Death by PowerPoint?

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Scenario 1: An IT trainer stands in front of a classroom monotonously reading from PowerPoint slides, while trainees barely can stay awake and retain the information.

Scenario 2: An IT trainer uses a PowerPoint slide show to reinforce a trainee’s learning, but also employs hands-on activities to illustrate the concepts. Then, after the session, the trainer posts the PowerPoint presentation with audio or video to the Web so trainees can access it whenever, wherever.

Which is more representative of your training? Frank Chacon, technical services training manager at Cisco, aligns his company’s training with the second example. He oversees three teams that train about 800 internal Technical Assistance Center [TAC] employees, and PowerPoint is the preferred modality for most of that training.

“I would say the pros far outweigh the cons,” he said. “We have folks who look into other tools, modalities [and] technologies; PowerPoint seems to be the industry choice as far as developing this type of content.”

At Cisco, Chacon’s training teams integrate PowerPoint with other technologies. For example, trainers use Adobe Captivate, which alone can create simulations and podcasts and with PowerPoint can develop a more robust learning tool than just a slide show.

“When we use PowerPoint on a Cisco internal network, we capture it with audio or videos of the presenters,” Chacon said. “Then what you’ve taken is PowerPoint, recorded audio and recorded Q&A sessions, and you’ve provided students [with] a mechanism to see the slides, hear what was talked about [and] hear what was discussed. That’s adding to it. If you take other tools like Captivate, you’re also taking PowerPoint, embellishing it with instructor audio and providing that as a mechanism for learning — and you’re scaling that out globally.”

While PowerPoint sometimes has a bad reputation, it has a proven record of efficiency, consistency and effectiveness if used correctly, and as a result, it’s here to stay.

“I don’t see it going away,” Chacon said. “I haven’t seen anything that’s ready to replace it. I still need a means of conveying information through projection, Webifying and embellishing it with other modalities so that I can place it on a server somewhere and have it be accessed globally.”

The downfall of PowerPoint is that sometimes it’s too easy. Trainers may feel that they don’t have to do much besides read the slides, but there’s nothing more boring than watching an instructor read from a PowerPoint presentation. PowerPoint can be an engaging tool if used in conjunction with other more hands-on teaching experiences.

“No matter what, you will occasionally have an instructor who just reads slides, and that’s torture,” said Chacon, who suggested that interactive activities can alleviate this tedium. “Labs engage students. They’re not looking at a screen up on the wall; they’re actually engaged with equipment in the classroom.”

While PowerPoint can be overused, it’s not something trainers should readily discount because it has the capability to access a global audience, be consistent in messaging, be leveraged across departments and be developed into a Web-based training module that trainees can access.

Chacon’s advice to those who use PowerPoint: Look to embellish it.

“What we’re doing is embellishing or using PowerPoint in collaboration with some other tools in the market to create either a video on demand that’s viewable over the Web or to create a Captivate presentation that can be e-mailed, so that people can watch and learn and listen,” he said. “If there were something better out there to do what we’re doing, we’d be either using it or researching the heck out of it right now.”

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