Audio's Time to Sing

Director of Strategy

Audio is having its moment. That is, even before the start of the pandemic in 2019, audio usage—in terms of delivery vehicles such as streaming services and podcasts—has been dramatically on the rise. According to Tencent Music Entertainment, online music subscription increased by 70% during the first quarter of 2020.

Podcasts such as The Daily, This American Life, and The Joe Rogan Experience have similarly seen dramatic increases in listenership — earlier this year, the K-12 Blueprint returned to the podcast game with the re-release of our podcast, EdTech Coast-to-Coast.

By April 2020, yet another entrant in the “audio space” was Clubhouse. If you’re not familiar, Clubhouse is an invitation-only audio chat iPhone app that facilitates communication and discussion for small groups or participants for up to 5,000 people. Within just a few weeks of its launch, a number of organizations posted tips, suggestions, and ways to incorporate Clubhouse into K-12. For instance, Edutopia offered suggestions such as, “In this time of physical distance, Clubhouse offers educators a space to share ideas and have conversations.” There are also a variety of how-tos about Clubhouse, including this nice tutorial from Digital Nomad Quest.

Finally, early this month — March, 2021 — Microsoft announced the forthcoming launch of Reading Progress—a Microsoft Teams tool that will enable educators and students to gain insights into their reading strengths, including metrics such as accuracy rate, correct words per minute, omissions, etc. Although not strictly the same sort of audio application as Clubhouse or a podcast, Reading Progress leverages audio (e.g., students’ reading aloud) to provide some pretty interesting data for many teachers. Interestingly enough, some of the capabilities of Reading Progress are reminiscent of another application that Intel funded the exploration of a few years ago, Read with Me.

So what does this mean for K-12 students, educators, and decision-makers? It would be easy to say “probably not much,” but I think the reality is that—while there will be promotors (and detractors) touting the next big thing—I suspect the reality is a bit more nuanced. Namely, the real effect of these tools and applications will be on the expectations of students (and future educators). With this in mind, education needs to ensure that the tools and services provided to all learners and educators reflect their authentic experiences and honor the many different ways all of us can learn.