Tag Archives: powerpoint

Prezi and PowerPoint: the same but different

In all the discussion about Prezi and PowerPoint and which is a better tool, the basic fact remains: if you use either badly the result will be learners who are bored and turned off:

A learner overwhelmed by PowerPoint

A learner overwhelmed by Prezi

Jokes aside, students of education technology can learn a lot from analysing these two tools and how they can be used. A comparison allows for exploration of concepts such as:

  • The use of technology as a tool – as opposed to a ‘teaching machine’
  • How a tool is used is a crucial issue – tools have a degree of neutrality as well as bias
  • The use of technology as a cognitive tool – to aid thinking
  • The use of technology by learners to author and publish content – a constructionist learning strategy
  • Strategies for expressing information – eg visual metaphors and structured text
  • The role of media (eg sound, graphics, animation) in the expression of information – what helps and what hinders?
  • The advantages / disadvantages of cloud computing

Games, models and real-world complexity

Stephen Downes recently commented on a critique of the use of Powerpoint for presenting highly complex information. The original critique used the example of a model of the factors involved in the conflict in Afghanistan. Downes comments that:

The reason games change this equation is that you can actually model the relations between the entities.

I agree that games which model interacting factors can be a great way to provide an immersive experience for learning about a complex situation. However:

  • The problem is not with the diagram but with how it is used. As a tool to ‘impart information’ it is way too complex to be understood by a passive audience. But the real value of such a diagram is to the understanding of those who develop it. Indeed, developing such a diagram could be seen as an essential step in developing a game or simulation*.
  • I don’t believe most games which successfully engage players / learners are anything like as complex as the real-life situation which the diagram attempts to model. Games which don’t provide regular reinforcement for successful progress towards reaching the solution tend to lower the motivation of the learner. I suspect any game which modelled more than just a subset of the diagram would be unplayable by most learners.
  • Games tend to lend themselves to simpler situations where decisions result in immediate consequences. Note that the game described in the original article seems to have a strong tactical focus where the diagram seems more concerned with strategic factors.

* Just as developing a PowerPoint resource is often of most value to the presenter as a way of organising their own thoughts in preparing for the presentation.

Powerpoint and the brain

Recently I’ve been reading Norman Doidge’s fascinating book The Brain that Changes Itself. One of its key themes is the ability of the brain to repair itself, and to compensate for damaged areas. New to me was the idea that areas of the brain could ‘invade’ other areas which were not used – as when sensory stimulus is removed with loss of a limb, for example.

Most of the book is not challenging to someone committed to constructivist teaching and learning. But in one short section he claims that changing approaches to teaching and learning have changed our brains. Doidge states that in earlier times education included lots of drill, memorising pages and long poems off by heart. He claims that this led to certain areas of the brain being ‘strengthened through exercise’, then goes on to claim that this allowed lawmakers and debaters to speak for extended periods of time from memorised speeches.

Now that rote learning and memorisation has little place in education, Doidge claims we no longer develop the skills needed for such feats. He then makes the witty observation that ‘many of the most learned among us… prefer the omnipresent PowerPoint presentation – the ultimate compensation for a weak premotor cortex’. This is perhaps the most memorable criticism of Powerpoint I’ve come across!

While I’d hate to see return to rote learning, Doidge’s comment did get me thinking about learning approaches with a new perspective. One conclusion which scares me somewhat is that as learning designers we have a big responsibility: not only do we make decisions about how learners learn and how they spend their time, we may even be affecting the structure of their brains. This raises some interesting ethical issues, especially in relation to negotiating learning approaches with adult learners. Perhaps more open teaching is one approach to dealing with the ethical issues.


Doidge, N. The Brain that Changes Itself. Viking, New York, 2007.

Left, P. Open Teaching. Accessed 23 November 2010 from http://www.verso.co.nz/professional-development/1032/open-teaching-sharing-responsibility-for-the-learning-process/

Neurotiker. Medial view of a halved human brain, labeled in Latin. Accessed 5 December 2009 from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gehirn,_medial_-_beschriftet_lat.svg