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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