Don’t overload the channels

Bad PowerPoint

Today I got a reminder that teachers don’t necessarily remember that effective teaching equates pretty closely with effective speaking. A colleague at the lunch table commented on the ineffectiveness of teachers who will stand at the front of the room and read off a PowerPoint slide.

God help us. Have they never been subjected to that when they sat in audiences? Of course they have. They either think that is the way it is supposed to be done, or they don’t know any other way to do it.

Regular readers know this, but even we need reminding: effective slideware (after all, PowerPoint is simply one “brand”) does not consist of bullet points. Cognitive Load Theory suggests, and studies based on it verify, that we have two channels into our brain. One deals with images, and the other with words. (Note: this is an oversimplification, but essentially correct.)

When you overload a channel, it flushes.

Put a bunch of words on a slide? Overload, especially if someone is talking at the same time. It may seem as if you are reinforcing the message by saying it aloud as people read it on screen. You are not; you are overloading their processing. If you have different words on screen, then you are splitting their attention.

On the other hand, if you have an image that supports what you are saying verbally, you get increased understanding and retention. It really is that simple.

As we start on a new semester and students all over the nation (if not the world) get subjected to new teachers and new classes, here’s a message for the teachers out there: please, please, please do not stand at the front and read your slides out loud.

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Author: Donn King

Donn King works with individuals and organizations who want to forge top-notch communication skills to increase their influence and impact. He is associate professor of speech and journalism at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, as well as a speaker and writer. His background includes ministry, newspaper, radio, small magazines and other publications, as well as co-authoring a textbook and blogging.