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5 Reasons Why Powerpoint Can Harm Your Learning

5 Reasons Why Powerpoint Can Harm Your Learning

You’ve been drinking way too many cups of coffee. You’ve been pinching your arms, hands, legs, knees, and even your ears. It seems that, no matter what you do, you just can’t seem to fight off the sleepiness.

The good news? This isn’t your fault. The bad news? It seems that you still have to endure the remaining 30 minutes of some boring PowerPoint presentation.

If this sounds familiar, no worries. We’ve all been there. Even though PowerPoint can be a useful tool, it poses some potential risks when it comes to learning. Here are five ways that PowerPoint can harm your learning.

1. It can discourage complex thinking

Few things are more misleading than when a PowerPoint presentation is oversimplifying and skipping essential points related to a topic. This can make the audience believe that the topic is far simpler than it actually is, creating a huge gap between the reality and the perception.

According to Paul Ralph at Business Insider, PowerPoint slides discourage complex thinking. As he said:

“Slides encourage instructors to present complex topics using bullet points, slogans, abstract figures and oversimplified tables with minimal evidence. They discourage deep analysis of complex, ambiguous situations because it is nearly impossible to present a complex, ambiguous situation on a slide. This gives students the illusion of clarity and understanding.”

How to avoid it?

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If you are presenting on a complex topic, make sure to include the essential bullet points. You should also clarify from the start that the information you are presenting is just the tip of the iceberg. If audience members want to understand the material better, recommend some specific resources. Include these specific resources on the last slide. This will give them a more realistic view on how big the topic can get. This way, it’s their choice to pay attention to your disclaimer and follow up with the resources later.

2. It can lead to lazy thinking

A PowerPoint presentation often works like a script for the presenter. Then, when a question is asked, there are often two possible outcomes:

If the answer is in the presentation, he or she will say “I will cover that answer in my next slides.”

If the answer is not in the presentation, he or she will say “I am not completely sure, let me check on that and get back to you.”

Arthur Drobin says the following in an article from Psychology Today: “PowerPoint isn’t only a problem for audiences who must sit through boring presentations in the dark, but just as significantly for the presenter who is stuck with the information on the slide. Using PowerPoint leads to lazy thinking. All too often the presenter can’t answer questions that aren’t immediately relevant.”

How to avoid it?

Your PowerPoint presentation shouldn’t be your script. You should have knowledge and experience pertaining to the topic which you are presenting. Of course, you may get some surprising questions that will make you have to think a bit on your feet.

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By knowing your topic well, you should be able to answer most questions that come up, even if the answers aren’t included in your slides. So, when a question is raised, take a step back and truly consider it — not just whether or not it appears on your slides.

3. It can kill productivity

When I was working for one of the biggest companies in Norway, a majority of the elite employees were avid users of creating PowerPoint presentations. When you begin to miss meetings because you are creating PowerPoint presentations for other meetings, how productive are you? Being busy is certainly not the same thing as being productive.

This is a point that an article on Computerworld backs up: “Tremendous amounts of time are spent in the military on putting together presentations, and [this] takes away from true productivity.”

Even more importantly, it’s not easy to learn new material when you’re busying yourself with unproductive and unfocused work.

How to avoid it?

PowerPoint should be used as a supportive tool that will enhance your presentation. Do your presentation without notes and use just a few well-selected PowerPoint slides. PowerPoint should be used to enhance important sections of your presentation. This might be a few bullet points or a graph that is backing up the point you are speaking about.

Or, do like Jason Dorsey, who gave a presentation in front of a large crowd without PowerPoint slides.

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4. It can drown your audience

There is a metaphor regarding presenting information that goes like this: “If someone asks for a glass of water, don’t spray them with the fire hose.”

Few things are more annoying than when you ask someone a specific question, one that should require a short answer, and they start giving you a big lecture.

Edward Tufte said, “In a business setting, a PowerPoint slide typically shows 40 words, which is about eight seconds’ worth of silent reading material. With so little information per slide, many, many slides are needed. Audiences consequently endure a relentless sequentiality, one damn slide after another.”

How to avoid it?

Even though there is seldom a maximum number of slides for a business presentation, this doesn’t mean that you need to drown your audience in slides. Respect them and let them breathe. The fewer slides you have and the more succinct they are, the easier it will be for you to keep their attention and to get your points across. They will respect you more since you didn’t waste their time.

Another bonus is that you didn’t waste your own time on making a huge amount of unnecessary slides.

5. It can lead to serious misunderstandings

When a complex topic is presented on PowerPoint slides, it can be very difficult for the audience to interpret and understand the real message. This can lead to serious misunderstandings. Some incidents are more severe than others: New York Times columnist Clive Thompson blames the space shuttle Columbia accident on poor use of PowerPoint.

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How to avoid it?

First of all, you need to know your topic. Then, you need to put yourself in the audience’s shoes. Make the PowerPoint presentation very simple to understand, like you are presenting the topic to a ten-year-old kid.

Remember that your audience will probably not know the topic as well as you do. It can be highly admirable when a person can explain a complex topic in a simple way.

Conclusion

PowerPoint is a worthy and supportive tool — when it’s used in the right way. The intention of using PowerPoint should be to enhance your message, not to make it more unclear.

What is your experience with PowerPoint? Have you experienced a good PowerPoint presentation that delivered the message in a succinct way?

Featured photo credit: Michael Kellett / Michael Kellett Professional Photograph via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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