In the realm of educational media, radio has often been the neglected child, overlooked in favour of television and digital offerings (Berman, 2008). Nonetheless, radio has played a part in the evolving relationship between education and technological; Many authors have highlighted how radio has been utilized in education, particularly in the developing world.
Radio has been used as a teaching tool since the 1930s (Maskow, 2000). During this early period, radio was trumpeted with much fanfare as a revolutionary technology which would transform education. This was not to be. In North America, radio declined in popularity as an educational media with the advent of television in the 50s and then the popularization of home computers in the 80s. However, all is not lost for radio. It has since been used as a teaching tool in developing countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia (Berman, 2008). One reason for this is the fact that radio is sole mass media. There is an absence of television and computers in the rural regions of these countries (Nyareza, Dick 2012). Radio also had a renaissance in both Canada and the United Kingdom in the 70s and 80s during a period of experimentalism in radio education.
One key benefit of radio that is noted repeatedly is the ability to reach isolated students, particularly in rural areas. One of the early demonstrations of radio’s ability to overcome distances was the Farm Radio Network, which the CBC used as a way to reach farmers across Canada and share farming information and instruction. The farm-radio model was adapted to Africa in the 1960s, and was subsequently applied as a teaching technology in Asia, Africa and Central America (Nyareza and Dick, 2012).
Authors hone in on two main attributes of radio which contribute to its successful implementation as a teaching tool: reach and consistency.
Radio is a mass media. It has the ability to reach beyond the boundaries of the classroom. It is not limited by geography: only by the limits of the transmission technology. This, coupled with its relatively low cost, makes it an ideal medium to reach a learning audience scattered across large distances (Berman, 2008). The ability of radio to reach isolated audiences applies to more than just the geographic sense. Nyareza and Dick (2012) describe an educational radio program in Zimbabwe which reached farmers who were not only isolated but illiterate. Radio’s reach also applies in an economic sense. Radio receivers are ubiquitous and inexpensive. Radio programs can be freely received by all those who tune in (Maskow, 2008). Podcasts can be freely downloaded.
Another benefit identified by authors is the consistent quality of the lessons presented. Since the educational programs are written and produced in a central location, the quality can be tightly controlled, as opposed to locally delivered lessons which are delivered by teachers in the classroom, and depend fully upon their proficiency. This consistency creates the possibility of producing lessons which are much more than just a single-voice monologue. Production values such as a multi-voice script with sound effects and music can create an aural texture which can sustain students’ attention (Maskow, 2000). There was much discussion among authors about the importance of listenability of radio lessons. Authors stressed listenability in all the papers, from those which examined radio in the rural developing world, through to podcasts created for German biochemistry students. Maskow (2000) described what she termed the doculecture: an audio-rich educational broadcast combining a traditional lecture with a radio documentary in order to maximize student engagement. However, a drawback in the papers was a lack of a direct comparison between different levels of programs with varying products on values. This would have served to quantify the level of engagement and retention of information by students. As it is, there was a subjective quality to the research and discussion. The authors asserted that superior production values enhance the learning experience but couldn’t provide the data to prove their claim.
There was also a lack of exploration as to why radio has not achieved its perceived potential as an educational technology. The tone of the papers suggests that it is the “shiny new toy” phenomenon which shunted radio to the shoulder of the information highway; TV and digital technology usurped radio’s role simply because they were newer. However this seems more rooted in an anchor bias to radio rather than a vigorous and truthful examination of why radio hasn’t been utilized more in the educational space. Authors focus more upon external challenges rather than attempt to identify any serious drawbacks with radio itself as an educational media. Authors have pointed to lack of political backing (Bermam, 2008) as one reason. Funding challenges are cited, particularly in establishing who will pay for a service that falls both in the realm of a communication and an educational service (Nyareza, Dick 2012). The question is asked: Who ultimately pays for educational radio, the student, the public at large, advertisers or a combination of all three (Maskow, 2000)? This identification of external factors as the downfall of educational radio seems more rooted in a bias to radio’s inherent benefit as an educational tool,rather than a vigorous and truthful examination of why radio hasn’t been utilized more in the educational space. There is failure to tackle the reason why there has been a drift away from radio to newer technologies. Meanwhile Munch-Harrach et al fail to adequately explain why the biochemistry podcast they studied gradually declined in popularity (p.3, 2013).
There is little discussion of radio’s actual drawbacks and weaknesses as an educational tool, although they are touched upon. Ironically, Nyareza and Dick’s study (p. 501. 2012) quotes students who identify one of radio’s perceived benefits as a drawback; Radio lessons can be crafted in a central location, which ensures consistency, but it also means that the lessons cannot be adapted to a unique audience. It’s a one-size-fits-all approach. It’s great for quality control, but this was identified as a drawback by students in Zimbabwe who complained that they could not modify the lessons to their needs. The inability to modify the pace of the learning (Berman, p. 6) was also identified as hindering radio from meeting the needs of students. Similarly in the examination of the Open College (Maskow, 2000), there was little effort spent on why this major audio education network fizzled.
Overall, radio’s shortcomings are generally given short shrift by the authors. They agree that the Western world has much to learn from the use of educational radio in developing countries, they fail to present a thorough examination of the deficiencies of the medium. While there is value in cataloguing the many benefits of educational radio, by failing to conduct a thorough and honest assessment of its drawbacks, the authors fail to fully capitalize upon their studies and research.
Berman, S. D. (2008). The Return of Educational Radio?. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 9(2). Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.19173/irrodl.v9i2.563
Jamison, D. T., Searle, B., Galda, K., & Heyneman, S. P. (1981). Improving elementary mathematics education in Nicaragua: An experimental study of the impact of textbooks and radio on achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 73(4), 556-567.
Retrieved from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0022-0622.214.171.1246
Kothe C., Hampe W., Munch-Harrach, D. (2013). Audio podcasts in practical courses in biochemistry – cost-efficient e-learning in a well-proven format from radio broadcasting. GMS Z Med Ausbild. (30) 4
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3839072/
Maskow, M. (2000). Radio as a learning technology. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. (88), 59-68. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary-wiley-com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/doi/epdf/10.1002/ace.8806
Nwaerondu, N., Thompson, G. (1997). The Use of Educational Radio in Developing Countries: Lessons from the Past, International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education. (2) 2, p. 43-54 Retrieved from: http://www.ijede.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/315/209
Nyareza, S., Dick, A. (2012). Use of Community radio to communicate agricultural information to Zimbabwe’s peasant farmers. Aslib Proceedings: New Information Perspectives. (64) 5, 494-506 doi: 10.1108/00012531211263111