I'm a reader.
Its how I studied when I was at University, how I absorb information at work, how I know way too much about the Horus Heresy in Warhammer 40K and how I prepare for the Dungeons and Dragons sessions that I run.
The VAK model of learning modalities proposed by Walter Burke Barbe and his colleagues breaks learning down into three distinct styles:
The VAK model is only one of many, and is not necessarily the most highly regarded, fielding criticism for a variety of reasons. It is, however, a fantastic hook into the rest of this blog post, so here we are.
It seems obvious to me that I have a preference for visual learning, assuming that's what reading is. Additionally, I think I'm using the kinesthetic style to cement my knowledge of programming languages.
That leaves one style unexplored.
Surely I can jam more knowledge into my brain by completing the triad?
Yes. Yes I can.
Specifically, I've started using podcasts to add the auditory learning style into the mix on a regular basis. Podcasts have been around for 20+ years at this point, so honestly, I'm a bit late to the party.
I look for podcasts that balance education with entertainment, and have a conversational style to them. I'm very specifically not looking for someone to read me a book or scholastically describe a concept to me. I'd much rather listen to rich discussions about topics relevant to my career.
That last part is important, because my goal is to educate myself, not just to have something to listen to. I want to be able to ingest useful information that inspires thought, not just have it flow over me like white noise and then have nothing beneficial to show for it later.
Of course, time spent listening is still time spent, and that time has to come from somewhere.
Luckily for me, I had plenty of ear-space to spare. I've always listened to music as background noise while doing various tasks, so it was a simple matter to swap in some podcasts for comparison.
The two (music and podcasts) are very different aural beasts.
Music allows me to focus on the thing I'm trying to do, drowning out the remainder of the world. Podcasts on the other hand allow me to focus on the thing I'm listening to, paying less attention to the thing that I'm doing.
I exercise pretty much every morning, and podcasts augment my initial stretching and warmup sessions extremely well. The weights training is an okay partner, but sometimes you need some inspiring music to push you through that last set, and listening to describe how to form a high-functioning team just doesn't provide the same motivation.
By far, the standout activity for podcast consumption is hiking. I generally try to hike at least once every few weeks, with a session lasting a few hours. That is prime mental real estate there, especially once you get into a good walking rhythm.
Some activities don't lend themselves to active listening at all.
Intensive exercise like running, boxing or battle ropes requires me to spend all of my mental focus on not dying, so there is no room to take anything meaningful away from the noise playing in my ears. Additionally, I don't listen to podcasts while walking my dogs, because reduced awareness of your surroundings + dogs + roads is a bad combination.
Listen To Me
In the relatively short time that I've been learning from podcasts I've managed to pull together a few that I think are of value. Some of them have been publishing for years at this point, so there are hundreds of hours of content to absorb.
I like to listen right from the very first episode, which isn't too bad when the content is focused on concepts. Its somewhat less useful when it focuses on specific new technologies though, like the time I was listening to some people talk about this fancy new AWS Lambda thing when it was released over 6 years ago.
Anyway, on with the recommendations.
My number one recommendation is Work Life with Adam Grant. It covers off some really interesting topics around organizational psychology and psychology in general and does it in a very conversational and easy to listen fashion.
The second one is The Rabbit Hole. This podcast is more about general concepts and patterns used in software development, but it also includes discussions on working well in teams, psychological safety and effectively using Agile Practices.
The last one is Screaming Into The Cloud. It focuses very heavily on cloud concepts and technologies and is just generally fun to listen to if you like snarky comments and robust discussion.
Those three podcasts are my favorites right now, but I'm also listening to:
Ignoring for a moment that the VAK model I mentioned in the introduction is not very well respected, I've really enjoyed adding podcasts into my morning routine.
It makes the exercise go faster and I walk away at the end smarter than when I started. Its like working out two parts of my body at the same time and its hard to beat that sort of efficiency.
The podcasts provide an excellent source of things to add as items into my professional development backlog, where they can be prioritized and investigated in detail during my dedicated learning time.
Assuming I don't spend all of my precious learning time writing blog posts of course.