June 1, 2015

Last week, I read a challenging — and, most welcome — article in the WASHINGTON POST, “PowerPoint should be banned. This PowerPoint presentation explains why” by Katrin Park.

As I’ve noted before, Park joins a lengthy list of respected individuals who believe that PowerPoint is neither an effective information or instruction tool.

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.

Here are some excerpts from Park’s column:

“. . . It is estimated that more than 30 million PowerPoint presentations are given every day. But as PowerPoint conquered the world, critics have piled on. And justifiably so. Its slides are oversimplified, and bullet points omit the complexities of nearly any issue. The slides are designed to skip the learning process, which — when it works — involves dialogue, eye-to-eye contact and discussions. . . . It has become a crutch.

We should ban it. . . .

The indiscriminate and ingrained use of PowerPoint presentations threatens the military’s institutional integrity. Former defense secretary Robert Gates said he was terrified by the thought of promising young officers sitting in cubicles and reformatting slides in their prime working years. At the CIA, he was able to ban slides from briefings, but at the Pentagon, he couldn’t even cut down the number used. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter banned PowerPoint presentations during a summit in Kuwait to encourage analysis and discussions, instead of the usual fixed briefings.”

My concern, however, is with the damaging effect on learning and retention that adapted PowerPoint presentations make under the guise of e-Learning.

Adapted PowerPoint presentations have distorted the learning values of this new education/training tool. They have turned off millions of individuals who would otherwise be motivated by the potential of the e-Learning medium.

Is it any wonder that better than 60% of trainees never complete an adapted PowerPoint e-Learning lesson?!?


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, rely on such motivating 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.

The uninformed, who pass off adapted PowerPoint presentations as e-Learning, are betraying the ambitions and dreams of those individuals they are tasked to serve. They ignore the learning culture of today’s trainees —- learning that is rooted in multiple media.

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 Wednesday – – –

— Bill Walton: co-Founder, ITC Learning (Mondays & Wednesdays)