For lecturers, there is life beyond Death by PowerPoint

By harnessing the power of images, academics can fully exploit students’ learning potential, says David Roberts

July 17, 2014

The business world uses full-slide, high-quality images to convert the literal to the figurative: to attach visual representation to oratory

I have often wondered if one day I would find out that I’d been doing it wrong all along. One day, about a year ago, I did.

It happened when I came across the published research of Richard Mayer, professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, on the subject of multimedia learning. Mayer propounds that we have two processing elements at our disposal when we are learning: audio and visual. In a traditional lecture based on listening, his research suggests, we are able to deploy only 50 per cent of our learning potential. If images were used too, he says, we would learn better and faster. Other top-notch research supports this finding.

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Life after death by PowerPoint


Probably everyone’s experienced at some time ‘Death by PowerPoint’: a presentation that, rather than engaging your attention, makes you want to run away. Slides packed full of bullet points ‘organizing’ text that appears as a wall of words, and to add insult to injury, the speaker is often duplicating the text.

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Active learning in lectures – the value of imagery

Not long ago on these pages, in June this year, I outlined the pedagogic research I had been leading at Loughborough University.

To recap briefly, I was concerned with the question of student engagement in large group lectures – an issue familiar to many teaching colleagues confronted with the government’s never-ending agenda for High Education (HE). Given that lectures are the means by which we disseminate most learning to undergraduates the world over, and given that we use PowerPoint or other associated digital platforms to do this, I was interested in Richard Mayer’s research on Multimedia Learning (MML) that predicts better audience engagement if images were used with words, instead of just words. His position is based on decades of research on memory and cognition that tells us we are ‘dual processors’ of information. We are equipped with an auditory-textual channel and an image processing channel, so to him and many others, it was silly to be shoveling primarily words into both our ears and eyes.

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