Love learning? Here are five free podcasts you need in your life

Photo credit: Giulia due Puntozero Do you ever feel like there is so much to learn and not enough hours in the day? Most people I talk to wish they could read more books, watch more movies and better understand current affairs, but struggle to find the time to fit it all in.

I feel your pain. Reading is one of my favourite pastimes, but I often go days without picking up a book, let alone following the news. It’s amazing how fast the working weeks fly by.

Fortunately, I recently discovered the humble podcast. Now I can listen to concise and interesting radio shows on the way to work, when I’m out exercising, or even as I cook or do household chores.

There are podcasts available on just about every subject under the sun – whether you are into fashion, gaming, music, cooking or movies, I’m sure you will be able to find a podcast you love. And the best part? Most podcasts are FREE.

I love podcasts that help me learn new things about the world, especially global current affairs (which unfortunately lack decent coverage in mainstream NZ media).

So without further ado, here are my five favourite free podcasts for people who love learning – enjoy!

BBC Radio 4 Documentary of the Week

Every Friday the team at BBC Radio 4 select their favourite documentary from the week been and publish it as a podcast. Ranging from 30 minutes to an hour in length, these podcasts explore a particular topic from all angles through interviews and analysis. My favourite episode to-date explores the rising slow journalism movement against a backdrop of constantly breaking news and instantaneous media.

Website: Top pick: Good News is No News 

BBC History Extra

By far my favourite podcast, BBC History Extra is a must-listen if you are a history geek. Recorded by the team at BBC History Magazine, each episode is about an hour long and covers two topics. The podcasts are recorded as interviews with leading historians and authors. The topics tend to be quite UK-centric, but as a Tudor enthusiast this doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Besides, the entire archive is published online, so you can select from over one hundred different episodes.

Website: Top pick: Kamikaze pilots and Captain John Smith

The Good Fight

An American podcast produced by Ben Wikler, The Good Fight focuses on positive political movements happening throughout the United States. From Black Civil Rights to progressive economic policy, The Good Fight gives a voice to groups of people who are out there trying to make good things happen. I find it an incredible window into US politics – Ben Wikler provides context to every topic he covers and explains complex scenarios in an approachable, easy-to-understand manner. Plus, he also uses awesome music for dramatic effect.

Website: Top pick: Fed up with the economy?

TED Talks (audio)

You really can’t go wrong with a TED Talk. If you haven’t discovered TED yet, you are seriously missing out. Described as a “platform for ideas worth spreading,” TED provides people from all walks of life with an opportunity to share their innovations with the world. The videos are hugely popular but the audio podcasts are just as good.

Website: Top pick: Matthieu Ricard: How to let altruism be your guide

BBC World Service Global News

News websites often overwhelm me; there are so many articles, where to start? The BBC World Service Global News podcast pulls together “the best stories, interviews and on the spot reporting from around the world.” It always includes an update on the major global stories, but also throws in a special interest story. The podcast is published twice a day and runs for about 30 minutes.


Do you listen to podcasts? What are your favourites? I’d love to hear your recommendations – please comment below. In the meantime, happy listening!

One moment at a time

wasting time “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” – Maya Angelou

A few days ago I realised one word sums up my biggest fear. That word is waste. The very concept makes my chest tight with anxiety. The idea of a wasted life, a wasted environment, a wasted career makes me feel as though I am stumbling through quicksand.

But it’s amazing how, when you articulate a fear, it becomes smaller. More manageable. Something you can begin to understand, as opposed to an abstract feeling that plunges you into darkness.

Waste. I am afraid of waste, in particular of wasting my life. Of wasting my precious time and energy. As I wrote recently, you only get one life: now is the time. I feel acutely aware of the fragility of the present moment. And I ask myself on a regular basis: am I living the life I want to lead?

The truth is, the answer is complicated. In some ways I believe I am living the life I want, because if I didn’t want this life, wouldn’t I be doing more to change it? But at the same time I am plagued by uncertainty and doubt, always wondering if the grass might be greener on the other side.

A common theme in my writing is that of choices. I often struggle with making decisions, out of concern that I will take a wrong turn, or worst-case-scenario, waste some of my time.

I don’t think this is a fear that will go away overnight, and I acknowledge that it can also be one of my strengths, as it constantly forces me to explore new options and challenge my surroundings.

But it is a fear that can spiral out of control if I let it, and cause me to be incredibly hard on myself. My fear of ensuring I get the most out of the present moment is self-defeating – I cannot get the most out of anything when I am afraid of it.

Fortunately, a colleague recently helped to put my mind at ease. I was telling him how I majored in French at university, and I found myself shrugging off this personal achievement because ‘I don’t use the language on a day-to-day basis’.

My colleague swiftly countered my self-depreciation. “Learning is never wasted,” he said. “You never know when you might need to draw on that knowledge.”

A simple truth, yet one I had failed to see beneath my own anxieties. His words completely shifted my perspective. I realised I have been impatient with the present moment. Sometimes what we are doing right now cannot be fully understood until the future. And that’s okay.

I can be prone to literal, black-and-white thinking. I can quickly jump to extreme conclusions when I am feeling unsettled or disillusioned. But I need to remember that, even if my present moment is uncomfortable or imperfect or less than ideal, that doesn’t mean I am wasting my life. That doesn’t mean I am doing something wrong. It just means I am on a journey, one moment at a time.

My little realisation might seem like an obvious truth to some. But I think it illustrates how fear can cloud our perceptions. I am passionate about learning – that is why I started this blog – yet my fear of wasting my time can sometimes stop me from covering new terrain.

What I need to remember is that I don’t always need an immediate reason for learning something. I don’t need to justify it at the time, rather I need to trust in the process. Every piece of knowledge I acquire adds to how I see and understand the world. Whether I draw on that knowledge now or 50 years in the future is irrelevant.

Waste is all around us, it is a modern burden. We throw things out as fast as we consume them. It is a very real fear, both philosophically and physically. But when it comes to learning, I believe we can all find some peace in the fact that no knowledge is a waste of time.

Make time to learn, invest in education, celebrate the mind's infinite imagination. Trust in the process. It may not all make sense now, but hindsight can be a beautiful thing.