Tuesday, 22nd May 2007
Tim Buckley Owen
Or, if you prefer, ‘Official: Powerpoint bad for brains’. That seems to be the conclusion to be drawn from the scholarly paper Visualisation and Instructional Design by John Sweller of the School of Education at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.
Drawing on a method called Cognitive Load Theory, Professor Sweller’s main complaint seems to be not about the medium itself but the use of its preset screen designs with bullet points, which actually get in the way of an audience’s understanding of the presentation.
‘It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form,’ Professor Sweller concedes. ‘But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented.’
His conclusion is stark: ‘The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster. It should be ditched.’
News of the research appeared in the Out-Law online newsletter (http://www.out-law.com/default.aspx?page=7938) and a lengthy abstract of Sweller’s paper (which doesn’t mention Powerpoint at all, incidentally) is at http://www.iwm-kmrc.de/workshops/visualization/sweller.pdf.
We’ve all sat through them – we all have to give them. So maybe this is a wake-up call about doing them better.
If you’d like five tips about how to, you could try a video clip from Russell Davies at http://russelldavies.typepad.com/planning/2006/09/download_5_thin.html. However, as Russell himself admits, ‘I talk quite a lot about the importance of editing, but I've failed to take my own advice in this instance. Sorry. It's quite long.’
Alternatively, you could take Russell’s advice and look at Presentation Zen – Garr Reynold’s blog on issues related to professional presentation design (http://www.presentationzen.com/), where you’ll find more ideas on why it might be the message, rather than the medium, that’s at fault.
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