Rethinking PowerPoint – Part 1

Recently I ran a session for trainers on the use of PowerPoint for face-to-face training. It’s always interesting how many trainers tell me that “PowerPoint is for me. I use it to know where I am in my session”. The question I posed to the group was

“Yes…but what do your learners think of that?”

As I asked the question, I watched a few puzzled faces as they reflected for a minute. Seemed like I’d said a dirty word – LEARNER. In a world where there’s often a selfish focus, stopping to remember who you’re designing learning material for is critical. I then started our conversation with a short, fun video about death by PowerPoint. A little humour never hurts.

The statistics on PowerPoint use are incredible. Trusty Google came to my aid to tell me there are over 500 million users of the program worldwide, with the average presentation running for around 250 minutes – start to finish. That seems like a lot of slides could be flipped through in that time frame. Originally developed as a business communications tool,  it’s now seeming like a “one-size-fits-all” for in excess of 6 million teachers around the world who are using it daily.

As I stood there staring at their faces, wanting to get them to think a little differently, I flashed up my next slide…..evidence suggests it’s only useful if well-developed and not relied upon too heavily. Gasps! Yes I admit; I was using slides. But not in the traditional way they were used to. No, I’d dared to go where I’d never gone before. A meaningful image filling the entire slide with a statement over the top; each slide different and each one well thought out with a clear message. I started to see a couple of them question themselves and whether they’d be confident to run a 250 minute session without relying on their slides.

This led me to my next comment to the group…

slides can be meaningless for learners without accompanying dialogue…

Now I was able to delve into the depths of those darn bullet points. The compression of language into a brief phrase that needs to be unpacked with explanation makes learners work too hard to decipher their meaning as the bullet points are too open to interpretation. This is where many trainers and educators start to see learners writing copious notes as they listen to the explanation, skimming the learning surface rather than diving into the depths of it.

We give them handouts too? That way they can write as we try to engage them in the learning process. Provoking the group a bit more, I suggested to them that using handouts can often result in them having disengaged, passive learners who will just sit through their sessions as they think they already have all the information they need in the handouts. But remember those pesky bullet points – they’re likely to walk out of the session, refer back to them and have different interpretations of their meaning.

My final point to the group (before shifting the conversation to what features make a slide stand out for learners) was to suggest to them…..

The only fans of PowerPoint…are the presenters. Rarely the audience

I’ll continue this post with you as you reflect on what features might make a slide stand out for learners. In the next installment, I want to share with you all some of my insights and thoughts for how slides can be more learner focused and meaningful.

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