Over the past few years, slideshows have become increasingly common in presentations made in schools, institutions, during conferences and other meetings, as the speakers usually find them to be a very effective method of getting their point across to the auditory. In schools and universities, they have been touted as a method of boosting students' abilities to learn and to pay attention in class. But a new study seems to show that the exact opposite holds true, and that the slides may actually be stifling learning.
According to a research published in the International Journal of Innovation and Learning, and titled “The dark side of custom animation,” University of North Carolina Wilmington researchers believe that the slideshows may actually be hampering learning, by distracting viewers' attention from the speaker and the problem at hand, and focusing it on flashy graphics and other such visual elements. While they are trying to make sense of the graphics and pie charts, the attendees to the conference or presentation forget that the main purpose of the meeting is to listen to the actual speaker.
At this point, Microsoft Powerpoint is the ultimate master of classrooms and conference halls worldwide. The classic projector, with its plastic sheets and flimsy light bulb, has all but disappeared, and is no longer used anywhere. But the range of opportunities that was opened by the slide software is so large, that the final products risk distracting the users from the point of the discussion through images, clips, charts, graphics and other such multimedia objects.
To test this idea, the researchers, led by expert Stephen Mahar, followed two groups of students, as they sat through two Powerpoint presentations. The only difference between the two slideshows was the presence of animations as part of the content. After the lectures were completed, the experts asked the undergraduates what they recalled of the speaker's words. According to the results of the study, those who did not see animations were far more likely to remember details of the presentation than the other group, and proved that they assimilated the information incrementally.
The study was conducted on lectures referring to concepts. The team says that presenting slideshows of techniques may work better overall in animated form, than with static images, but that the possibility needs to be further investigated.