PowerPoint – The Imposter !

PowerPoint, as it is used today, has been criticized as an effective information or instruction tool by various respected individuals. Best known are probably Edward Tufte, Yale University’s professor emeritus of political science and statistics; Scott McNealy, founder and ex-CEO of Sun Microsystems; and Julia Keller, cultural critic for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. Their opinions should be carefully considered.

My concern, however, is with the damaging effect on learning and retention that PowerPoint presentations make to the emerging field of E-Learning.

PowerPoint has distorted the learning values of this new education/training tool. It has turned off millions of individuals who would otherwise be motivated by the potential of the E-Learning medium.


Too few, charged with making training initiative decisions for their organization, have any real understanding of the learning process. They concentrate on the technology capabilities of digital media. And, then, they lump everything together and decide that “if it plays, it works.”

How foolish! Information conveyance has both a purpose and means for achieving results. So do training and education! And guess what? Their purposes and means are vastly different.

Information is there for the taking. Either you choose to acquire it — or, you don’t. Effective training and education, on the other hand, relies on such factors as stimulation, simulation and self-interest. We acquire short-term knowledge because it’s there. Yet, we retain little of a PowerPoint outline days after it has been presented.

But, E-Learning (in its intended sense) links us to the content being presented. It has relevance to our own lives and the skills that we want to acquire. It speaks to us in our own learning culture (and, today, that culture is television-based). It comes to us in short chunks in order to allow us to ponder, chew and swallow discreet objectives. It presents us with simulations, so that we can try it out with our own hands. In short, it lives and it breathes in a world that touches us directly.

PowerPoint, on the other hand, is cold, sterile and passive. We think that just because we can network a PowerPoint presentation or a written procedure, we’re doing something important. And, in a way, we are.

We’re putting our reading audience to sleep. We’re bombarding them with words they’ll never remember and concept presentations that are foreign to their own lives.

The uninformed, who pass off PowerPoint presentations as E-Learning, are betraying the ambitions and dreams of those students/trainees they are tasked to serve.

PowerPoint betrays the goals of Instructional Design while ignoring the learning culture of today’s students and trainees (E-Learning based on full-motion video and optional word-for-word audio). E-Learning should enhance learning and retention by empowering its students and trainees. It should open their eyes to possibility; it should increase their capabilities; and it should free them to make better choices. PowerPoint presentations won’t do any of those things.

More on Thursday – – – – –

— Bill Walton, Founder, ITC Learning