Are you seeking to provide your employees with digital training that immerses them in course content, using effective interactivity and quality learning technologies? If your answer is “yes”, then you may want to consider keeping any PowerPoint elements planned for the training down to a minimum. Let me be clear. I am not attempting to disparage PowerPoint for what it is – an effective slide presentation platform. However, when it comes to applying slideware to contemporary highly engaging learning, PowerPoint reveals itself to be something of a relic from a bygone training era.
It has most likely happened to us all, whether back in school or in the workplace. We have all been forced to sit through a slideware presentation. We watched one generic slide after another, while the speaker basically re-reads what is on each slide vocally, point by point. After awhile you notice even the most keen amongst your peer’s heads begin to nod and sag. People are tuning out. Information is not successfully being shared and what knowledge is taken away from the exhibition will more than likely, quickly be lost.
Now imagine attempting to submit the same material in a PowerPoint format for an eLearning course. At least the initial presentation had a live instructor leading the way. Something like this expressed on employee’s mobile devices or computer is entirely ineffective. With little to no interactivity, and repetitive slides floating by on the screen in a “text and next” style, you could consider yourself lucky if any of your staff even completed the course, much less take away any information useful to them.
Even if the live presentation is recorded and re-introduced as an eLearning course, you are no further along in ensuring learner knowledge retention. In fact a recorded PowerPoint course disguised as eLearning, is probably even less effective than a live show, as learners are free to skim through the material, missing vital information that they may or may not have picked up on anyway. Granted, PowerPoint is only a tool. Unfortunately for employees undergoing online training where it is the main feature, it represents the wrong tool. Using a hand saw to trim your hedges would be a similar example of mis-applied tool use.
There is growing concern and rumblings of criticism amongst the training industry concerning the continued use of PowerPoint, whether for classroom-style instruction or eLearning. Trainers are beginning to realise that the slideware format lacks serious chops when attempting to interest employees in it’s course content. Unlike modern elearning courses, PowerPoint fails to engage learners. Unable to include interactive elements easily, it lacks learning technologies like characters, scenarios and gamification that actively involve employees in the learning process and assist in increased knowledge retention.
Australian researchers at the University of New South Wales have come up with findings that show the human brain actually processes and retains more information if it is digested by either verbal or visual means. When the two are combined – a key hallmark of PowerPoint – it was observed that most knowledge was missed or lost very rapidly after the course was completed (smh.com.au).
Professor John Sweller from UNSW’s faculty of education has come up with the Cognitive Load Theory to explain this phenomenon. “…It is simply not effective to present bulleted text and then speak the same words that are written. It is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand the information being offered.”
He would go on to definitively state that “The use of PowerPoint presentation has been a training disaster – It should be ditched.” A fairly strong indictment coming from the academic sector, however it still directly applies to professionals looking to eLearning for their training solutions.
Edward Tufte, a noted expert on data visualization, joins the professor in his criticism. “Slideware may help speakers outline their talks, but convenience for the speaker can be punishing to both content and audience. The standard PowerPoint presentation elevates format over content, betraying an attitude of commercialism that turns everything into a sales pitch.” (Tuft, PowerPoint is Evil).
It can be argued that Powerpoint still has its place in the realm of professional training, although even this is now being challenged by both academics and learning professionals alike. Rather than simply being used as a supporting tool for an eLearning course, It has become popular habit to completely substitute Powerpoint for the course itself.
This type of misuse ignores one of the most important rules of online training: Know and respect your learners. Today’s eLearning is dynamic and flexible, using tools that create employee engagement. Slideware presentations that present only on a bulleted text format cannot compare in effectiveness – and will eventually be left behind in the dust.
For further reading regarding the issue of engagement feel free to have a look at our “Exploring the Landscape of Employee Engagement” blog.