Key Takeaways

  • Active training techniques are effective because they engage learners in tasks that promote deep thought, discussion, problem solving, social interaction and hands-on learning.

  • Passive training is less effective because learners are relegated to merely listening and watching as an instructor does the mental, social and physical work.

  • Bullet-point lectures may be poorly suited for meaningful training because they usually adopt a passive learning model and tend to combine spoken words and displayed text in ways that may actually decrease comprehension.

  • PowerPoint can promote active learning when we eliminate lengthy bullet lists and use instructional images to guide group discussions, problem-solving activities and hands-on experiences.

I vividly remember when I first experienced a PowerPoint presentation. Initially, I was awestruck by the new technology; colorful images appeared, animated text bounced on screen and a comprehensive topic outline unfolded before my eyes. The screen-based presentation felt complete and self-contained. The presenter also displayed a new and methodical manner of speaking: systematically expounding on each bullet point at the moment it was revealed. I thought, "This is new. This is different. I've never witnessed a presentation like this before."

Quickly, however, my fascination turned to disappointment. Less than 15 minutes after the program began, I noticed I was no longer paying attention to the message. In fact, the overload of on-screen text and interpretive commentary left my mind numb and my interest waning. By the end of session, I had decided this new communication method was ineffective and I vowed to never use PowerPoint in my future presentations.

Of course, I eventually changed my mind and now use the program often. But I do not use bullet points. This may seem strange to younger professionals who grew up in an era when bulleted lectures were standard practice. However, years of scientific inquiry have demonstrated that bullet points may not represent the best way to communicate. Specifically, researchers have found that comprehension often suffers when learners get lost in a barrage of distilled facts and generalizations. Bullet-point lectures rarely engage audiences in critical active learning strategies such as discussion, debate, introspection, social interaction and problem-solving. Additionally, bullet lectures often combine displayed text, spoken words and images in ways that may actually hinder comprehension and make learning more difficult (Jordan & Papp, 2013).

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