New research: PowerPoint hinders the learning process

Topic / Technology

University of NSW research shows the human brain processes and retains more information if it is digested in either its verbal or written form, but not both at the same time.

Finally! Now there’s scientific research to confirm what I’ve always felt: PowerPoints that present the same text that’s being spoken is actually detrimental to its retention. I’ve always disliked “death-by-bulletpoints” that put into written form exactly the same thing that the speaker is saying. I almost feel like the speaker is insulting my intelligence: “I know, teacher, I heard what you said,” or “Yes, I may be deaf, but it’s a good thing I can read.”

When I use PowerPoint, I do my very best to make it imagery-based and not cluttered with text. I may put my main headline on the slide, but other than that my slides are mostly pictures and images that illustrate what I’m saying in different ways. And most importantly, I don’t make the connection for them!

For example, here’s a PowerPoint slide I used for a lesson on how God changes people:

God changes people

I concluded my lesson with this image and never once explained or mentioned the cocoon/butterfly illustration:

God changes people

My lesson was on how God works in our lives to change us. They can make the connection on their own. And when they do, it’s always more powerful and more memorable than if I had explained it to them. Self-discovery is always the most effective form of learning, so I use it as much as possible.

Some may think this approach is distracting, but I beg to differ. The mind can process information over 5 times faster than I can communicate it, so now I’m giving people’s minds two ways to interact with the information. A picture is worth a thousand words. Pictures will always spark imagination. Text doesn’t spark much of anything.

I’m not alone on this theory, either. Most presentation tips say, “Limit text! Use pictures!”

Jodie McNeill makes an interesting observation on this new research:

The main reason is that I feel that PowerPoint creates a gap between preacher/teacher and congregation/class, and that simply talking allows much more scope for relationship. The fact that Gen Y’s crave experience over explanation points further to the fact that a speaker who speaks with emotion and engages the crowd will be more likely to have an impact than those who present the information in a formal teaching style.

Hopefully I’ll be seeing less boring text and more pictures in PowerPoint presentations now. I want an experience, not a lecture.

[tags]PowerPoint, NSW[/tags]

Posted on April 4, 2007

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  • Power Point is getting outdated as well. There are much simpler presentation softwares now that enable motion and stuff. I agree with the point of not putting ALL of your text on the screen. It’s get to be too much.

  • Dude,

    Well said…

    Thank you…I cam across a decent PPT training video on You Tube…


  • haha, now I understand more of what you were talking about. Someone should update that guy! :)

  • Wow! I think I am going to comment on every post this week.

    I really love Garr and his presentation philosophy. I recommend him to every pastor I see (sometimes with the same inward grin I recommend some people to counseling). He has been a great resource for presentation tips and even advice. He just has someone thing that is very helpful to most people.

    I look to this blog for the same help in youth ministry. Thanks for helping so many Tim.

  • I put our Scripture on the screen and my points. That’s it…well of course video an stuff. I try to keep their focus on the communicator as much as I can.

  • which way should i “weigh” in on ……

  • hmmm…very interesting Tim…seems this is going around a lot in the blogosphere as I just read it as well Bert Decker had a similar post.

    Now here is my dilemma.

    1) I have no problem with the research out-right as that is not my field of study.
    2) I agree that powerpoint can be way overused. It should be used very simply. I very rarely use more than 10 slides total including my title graphics. I actually loved how you put in that you use them which was a very creative idea that has me thinking about how to implement it.

    Here is where I will seperate and go to the extreme:

    If the research is true and legit. As a pastor who is teaching the Word we very often as people to read along with us in the Word. This very research could apply there as well. No…Yes…Thoughts????

  • Tim

    That’s a great point, Jason. To be quite honest, I personally don’t usually bother to look up the passage and read along. I trust that the teacher is actually reading what’s on the page, so I don’t really know why they want me to read with them just to double-check. When I teach, I usually assign passages to students ahead of time and have them read it to the rest of us.

  • Jason basically you are asking that if we encourage people to follow along in their own bible as we read through the Scripture therefore it could have the same effect as people following along on power point (presentation software in general)?

  • Tim…I would argue that we have a RESPONSIBILITY to always check everything we hear against God’s Word. I think it’s wise of us to read along with them. Here are my reasons.

    (1) it shows kids we use our bibles (this is actually huge)
    (2) just because we trust the communicator that does not mean that they are always correct or using the passage correctly.
    (3) why spoon feed off of someone else’s spirituality? If we depend on them to do the work for us we are resting in their walk not ours.
    (4) I think it teaches our youth [although we never intend it this way] (a) that it’s not important to be in God’s Word (b) that the people communicating are always using God’s Word correctly

    These are just my thoughts.

  • Tim

    Chris, I guess I should clarify. I do use my Bible and I have it with me almost all the time, which probably says a lot to students as it is. Plus, I constantly remind and encourage student to bring their Bibles to church and use them during our lessons. If we’re taking time to study a single passage together, then of course I turn there to study along. If I’m the one teaching, I encourage students to do the same. When I don’t bother to turn there, as mentioned in my last comment, is when the teacher skips around from one verse and then another. You know, like when they give out list of verses to volunteers and have everyone go around and take a turn reading one or two out loud.

    It sounds like you would encourage people to read along even in this situation, which is good! I probably would encourage them to do the same, too, but just to be honest I don’t always follow it myself. By the time I find the passage the reader is often finished with it and on to the next verse anyway, ya know?

  • I agree completely. It just came across differently when I read it. Yeah if it’s topical I don’t bother. If it’s one passage (possibly 2-3 even depending on length of stay in each) I’m following along. Of course I don’t ALWAYS follow along. I was just hoping you weren’t saying you never followed along.

    It’s the little things our kids watch and it’s the little things that often impact them in a huge way spiritually. I just think with the “emerging” generations coming up it’s going to be more and more important that we stress the Bible as the source from which the communicator is speaking…not the communicator him/ herself is the point I was trying (and failed) at making.

  • Wow, hot topics for geeks! I wanted to add to the conversation somethings:

    The rule of 3-30-300: Many presenters say that you should either use three slides, thirty-ish slides or 300-ish slides. It is a very common practice. I have never used 300, but I have used over 200 before on a single presentation.

    Medium: In teaching circles, the medium is only the stuff used to present. There are times when power point will not add anything to a presentation. There is never a time when bad power point will add. I think the gist of the post was that, for power point to be affective (yes with an A), it has to be used well.

    In churches I have served, we have had this discussion on whether the scripture should be used in power point, read along or not, translations, etc. From an educators perspective, I think the medium used should enhance the learning or experience. There are kids who need help learning to read their Bible but your presentation may not be the best place for that. I don’t always do this, but sometimes I find pictures that help tell the story of the scripture I am reading (ever heard of the block testament?). All I am saying is that I wouldn’t want to limit myself with a blanket statement of having to use the Bible in one way.

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