How PowerPoint Can Impair Learning

May 23, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Posted in educational | Leave a comment

For the past few years I’ve been on a mission to try and improve the quality of Powerpoint presentations given in the University, and have run many workshops that promoted good practice. This included accessibility issues (colour choices, font sizes) and design issues (layout, use of graphics and images). The main problem is that slides are often used as lecture notes, and do a poor job in both roles. The slides have too much text on them and consequently use small font sizes, and this reading difficulty is compounded when they are printed out 3 or 6 to a sheet as notes. In addition, printed slides mean that students do not need to take notes in the lecture – but taking notes is an active learning strategy that would help them understand and remember the content.

However, academics want proper peer-reviewed research to back up these assertions, so I was delighted to pick up a link from an ALT discussion thread today to a recent article in Computers & Education that clearly proves that text-heavy slides have a negative impact on learning: Slide presentations as speech suppressors: When and why learners miss oral information.

The retention of information presented orally and of information presented orally and on slides was measured separately in each condition and standardized for comparability. Cognitive load and subjective importance of slides were also measured. The results indicate a “speech suppression effect” of regular slides at the expense of oral information (within and across conditions), which cannot be explained by cognitive overload but rather by dysfunctional allocation of attention, and can be avoided by concise slides.

Even better, the paper has a great selection of citations to follow up and use to reinforce my arguments for good slide design.


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