Using PPts Online & Dual-Coding Theory

Daily I work with instructors who desire to use their face-to-face PowerPoint Presentations in their online classes. It is rare, if ever, that I see such a presentation that is readily effective “as is” for online instruction.

When PPt as a medium is used face-to-face there should be an expert there to provide the narration that guides the slides. The learner is able to receive instruction through the ears and see (hopefully brief) text and images on the slides. Cognitive psychologists like Allan Paivio would argue that this form of instruction affords the “dual-coding theory” because both visual and verbal information is processed (see image).

By providing the learner instruction through separate channels, the brain is able to create and store separate representations of information. The more representations the faster and more likely it can be retrieved for use than being left to fall inert.

What about when PPt as an online medium? Before we tackle this question let’s apply the theory to another face-to-face situation.

A learner comes to a class, the instructor hands them their PPt presentation printed out, and then the instructor says that the class is dismissed. Instead of the students being guided through the presentation they are given the presentation and told they can leave. While some students are ecstatic that class is canceled some should be the wiser. Didn’t their tuition pay for a class? Didn’t their tuition pay for interaction with an instructor? Didn’t their tuition pay for a learning experience? In this situation, the instructor might have just emailed the presentation to so the students could have saved the money for gas.

Let’s assume that the instructor does this on a regular basis. Don’t you think students would complain? Don’t you think their grades would suffer? This is no different than when a PPt is used online. It is essentially just like receiving it via email.

Let’s also say that the PPt was visually well made, i.e. the text is brief and some slides just contain images (that are not distracting). What then? The well designed PPt becomes even less effective for online instruction. But why? It is more than just half of the coding missing if there is any coding going on.

Without the narration the slides are just bullets and images. When something like this happens, the learner then takes on the role of an archeologists trying to understand hieroglyphics. Leaving a learner to decipher meaning is never a good idea because the wont.

So, what can be done? How can a face-to-face PPt be transitioned to an online format? Somehow the narration needs to be recorded. This could be captured by scripting out what the expert would say for each slide. This script could be added to each of the slides in the PPt that requires narration. Using this method provides the learner the narration they need but unfortunately it is just more visual information.

By going the extra mile and adding audio to the slides the learner can receive instruction through separate channels. This means more representations! This also means that they will most likely be able to use what they have learned!


About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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