Big changes have occurred in the classroom over the past 20 years. None arguably more so than the shift away from traditional chalkboards (or even whiteboards) to the use of Microsoft PowerPoint.
As with all technology, there are always pros and cons. But do PowerPoint presentations actually help learning? What are the common mistakes often made? And what does the research suggest are the most effective ways to use it?
We dived into the research to answer these questions…
1. Give students copies of PowerPoint slides
Recent research looked to investigate whether giving students printed copies of the PowerPoint slides that they could write on and annotate would have an impact on learning. The researchers found that this option offered students a more efficient way of learning.
It meant that they could spend more time listening to what the teacher was saying whilst summarising the key points in their own words. Having the opportunity to engage more deeply with the material helps them make create more connections in their brain, strengthening their memory of the topic.
2. Avoid fancy animations
Many teachers often spend a lot of time jazzing up their PowerPoint slides by adding sounds, background music, animations etc. in the hope that it will make their lessons more appealing and entertaining for their students.
However, as stated by Cognitive Load Theory (more on that later), the brain can only process a certain amount of the information at the same time. A recent study found that adding unnecessary or irrelevant stimuli takes up some of the available space that could otherwise be filled with valuable content.
To give you a better idea, this same study found that students recalled 76% more information when their lesson had no background music or sounds compared to when they had both. We explained these findings (and what they mean for teachers) in greater detail on this blog.
3. Use segmenting
Research has shown that students experience enhanced learning when teachers do not include too much information on one slide but instead break their presentations down into bite-sized segments. Students need time to select the relevant words and images they need to process to access the information they’re supposed to learn.
If teachers don’t present bite-sized segments and instead offer students new information before they have finished fully processing the previous set, they may struggle to transfer the content to their long-term memory.
4. Don’t read the slides aloud
Teachers should avoid both showing their students PowerPoint slides and reading aloud the text written on them at the same time. This is because simultaneously presenting the same information in two different forms can cause an overload of students’ working memories, as they are required to listen and read at the same time. Therefore, to avoid creating this cognitive overload, teachers should privilege either reading the text aloud without presenting the slide or allowing students to read and process the slide independently, rather than trying to do both themselves.
PowerPoints can be an effective method for educators to use to aid their teaching and improve learning in the classroom – if they are integrated in the correct way, that is.
To do so, we advise teachers to:
- Give students the opportunity to annotate copies of their slides as they go along;
- Avoid distracting them with irrelevant stimuli such as music or animations (except when necessary, of course);
- Break down the information on their slides into bite-sized chunks;
- Avoid reading the content written on them aloud before students have had a chance to process it.
- Check out our Cognitive Load Theory CPD workshop.