Numerous authoring tools can import PowerPoint slides, including Articulate Presenter and Adobe Presenter. What you put on these slides becomes part of the e-Learning content, so it’s pretty darn important.

Creating effective, PowerPoint-based e-Learning requires thinking in some new ways. Often, the most important part of creating PowerPoint slides is deciding what to leave out. In this month’s column, I’m going to take this approach to thinking about content.

What not to do when developing PowerPoint for e-Learning

  1. Don’t design slides that look like PowerPoint slides. Your slides shouldn’t look like typical (boring) bullet-point-driven presentation slides (Figure 1):


    typical bullet point slides

    Figure 1. Typical boring bullet points for a presentation


    Instead, make them look like e-Learning content (Figure 2):


    slides with graphics and images

    Figure 2. The same information, in visual form.


  1. Don’t present learners with a wall of text. If you want learners to read a lot of text, provide them with downloadable documents. Instead of massive amounts of text, put a relevant image or a little bit of text on the screen, and use narration to explain what is on the screen. Ask yourself what the least amount of text you can use in order to facilitate learning is. PowerPoint is a visual communications tool. Use relevant:

    • Images

    • Drawings

    • Screenshots

    • Graphs and charts

    PowerPoint 2007 and 2010 SmartArt provides some visually appealing ways to present text content. (That’s what I used to make the job analysis graphic in Figure 2.)

    For example, Figure 3 is a slide with faaaaaar too much text.


    slides with a lot of text

    Figure 3. Way too much text.


    The first problem with Figure 3 is that all this text is boring. Zzzz. The second problem is that learners will be reading your slides. Humans are unable to read and listen to narration at the same time. In addition, humans read faster than narrators talk. If the narrator reads what’s on each slide word for word (research has shown this to be a huge no-no), learners will finish reading each slide before the narrator finishes reading it aloud.

  1. Don’t leave learners completely passive. Watching PowerPoint slides is a pretty passive experience. If the message is concise, the narration really interesting, and there are interesting and relevant graphics, you can keep learners engaged – for a brief while. You will get better results by considering some less-technical ways to increase engagement, even if you aren’t quite ready to add higher levels of interactivity.

    For example, ask a question on one slide (Figure 4):


    slide with one question

    Figure 4. Might this question raise the level of engagement?


    Then provide the answer on the next slide (Figure 5):


    answers to the previous question

    Figure 5. The answer is the payoff for their attention.


I’m not saying you can’t use text.

The trick is to use text well.

One way to do this is to (carefully) select some key words and place them on the slide ALONE. For example, the following slide has just enough text to make learners curious about the content (curious is GOOD!) and ready to listen to the explanation that the narrator will provide. (Figure 6)


slide with keyword

Figure 6. Use questions that raise curiosity.


During this slide, the narrator can discuss the statistic and its meaning. The next slide can compare this statistic with another or provide links to readings with more information. Not everything needs to be on the slide – it shouldn’t be on the slide. This is even more critical for slides used in eLearning than for those used in a classroom.

There is another way to increase engagement. This method uses a sequence of three slides. You can use it as a variation, to break up the pattern of “Question … Answer. Question … Answer.” Figure 7 is an example of the first slide in a series of three.


explanation slide engages the learner more

Figure 7. This is the first of a three-slide series that more deeply engages the learners.


The aim of Figure 7 is to make learners curious. The next slide (similar to Figure 6) invites learners to test their knowledge by asking a question. This feels interactive, despite not being truly interactive. Instead of telling learners the answer to this question right off the bat, consider letting them think about what they know or believe. The third slide in this series (Figure 8) gives the answer.


now, give the answers after the engagement

Figure 8. The third slide in the series gives the answer.


Word surgery, anyone?

There is an old folk saying in some parts of the world: Better one word less than one word too many. This would be a good saying to keep in mind as you prepare your PowerPoint deck for use in e-Learning. Next month, I’ll show you how to cut words out of your slides with precision – in other words, how to be a word surgeon.