While taking classes through Harvard’s Extension school, I ran across a very helpful product from Enounce. They make a plug in that gives you variable speed control of Real Media streams. This means you can play lecture videos back faster or slower than they were originally recorded.
Enounce uses some special technology that increases the speed without changing the pitch. This means that small changes in the speed aren’t noticeable. Playing a file back rapidly doesn’t sound like a chipmunk, it just sounds like the professor is talking very quickly.
I found that by changing the settings depending on the content, I could get a lot more out of the classes. Some professors seemed to go over things very slowly and I found that by speeding things up I was able to concentrate better. When I played things at regular speed I would get distracted too easily. Other times I would slow things down when a professor was covering topics with which I was unfamiliar. I also found it useful to speed things up when I was reviewing a lecture, or trying to find a specific part of it.
Enounce has an interesting study posted on their site about how variable speed technology makes it easier to learn. If you are careful how you use it, I think it can be very helpful. It is important to use it to first improve your comprehension and make speed secondary.
Overall I found that I was able to listen to 60 minutes in 45 minutes without things going to fast for subjects that I didn’t have much experience (theory of computation class).