In a delicious headline appearing in the “The New York Times” this week we read, “WE HAVE MET THE ENEMY AND HE IS POWERPOINT!” This particular article by Elisabeth Bumiller was focused on the opinions of many of our military leaders. Let’s look at some of their direct quotes:

General James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month . . .

“PowerPoint makes us stupid,”

General McMaster (Brig. Gen. H. R. McMaster) said . . .

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,”

Commanders say that behind all the PowerPoint jokes are serious concerns that the program stifles discussion, critical thinking and thoughtful decision-making.

“ . . . death by PowerPoint,”

the phrase used to describe the numbing sensation that accompanies a 30-slide briefing, seems here to stay.

. . . PowerPoint presentations, Dr. Hammes (Thomas X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel) said, are known as

“hypnotizing chickens.”

While I cannot speak for the military, I can certainly echo their criticism of PowerPoint when it comes to education, training and, above all, — LEARNING!

Like a deadly virus, adapted PowerPoint presentations continue to surface, disguised as e-Learning — and, consequently damaging the reputation of our most potentially powerful learning tool.

Why do supposedly responsible individuals continue to create PowerPoint presentations and then ascribe the word “learning” to their creations? Why do e-Learning courseware vendors continue to produce and sell adapted PowerPoint presentations? Why do vendors of LMS’s continue to tout the capability of their associated authoring systems to convert PowerPoint presentations into an e-Learning environment?

One of two reasons — of which “ignorance” is the more easily forgiven.

PowerPoint is slick, attractive and easy to both learn and manipulate. For many well-meaning individuals, it appeals to one’s creative instincts. It can be rewarding to make. Unfortunately, the excitement of building a PowerPoint presentation can blind one to the ultimate aim of all learning:

Learning is not merely memorization of information. Learning is the mental response to informational stimulation, which turns into reflection and new awareness. Meaningful learning initiates action and change, which results in heightened values and skills.

The other, more unfortunate reason, is a combination of ignorance and greed. Vendors of e-Learning who pass off adapted PowerPoint presentations as valid are both ignorant and only interested in making money. They feel no ethical commitment to the students and trainees, forced to cope with such abominations. Vendors of an LMS that tout the capability of its associated authoring system to convert PowerPoint presentations into e-Learning are almost as bad since they, in their avarice, are guilty of promulgating junk throughout their client base. (In several ways, these vendors are uncannily similar to the Goldman Sachs individuals we saw being questioned by Congress this week. They may have done nothing illegal but, my oh my, ethics and commitment to their customers, through open transparency, sure takes a bath.)

And, while I’m on the subject, we should also sharply criticize the faculty in many Graduate Schools of Instructional Design who actually include lectures on adapted PowerPoint presentations as legitimate e-Learning choices. (A PhD is not necessarily a kin to knowledge.) Heaven help their poor students!

Why do I write so much about PowerPoint? That’s an easy answer for me.

I’ve witnessed a long evolution in media training. I’ve watched the greedy and the uninformed get in on the ground level of every new media advancement. And, I also know that until we can stamp out “the phony,” the power of any new medium cannot advance.

So, please help me stamp out adapted PowerPoint presentations, posing as legitimate e-Learning. Only then will we begin to deliver e-Learning-that-works to the millions of students and trainees who are counting on us to enrich their lives.

More on Tuesday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder of ITC Learning