revolution. Welcome aboard! The first thing to figure out is where and how you are going to listen to your stuff. For starters let's pick the obvious time that people have to audio learn: your morning commute. Remember when that used to be a time of drudgery? When your options were limited to bad talk radio, commercials or more bad talk radio (check out this link for a humorous take on those options)?

Those days are over. Audio learning allows you to not only not hate your commute. After a while you actually start to enjoy it. Many of the friends and family that I've turned on to audio learning now can't imagine their lives without it.

So what do you do if you want to turn your vehicle into a "university on wheels?" Well for starters let's look at your options for mobile learning:

1. Cassette Players - Cassettes are going the way of the dinosaur but many vehicles still have cassette players. There are a couple of cool things about cassettes. For starters, they have a self-bookmarking feature built-in in that you'll always be able to pick up right where you left off. That's nice for the times when you want to move your learning from the car to some other place. In addition, cassettes are fairly easy to find at libraries because most libraries have stockpiles of them and they aren't in as high of demand any more.

The downsides of cassettes? For starters they are bulky. Carrying around a mountain of cassette tapes where you go with is not exactly a good time. In addition, a lot of newer material isn't even being produced on cassette.

2. CD Players - OK, now you've joined the 21st century. Virtually every vehicle being sold these days has a CD player. That's one of the main reasons that the majority of audio learning content is still sold on CD despite the tremendous growth in the popularity of portable mp3 players. Just about every audio learning title produced these days is available on CD.

I only have two issues with CDs. First, they are also bulky. Not as bad as cassettes but still not ideal (as we'll see in a minute). Second, they don't have a bookmarking capability. If I want to listen to part of a CD when I workout in the morning and the remainder when I drive to work I have to write down the track I left off on. Not very elegant. While CDs are currently ubiquitous, they are slowly losing ground to...

3. Portable Audio Players - The iPod Revolution is definitely upon us. You can't swing a dead cat on a university campus these days without hitting someone wearing those sleek white headphones. Over 30 million iPods have been sold to date and with the holidays approaching and red hot iPod Nanos and Video iPods available, that number is likely jump significantly.

Portable audio players represent the future of audio learning because they allow you to pack an amazing amount of content on a very small device (have you seen the new Nano, they're crazy small!). In addition, you can bookmark files, speed up or slow down the content and much more. Plus, you can listen to podcasts. (What are podcasts you ask? Check out our article Introduction To Podcasting for the low-down.)

Yes, portable audio players are an audio learning junkie's dream. I got my iPod Mini abou a year and a half ago and I literally could not imagine life without it. There is just one bit of difficulty though. For many people, getting the iPod (or any other portable media device) to play friendly with a vehicle isn't always a piece of cake.

I'm going to do the unthinkable and leave you hanging in suspense on that one. When I return we'll run down the ways to hook your portable media player to your vehicle, talk about the various services, software and companies that are out there to enable audio learning, discuss file formats and what they mean to you and cover some ways to save money. Stay tuned! (Or just get subscribed.)