Rising popularity of podcasts among children ‘could improve reading engagement’

The growing number of listeners may have particular benefits for boys and secondary school students, report suggests.

Child using a smartphone
Child using a smartphone

A rise in the number of young people listening to podcasts during lockdown could boost their reading engagement, a study suggests.

More young people who listen to podcasts enjoy reading (47.8% compared to 40.8%) and read daily (30.4% compared to 27%) than peers who do not, according to a National Literacy Trust (NLT) report.

The research, based on surveys of children aged eight to 18 in the UK before and during lockdown, found nearly one in four (23.7%) young people said they listened to podcasts or audiobooks more during lockdown than before – and this could have particular benefits for boys and secondary school pupils.

Some young people increased their listening frequency and duration over this period, while others had started listening to podcasts for the first time.

The most common reasons given for turning to podcasts were that they helped them to relax, they had extra time to listen to them, and they were drawn in by key role models who are podcast creators.

“There is some tentative evidence that listening to podcasts is associated with improved reading outcomes,” the report says.

At the start of the year, before lockdown, one in five (19.6%) young people said they listened to podcasts. More boys (22.7%) than girls (16.6%) tuned in.

Engagement with podcasts also increases with age as young people aged 14 and above were more inclined to listen to podcasts than younger children.

Just 9.1% of children aged nine to 11 said that they listened to podcasts compared with nearly two in five (38.7%) young people aged 16 to 18.

Emily Best, research manager at the NLT and co-author of the report, said: “As a charity, we’ve long known that audio can provide new opportunities to engage children and young people with literacy – and our latest exploration into podcasts builds on this.

“We were excited to discover that podcasts not only support children’s reading engagement but that their rise in popularity during lockdown could present new opportunities for the classroom and distance learning, particularly in terms of getting pupils interested in different topics, encouraging further reading around subjects and nurturing a love of storytelling.”

The charity has published two free guides to help teachers and parents make the most of podcasts in the classroom and at home, including lists of recommended podcasts for different ages and topics.

To build on the charity’s existing research it has launched a new survey for secondary students to find out more about how podcasts can support students’ literacy and learning.

Jonathan Douglas, chief executive of the NLT, said: “This first-of-its-kind research shows the potential of podcasts for building literacy outcomes and presents a huge opportunity for the education sector.

“It is comforting to see that podcasts were able to support the wellbeing of children and young people during what continues to be a very uncertain time.

“The positive power of podcasts for children’s learning is an area we are exploring further with schools, partners and through additional research.”

– 58,346 children aged nine to 18 in the UK were surveyed in January; then 4,141 children aged eight to 18 were surveyed between May and early June 2020 during school closures and the UK-wide lockdown.

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