Thursday, February 08, 2007

PowerPoint's forgotten powers

In the rush to embrace rapid elearning, one tool and its potential value is easily overlooked - PowerPoint.

Rapid authoring tools (RATs) like Presenter and PointeCast hoover in your slideshows and, with a little bit of dressing up, spit out LMS friendly broadcast shows. In the main these are suited to low level tasks like broadcasting new services or products - where content simply needs to be made available and tracked. This is the beauty of using PowerPoint. The author/SME is using something they are happy with and a neat master slide can (if they know how to use it) lead to something that is at least passable.

But PowerPoint can be more (or less?) than that. In the rush to use PowerPoint to author this low grade elearning* it is easy to overlook its other values. It can be a very useful way of allowing SMEs to write their scripts:
  • it forces them to think about layout (and thus stopping them grouping content too densely)
  • as a slide show it allows them the opportunity to view the content in a way that is likely to match more closely the output - of particular use where you have screen shy stakeholders (what? you don't?)
  • the notes and comments facilities allow them to place comments where they are meaningful, without interrupting the flow of the content, as Word content might.
  • templates and copy/paste functions mean it is easy to add panels for management
  • it relates to Word and the rest of Office in a way that makes producing other forms of output a "doddle", and of course it is ubiquitous.
  • you can even demonstrate and mock up with graphics and animations, or even use the magic of one of the RATs to throw up a work in progress.
Okay, so it still doesn't help with the ID, but then, that's my job. But commenting and replying is straightforward too, and throwing lots of comments in doesn't disrupt the flow of existing content.

Criticisms? Sure, it's clumsy and is predicated on linearity. But that is not insurmountable - in fact it works quite well to use hyperlinks if needed. And by calling on a tool that already looks half way to poor page-turning elearning, there is a danger it may encourage that, but let's not blame PowerPoint for that happening.

We don't work like this, but my experience of doing so with one client is making me rethink the whole thing.

*why "low grade"? Well, all my careful interactions are pruned out by my tool of (someone else's) choice, PointeCast. If I ever resolve the problem, I will rethink my position, but for now I see these mostly as tracked slideshows.
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