Beyond Bullet Points

Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007 to create presentations that inform, motivate, and inspire, although geared toward the live, stand-up presentation (e.g., the sales presentation, the keynote, a lawyer’s opening arguments at a trial), has a lot to apply towards self-paced, asynchronous elearning programs.

Atkinson draws greatly from Richard Mayer’s research and writings on principles for multimedia design (see Richard E. Mayer, Ed., The Cambridge Handbook of Multimedia Learning (Cambridge University Press, 2005).

If you’ve read any of Ruth Clark’s or Richard Mayer’s books you’ll find yourself in familiar territory:

“…writing out the text of your presentation on your slides and then reading it to your audience contradicts the widely accepted theory of dual channels. You might assume that presenting the same information in multiple ways will reinforce your point. But if you present the same information in two channels, you reduce the capacity of working memory and in turn reduce learning by creating what researchers call the redundancy effect.” (p. 46)

(Back to that age old question – should your audio narration read out loud the text on screen? No! No! No!)

In Chapter 2, Atkinson looks at three research realities that should drive your presentation design:

1. Find the right amount of new information to engage the limited capacity of working memory without going into overload
2. Engage both the visual and verbal channels
3. Guide the working memory to integrate new information into long-term memory

These are the guiding principles to his design sensibility: PPT slides with a strong headline, a strong visual and no text bullets (leave that to the live presenter to elaborate!) Ultimately, the goal is to communicate and transfer knowledge – not to create a presentation.

The book provides a balance of theory and practical how-to advice, answering the question “why do I need to do this?” and then “how do I do this.” He provides storyboard templates to help you create your initial structure, tips for writing and weaving a compelling story throughout.

For those of you who have been storyboarding your elearning for years, his storyboard will be familiar – although it’s simplicity will astound! He bases the template on three acts, creating a compelling arc to your presentation that will hook the learner in and keep ‘em engaged.

Whether you’re designing eLearning to be created in a PPT conversion tool like Articulate or Adobe Presenter – or working with a more custom, bespoke solution like Flash, we think you’ll find design principles that you can relate back to your own work.