03 Aug Bringing distance learning alive
Madison, Wis. — It’s the universal presentation tool that isn’t universally loved. But Microsoft’s PowerPoint doesn’t have to be boring, staid or lifeless – and shouldn’t be if its use in distance learning is to be fully effective.
That’s the message of Katherine “Kit” Horton, a partner in the Denver-based William Horton Consulting.
“When people think of PowerPoint, they kind of sneer, smile and say, `That’s nice,'” said Horton, who, with her husband, is presenting at this week’s Distance Teaching and Learning Conference in Madison. “But it has a lot of possibilities that many people have not explored.”
The conference, in its 21st year, is sponsored by UW-Madison and is the longest running such conference in the U.S.
Horton sees “good and bad” with the extensive use of PowerPoint in e-learning. The “bad” is the common perception that PowerPoint presentations are lifeless and, thus, ineffective. The “good” is that PowerPoint and related plug-ins and other support programs can do a lot to bring life to such presentations, which is especially crucial for distance learning situations where the “teacher” is not present, Horton says.
“You’re not going to be there to point them in the right direction, so you have to do everything you can to point users in the right direction,” she said.
The issue is a big one, she says, speculating that 80 percent of online and paper training materials are done in PowerPoint.
“I think PowerPoint has a lot of potential,” she told a seminar audience at the Madison conference on Wednesday. “But you have to get out of that presentation mindset and instead look at it with a real-live presentation perspective. For these presentations to be effective, you want to make the learner active so what was boring will become alive.
Using plug-in tools such as Flash-based Articulate Presenter, Horton displays how a simple PowerPoint educational presentation can be enlivened with narration and interactivity, and that can add performance assessment abilities.
“Stop looking at it as a collection of bullet-point lists,” Horton advises, suggesting that people preparing such presentations have the mindset of working in Flash. “For the distance learner, you need to create an active environment; you need to give those distant learners links and more.”
Links can be especially important, she added, noting “a lot of the content you are going to use is already on the Web.”
Along with the variety of tools such as Articulate Presenter that can enliven PowerPoint presentations, Horton suggests a healthy use of clipart, primarily Microsoft’s online clipart that can be more freely used and easily customized to a specific design style.
“If you do nothing else, you need to start communicating visually,” Horton said. “You should visual your presentations first and then come up with the words that match those visuals.”
Ad additional benefit of the use of PowerPoint to develop dynamic distance-learning presentations is the relative low cost of creating them, Horton said. Initial development of such presentations can be challenging, she said, but building templates and reusing customized graphics can significantly streamline the process, she said.
• For more on the conference, see the related WTN story.