April 8, 2015

Several previous postings have exposed the disconnect between PowerPoint and learning. On many occasions I have pointed out the great damage repurposed PowerPoints have done to the reputation of e-Learning. Such adaptations have turned off the majority of trainees (more than two-thirds never complete e-Learning courses that were adapted PowerPoint presentations).

Here’s a new and interesting twist on an additional “Why” reason:

“One of the many jokes about Powerpoint is how much time people who use it spend picking transitions between slides. They spend more time picking out animations, and which wipe effects to use, than they do thinking about what goes on the slides themselves. Or what their audience needs to learn and how best to convey those lessons. It’s like wanting to make a movie and spending all your time picking fonts for the credit reel at the end. It’s backwards and broken.

Because of how Powerpoint, and Keynote, are constructed, other common habits for creating presentations are equally flawed. The tools are slide centric, not presentation centric, and people instinctively follow the metaphor built in to their tools. Fundamentally I don’t care much about presentation tools as the tools are mostly irrelevant. You can make a good presentation with any tool and a bad one too. Like writing, the hard part isn’t which software you use, but how you use it. The important part is what goes on between your ears.

Popular presentation tools focus on slides, which should not be the focus at all. No one comes to listen to a lecture in hope of great slides. They want good ideas, expressed well, especially ideas that answer the questions that motivated them to attend the lecture in the first place. Most people I know, when informed they need to give a presentation, immediately begin making slides, and they may as well tie a noose around their own necks. There is no point in making a single slide until you know some of what you want to say, and how best to say it. If you make slides first, you become a slide slave. You will spend all your time perfecting your slides, instead of perfecting your thoughts. You will likely talk to your slides when you present, and not your audience, as you will have spent more time on the slides than you did practicing giving the talk itself. . . .“ (excerpted from “Why I Hate Prezi,” posted on scottberkun.com}

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 communication 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. 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, we’re doing something important. And, in a way, we are.

We’re putting our 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 trainees they are tasked to serve.

E-Learning should enhance learning and retention by empowering its trainees. It should open their eyes to possibility; it should increase their capabilities; and it should free them to make better choices. Adapted PowerPoint presentations won’t do any of those things.

More on Monday – – –

— Bill Walton, co-Founder ITC Learning
www.itclearning.com/blog/ (Mondays & Wednesdays)