Thanks to PowerPoint, I’ve Been an Ineffective Teacher for the Past Thirty Years

PowerPoint has been a mainstay of my teaching for the past 30 years.

While I don’t just stand up there and recite what is on the slides, I do use the text that is on the slides to highlight the key points I want to make and to keep me on track.

Well according to an article written by Mary Jo Madda on EdSurge, the way I use PowerPoint may be hurting my students’ learning more than helping them.

Simultaneous auditory (spoken) and visual presentation of text, often done through PowerPoint presentations, is an all-too-common occurrence in classrooms nowadays and may lead to cognitive overload.

It’s referred to as the redundancy effect. Verbal redundancy “arises from the concurrent presentation of text and verbatim speech,” increasing the risk of overloading working memory capacity—and so may have a negative effect on learning.

The duplicated pieces of information—spoken and written—don’t positively reinforce one another; instead, the two flood students’ abilities to handle the information.

Some researchers contend that it would be easier for students to learn a topic by closing their eyes (so as to ignore the PowerPoint slides) and only listening to the teacher. (So that explains what my students were doing for the past 30 years; I just assumed I had put them to sleep – they were just utilizing an effective learning technique.)

So what is the solution?

Richard Mayer, a brain scientist at UC Santa Barbara and author of the book Multimedia Learning, offers the following prescription: Eliminate textual elements from presentations and instead talk through points, sharing images or graphs with students. This video illustrates exactly what he means:

If you find it difficult to eliminate words entirely from your PowerPoint presentations, especially when you want students to get those key vocabulary words down, here are some additional hints:

  • Limit yourself to one word per slide. If you’re defining words, try putting up the vocabulary word and an associated set of images—then challenge students to deduce the definition.
  • Honor the “personalization principle,” which essentially says that engaging learners by delivering content in a conversational tone will increase learning. For example, Richard Mayer suggests using lots of “I’s” and “you’s” in your text, as students typically relate better to more informal language.

So I think I need to go back and redo all my PowerPoint slides and just put one word and a matching image on each slide.

Of course, doing so may significantly multiply the number of slides I use.

Here’s an example of what this new approach may look like:

Slide 1: ASSETS (with some pictures of buildings and equipment)

Slide 2: a big “=” sign

Slide 3: LIABILITIES (with some pictures o an IOU or a car loan)

Slide 4: a big “+” sign

Slide 5: EQUITY (with some pictures of stock certificates)

Currently, I can squeeze all of that onto one slide (minus the pictures, of course), as well as a numerical example.

But if it helps the students learn the material more effectively, I’m willing to give it a shot.

I’m just worried my hand is going to get tired from all that clicking to the next slide…

*image from Speak Schmeak


27 thoughts on “Thanks to PowerPoint, I’ve Been an Ineffective Teacher for the Past Thirty Years

  1. As a visual learner, I am not sure I can concur with the findings. Yes, some students would readily retain more information if just given the auditory instruction or by eliminating the text redundancy they state on the slides. But as a visual learner, it is more likely that in the future I would be able to visualize the text from a slide more than I would ever be able to recall your spoken words. I think maybe you should stick to your tried and true methods that have educated a generation of competent of students, in spite of the redundancy effect. Or, just do all your teaching slides in emojis only…😁


    1. good points, Brad. I tend to agree. And I think most teachers probably tend to teach the way they like to learn. I like to learn by reading, and so that may explain why I use a lot of text on my slides. the emoji thing sounds like too much work! 🙂


  2. Well, I guess it would only be fair if you returned the 30 years of salary, then? Check with your wife first, though 😊😊😊😊


  3. Interesting- I always assumed that learners would always take it all in by focusing on one or the other, that teaching in the ways you described covered all the bases, no matter what kind of leaner someone was. Gives us something to think about


  4. I’ve often been sent to sleep by a presentation where I can read the slide and find the speaker’s verbal version isn’t telling me anything new. (I’m a quick reader). I often find u-tube video’s voiceovers similarly redundant. voice and text should complement each other, not repeat the message.


    1. I agree, Cathy. I think of PowerrPoint as providing the outline, and then I try to fill in the details… (but it is accounting, so people still fall asleep 🙂 )


      1. Yes – as a prompt sheet, it beats A4. Even better if the prompt sheet isn’t self-explanatory, so they wonder what on earth the words mean – until you get to them.
        Just before I retired, something called Prezi appeared which was fun, and you could use it for free. You could send things whizzing all over the screen, zoom in and out and use amazing effects. Having just googled it, I see there’s now just a ‘try it for free’ button and a pricing structure for all users.


      2. My students have used Prezi for their presentations, and I tried it out once. I didn’t see any advantage over PPT, so to me it was not worth learning another software package.


      3. I imagine it stales with time, just like anything else you use a lot. But at the time it arrived it went down well with the university staff – we had them coming to the library staff for help with their job applications – some of them we’d never seen in the library till then.


  5. I think teachers/presenters often put too many words on their slides, but limiting to only one word…seems a bit off. Don’t change anything – in education everything is cyclical, so your old slides will be highly effective again in a year or two!


  6. Hi Jim,

    Although we all know the limitations of you are a raging success according to the respondents at

    And your PowerPoint slides appear to make your courses much easier.

    PowerPoint is just a tool that can be effective or ineffective for any given presentation. An underestimated advantage of PowerPoint is that it can alleviate much of the note taking if the files are shared outside of class.

    I used PowerPoint quite a lot in my off-campus presentations, but on campus I preferred Camtasia videos on the most technical aspects of my courses. Students were required to study my Camtasia videos over and over before class and then I spent class time having students demonstrate for the entire class what they learned. You can also do this with PowerPoint files, but Camtasia is a better way to explain very technical things where student can play the videos on tough topics over and over until they see the light.

    My threads on Tools and Tricks of the Trade —
    Especially note the module on PowerPoint


    1. I am a fan of PowerPoint as well, and I do use an occasional Camtasia video when class is canceled for whatever reason (snow, national championships…). I also have all my classes videotaped, so that if a student misses a class, he or she can go back and watch the recording. I think it’s a huge help (or sleeping aid, depending who you ask) 🙂


  7. Personally I find slides with a lot of information extremely helpful since I’m more of a visual learner but this was very interesting to read.


  8. Love this Jim. I can definitely relate. I too use powerpoints. Though sometimes I find it helpful if you simply upload the slides online for them to access and then teach the class using a variety of techniques including the whiteboard. Then they begin taking pictures. It’s a double edged sword for sure.


    1. thanks for your comment, and yes, I’ve had more and more students taking pictures of the whiteboard. I can’t imagine they would have any idea what my writing says after the fact. One of the courses we teach is a team effort, and the guy who created the powerpoint slides has purposely left off parts of the text. Each student buys a physical copy of the printed slides, which they use to fill in the blanks during class. it seems like a good way to keep the students engaged – they are obsessed with not missing anything that should be on those slides!


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