Turn dead time into learning time

Some tools to examine for learning while commuting

This post is a follow up to my post a couple of weeks ago about learning being the number 1 skill that everyone needs in the 21st century. You can read that post here.

Hopefully you’ve read that post or at the very least, you are convinced about the value of learning in the 21st century. If you are, great. Unfortunately, though, there’s a villain in this story. You’re busy. You don’t have time to do a course. You have chores to do. You have children to wash. You can’t keep your eyes open for longer than 5 minutes when you try to read in bed. Where can you get the time?

I take the London tube to work. I’m not one to make bold statements but the tube is possibly one of the most antisocial places on the planet! Everyone is wearing earphones. Some people are listening to tinny music. But others are listening to podcasts and audiobooks or watching TED Talks.

The good news is that the sources for learning are now everywhere and are accessible through multiple digital channels and devices. For me, I find there is a wealth of great audio and visual content available from:

·        Podcasts

·        Audiobooks

·        MOOCs

With regard to educational content, there was a time when this was only typically accessible via fixed authoritative sources and available from libraries, schools or encyclopaedias. These media were limited in terms of their availability and physical scale.

Nowadays though the amount of amazingly researched, produced and downloadable audio and video learning content available is quite phenomenal. And it can be consumed in bite sized chunks while commuting, walking, jogging or during short breaks.

I encourage you to test some of the following tools and approaches for managing your own learning while you re commuting, walking or in the gym!


Podcasts are basically just on demand radio that comes in the form of episodic content that you can subscribe to and download. They are mostly in audio form but some can also come in video format.

The amount of excellently researched and produced podcasts these days is quite phenomenal. If you’re not sure how to listen to podcasts or don’t know where to start, I’ve written this post to help you get set up.

The following list of podcasts are ones that I like to support me in my learning. They are also highly entertaining. In truth, there are loads more that I could recommend but part of the fun is discovering podcasts for yourself!

  1. The Marketing Book Podcast – I work in marketing so this is a useful resource for me. The Marketing Book Podcast consists of weekly interviews with best-selling authors to help marketers keep up with what’s working in the quickly changing field of modern marketing (and sales).

The interviewer has a great way of pulling out the key learning points from each book. I find this useful to stay up to date on new approaches in marketing as well as to filter which books I need to investigate further, and which ones I don’t!

2. The Daily – The Daily is a daily news podcast by the American newspaper The New York Times. Hosted by Times political journalist Michael Barbaro, its 20-minute episodes are based on the Times’ reporting of the day.

3. Harvard Business Review IdeaCast – This is a weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in business and management from Harvard Business Review.

4. Freakonomics Radio – Freakonomics Radio is a highly produced podcast that explores socioeconomic issues and riddles of everyday life. Host Stephen J. Dubner talks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, social scientists and entrepreneurs. The show is a spin-off of the 2005 book Freakonomics. It’s educational and highly entertaining.

5. TED Radio Hour – The TED Radio Hour is a journey through fascinating ideas, inventions, fresh approaches to old problems and new ways to think and create. I love listening to TED Radio Hour to learn about abstract topics and to challenge me to think in new ways.

6. Revisionist History – Revisionist History is a podcast by journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell. It has so far had two seasons. Gladwell, applies his questioning mind to various moments in history. He questions whether those moments played out the way they are commonly perceived to have played out. I particularly liked a series of 3 episodes about access to education in the USA:

o  Season 1, Episode 4: Carlos doesn’t remember

o  Season 1, Episode 5: Food Fight

o  Season 1, Episode 6: My little hundred million


Books provide intellectual stimulation and emotional fulfilment. We’d all like to read more books but unless you are a skilled speed reader or have lots of spare time it can be difficult to consume enough high value content to thoroughly understand a topic. I find audiobooks really useful for reading / listening as I commute.

Audiobooks have traditionally been used by learners with poor reading skills either due to dyslexia or poor eye sight. Many people turn their noses up at the idea of listening to a book rather than reading. I think that’s a shame.

The ubiquity of smartphones and access to subscription services like Audible has enabled the use of audiobooks as credible substitutes or indeed additions to traditional reading.

Also, there isn’t much research to indicate the differences between reading and listening on the effect of learning. There is however research that suggests that reading and listening are similar cognitive processes. For example, a 1985 study found listening comprehension correlated strongly with reading comprehension.

I find listening to most audiobooks just as intellectually stimulating as reading a book. Admittedly, there are some types of books that are difficult listens. These tend to be quite dense, descriptive / textbook kinds of books. When the material is difficult or abstract for example, physical reading provides an advantage because you can re-read difficult passages. Equally the narrator has a role to play too.


