I’ve recently been involved in a lengthy online discussion with colleagues from ASTD, which was started by an article lamenting the “evils” of PowerPoint, and how it’s “Killing Training”.You know what they mean. We’ve all had “Death-by-PowerPoint” inflicted upon us, presentation, with reams and reams of text on slide after slide after slide knows what I’m talking about.
The number of slides used in presentations and training sessions seems to constantly be going up: I’ve seen 15-minute info briefings with 75 or more slides, which the presenter then proceeded to read more or less verbatim.
Please. Kill me.
Anyway, the question the group was discussing was whether this overuse of PowerPoint was the fault of the tool.
We more or less split into two opposing camps: those who seem to agree that PowerPoint (or any other desktop presentation tool) is the spawn of the devil and the root of all evil, and those (like me) who were on the side of “don’t blame the hammer, blame the carpenter” – the problem isn’t the tools, it’s the way they are habitually used.
A lively exchange was taking place – some agree, some disagree – that’s the beauty of online discussion boards! But then someone said that “PowerPoint was driving the content development process” – and I had one of those “Aha!” moments that make participation in these groups and discussions so valuable.
Let me explain.
When I learned to develop training – eons ago, in the Dark Ages – before PowerPoint (or even personal computers!) – we were taught a pretty straightforward and iterative process for creating training:
- Define the performance standard: what you want the trainees to be able to do when the class is finished;
- Develop an appropriate means for testing performance
- Develop the content, step by step, key point by key point.
- Develop appropriate activities to reinforce the learning
- Develop appropriate learning aids (this would now include PowerPoint et al)
Doing it the other way around, that is, developing the visual content for a presentation or a lesson first, or in parallel, I think is the root of the problem that was being debated. And yes, the ease of use of PowerPoint (et al) makes “cheating” attractive. But it’s lousy instructional design.
Think about what it would be like to watch a movie where the director started shooting before there was a script. Or planned the the shots, locations, sets, costumes, etc. Would you want to watch it?
Same thing goes for all the desktop digital recording software, where literally everyone can record a rock album in their basement. The results of these efforts are, generally speaking, absolute crap.
I oughta know, my kid is in a hardcore-screamo-death-metal band (or however they’ve segmented their particular genre of “music”) and they’ve used my basement as a studio. Because of their approach to music (Theory? We don’t need no stinkin’ theory! We can make noise!) the stuff they produce is actually painful. Not because of the volume, although that doesn’t help. It’s because they hit “Record” before they’ve really figured out what they are trying to do. Miles Davis, and his pals could maybe get away with flying by the seat of their pants and improvising through a recording – amateurs can’t.
Training developed via a similar “ready-fire-aim” approach can’t help but be dreadful. And to the extent that the tools make it easy to do things ass-backwards, I guess I can agree that the tools are at least part of the problem. But only part. The main problem is that we’ve gotten lazy and are neglecting fundamental aspects of instructional design and instructional delivery – that isn’t Microsoft’s fault, it’s ours.