- Blog post
Slideshows: Adding bells and whistles can lose learners
We’ve all heard it before: slideshow presentations are boring.
The slideshow, long the dominant medium for trainers, simply doesn’t offer the dazzling animation and embedded video that supposedly enthralls modern learners.
Meanwhile, a new generation of presentation software can turn a slideshow into a near cinematic experience with just a few clicks.
When gauging the value of these new presentation tools, the key question for trainers is whether these bells and whistles actually facilitate learning.
Research from the University of California, Santa Barbara, suggests that most of them do not.
In a series of studies, learners were divided into two groups, and both were shown a slideshow with narration. The first group received a concise, no-frills presentation. The second group viewed the same core presentation with entertaining video clips or background music added. The learners who watched the simpler presentation scored markedly higher on a follow-up test than those who experienced the embellished content. Similarly, researchers found that learners who viewed a slideshow with animation, narration and text remembered less than those who viewed a presentation that only had animation and narration.
Substance over style
The researchers concluded that learners “understand a multimedia explanation better when interesting but extraneous material is excluded rather than included.”
The additional content, while engaging during the presentation, impeded learners from processing the essential information they were meant to retain. Here’s why: The brain’s working memory can only process a limited amount of information. The audio and visual effects compete for the brain’s processing power and create cognitive overload. When presentations were designed to reduce the cognitive load, the learning improved. The study calls this the coherence effect: The more focused and precise the presentation, the more likely the audience will remember its content.
The takeaway: Don’t hesitate to present your content simply.
Glitzy effects can make learning more appealing. However, if they’re being used only for entertainment value, research shows that it should be removed. Of course, if the effects contribute to your learning goals and impart important information, by all means use them. For example, researchers found that certain basic graphics, when used to highlight key information, had positive effects on learning. Visual cues – such as arrows to point out important material or text effects to accentuate key words or terms – signal to the brain how to order and process the information presented. In the study, learners who viewed a presentation with these visual cues had better retention.
Mayer, R.E., Moreno, R. (2003). Nine ways to reduce cognitive load in multimedia learning. Educational Psychologist, 38(1), 43-52.