By the way, Blinkist is an app that aims to summarise non-fiction books into digestible summaries that take 15 minutes to read. I find reading business and marketing books helpful for my job. Sometimes my ‘to read’ list can get a bit overwhelming.

While everyone loves a shortcut, when it comes to understanding abstract topics, reading the summary just can’t offer readers anywhere near the same amount of depth that they would get from the original text.

Blinkist can be useful to get a quick overview of a new topic. You can read the book summary and there is also an audio version although I don’t particularly like the narrators. It can also be useful to let you know if it’s worth investing the time and the money in the original book. This is important as I find that a lot of popular business books tend to borrow ideas from each other and so sometimes reading a ‘new’ book can feel a bit like reading something that you have already read.


A MOOC is a massive online open course. These are available via online platforms where educational institutions can make some of their courses available to students around the world.

For example, I recently completed a course on Understanding Research Methods with University of London via the MOOC platform, Coursera. Coursera is a platform where learning institutions can make their courses available.

Generally, courses are free but sometimes you can pay a nominal fee and get a certificate of completion. In most cases, the certificate isn’t really valuable from an academic point of view. They generally can’t be exchanged for credits at academic institutions to demonstrate prior learning etc. They are useful though for upskilling, expanding your knowledge and demonstrating learning to your employer or potential employers as the verified certificates can be displayed on your CV or LinkedIn.

MOOCs are different to other online learning tools like Khan Academy. MOOC courses generally have a start, middle and end whereas Khan academy can be useful for bite sized chunks, generally in math or science. Students find Khan useful for helping them with topics that they are finding challenging as opposed to learning an entire curriculum.

The main MOOC platforms that I have used:

  • Coursera
  • EdX
  • Futurelearn: Futurelearn is the only UK based MOOC provider. It was set up by Open University.

This is a list of MOOC providers with a brief bit about their background.

Other digital learning platforms

Then there are also other sites for learning such as Udacity, Udemy and LinkedIn learning.

  1. Udemy is a platform not completely dissimilar to a MOOC platform. The difference is that anyone can create a course and sell it on Udemy. In effect, it acts like a marketplace and a learning management system. You can’t get any recognition for Udemy courses. They are useful though for covering more niche, less academic topics. So, for example there are lots of courses on Udemy covering skills based topics such as AdWords, Programming, Data Analysis etc.
  2. LinkedIn Learning provides video based courses on semi technical subjects to do with business, media and publishing. It has courses on things like AdWords, different programming languages, Excel, Adobe tools etc. Unlike Udemy where you can buy each course separately, with LinkedIn Learning, the courses are included with a premium LinkedIn account. When you complete a course, you can display a badge of completion on your LinkedIn profile.

3. Udacity is the outgrowth of some free computer science classes offered in 2011 through Stanford University. While it originally focused on offering university-style courses, it now focuses more on vocational courses for professionals via its nano degree programme. It covers topics like web development, programming and machine learning.

I’d suggest thinking about the topic you want to learn and then examining the different platforms to see which one suits you. The good thing about most of them is that they have quite good mobile apps where you can download course material for consuming on the go.

Also, as the MOOC platforms have been set up by educators from or with the support of quite well known academic institutions, there is quite a bit of effort put into the pedagogical approach. This means that units are generally bite sized and accompanied by activities such as MCQs to support and assure learning. This also makes it great for bite sized study — lunch time and the tube etc.

Side note, if you are interested in learning science,University of San Diego has a lovely little course called Learning How to Learn.

If you haven’t been in education for a while, this is a nice and interesting course to ease you back into things. It will equip you with what you need to approach your study effectively.

Final note

There is great flexibility in terms of how and when learning content can be accessed. The sources of learning are everywhere and accessible through multiple digital channels and devices. Plus, individuals can engage more easily in learning for pleasure and are not simply prescribed professional outcomes.

I really admire people that are committed to manage their own independent learning. One of my rules of life has for some time been Always Be Learning. I think I’d like to update that to ABC — Always Be Curious!

I encourage you to be curious by trying out some of the approaches that I’ve listed for your own learning. It would be nice to know what works and doesn’t work for you. If you have any good podcast, audiobook, TED talk or MOOC recommendations, it would great to get your thoughts.

Feedback, comments, critique and of course learning tips welcome 🙂

Note: This post was first published on LinkedIn on 11th February 2017.

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