Skip the lecture, download the podcast. That's probably not what university professors tell their students, but perhaps they should. New psychological research conducted by Dani McKinney, a psychologist at the State University of New York in Fredonia, shows that students who only listened to podcasts of lectures achieved substantially higher exam results than those who attended class in person.

To find out how much students can learn from a podcast, McKinney's team created one for a lecture from an introductory psychology course. The podcast contained both audio and video of the slides used in class.

Half the students (32 of 64) skipped the class and listened to the podcast only. The other half attended in person, where they also received a printed handout. A week later, the students were tested on the material.

Podcast Listeners Did Better

The students who downloaded the podcast alone averaged a C (71 out of 100) but those who attended class averaged a D. And those who listened to the podcast and took notes did even better - their average was 77.

Before university classrooms empty out, it's important to note that this is only preliminary research. McKinney's study involved only a single lecture. Also, motivation may have come into play as well. Her experiment didn't count for class credit, so students were encouraged to participate with iTunes gift cards. The high scorer from each group was awarded a $15 gift certificate for use in the online store.

McKinney now plans to further study podcasts in the classroom over the course of an entire semester, instead of just one class. She wonders if students might find podcasts more useful early on in a class, when the material is still new. Still, McKinney is a big believer in the power of technology and its impact on education. "I do think it's a tool," she says. "I think that these kids are programmed differently than kids 20 years ago."