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5 Reasons Why Powerpoint Can Harm Your Learning

5 Reasons Why Powerpoint Can Harm Your Learning
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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 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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