Leave Out That PowerPoint!
Microsoft PowerPoint and its Google G Suite cousin, Google Slides, make it easy to put together visual slide presentations to go along with an oral presentation, whether live in front of an audience or online for a webinar or videoconference. And while PowerPoint can indeed be used effectively for this purpose, it can also be misused to create uninspiring learning experiences for those on the receiving end of the presentation. Anyone who has sat through an hour of a presenter reading PowerPoint slides verbatim will understand what I mean.
(For a humorous take on how PowerPoint can ruin a potentially engaging and memorable presentation, see this example of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address as a PowerPoint presentation by Peter Norvig.)
These speaker-based misuses of PowerPoint aside, one of the worst uses of PowerPoint in online education is to present static information to students in an online course. All too often, PowerPoint presentations that were originally designed for a face-to-face context are merely tacked into an online course, almost as an afterthought, as required or optional resources for students. These may be publisher-provided PowerPoint files to accompany chapters of a textbook, or they might be instructor-created PowerPoint files that a course writer has used previously as part of his or her classroom instruction. In either case, merely adding PowerPoint files that were designed to be accompanied by a speaker’s (hopefully engaging!) narration into an online course creates an extremely passive and uninspired online learning experience.
As an instructional designer, there are several strategies you can use to ensure that PowerPoint is being used effectively (if it should be used at all!) in an online course:
- Have a subject matter expert, whether the instructor or course writer, record the PowerPoint as an actual presentation with an audio track. Do not merely read the slides verbatim! Instead, use the PowerPoint as part of an instructionally beneficial audiovisual recorded lesson, including helpful context, examples, and explanations from the presenter. This strategy has the advantage of using PowerPoint for its strengths, as part of a presentation, as long as the accompanying narration or presentation is an engaging learning experience in its own right.
- Turn a slide-based PowerPoint presentation into a much more lively video presentation using VideoScribe or some other video-creation tool. While watching a video is still a passive learning experience (say, compared to hands-on learning), a well-crafted and engaging educational video can eliminate the tedium associated with reading a series of PowerPoint slides.
- Convert the information in a PowerPoint file into a long-form document (such as a PDF or Word document). Or rebuild the information in the PowerPoint as a long-form content item inside your Learning Management System. Human eyes and brains are very good at scanning, searching, and scrolling for needed information. Presenting the information in a long-form, visually scannable format can increase the efficiency with which students can read and absorb the information while minimizing unnecessary user interactions navigating from slide to slide.
In general, instructional designers should take a position of skepticism about the use of PowerPoint in an online course. With few exceptions, there is almost always a more-engaging way to present information to students. And the slide-based format of a typical PowerPoint presentation creates scores of unnecessary user interactions (clicks or touches) while making it more difficult to visually scan for the information students may need to find.
Let us know your own PowerPoint horror stories or success stories in the comments section, along with your favorite strategy for turning a boring PowerPoint slide deck into an engaging learning experience!
Zachary Fruhling is an instructional designer, online educational content author and developer, educational technologist, philosophy instructor, poet, and podcaster with nearly 20 years of experience in higher education and educational content development. See Zachary's website at www.zacharyfruhling.com.