What is PowerPoint?

PowerPoint is a program that was created for presenting information. Devised in 1987, the program was purchased by Microsoft, and by 1990, became a standard program among others in the broader Microsoft Office. It provides the means of organizing information on the page. It allows for headings, bullet points, and other text based specifics. It also can include animated and still images, audio and video applications, and links to online sites.

Throughout the years, PowerPoint has been upgraded multiple times and is continually altered each year. Primarily PowerPoint was established to help in business presenations but it has been adapted as an educational tool in classrooms around the world, and as entertainment outside of school and work. For example, families can create their own presenations showing off vacations, artwork, or fun events that happen at home.

Email to Friend
(click to watch how to make a basic powerpoint presentation)

Learning Theories that Guide the Use of PowerPoint

Powerpoint fits best with the Cognitivist theory of learning. It is a method of organizing information, and can be used to make connections between old and new ideas. It can influence how students direct their attention, or highlight what information is important for students to take away. Powerpoint can also spare students from recalling specific relevant details by providing them in the presentation.

The Benefits of Using PowerPoint

Powerpoint is a useful program for presenting information through a variety of media. While many presentations might be based primarily in text, Powerpoint also allows the use of images, sounds, and videos as modes of conveying information. This means that a presenter is not limited to verbal communication. Powerpoint also allows for the gradual advancement of its information. A presenter can keep visible on the screen the details that relate specifically to the ideas discussed at a given moment.

In its simplest form, Powerpoint can be a helpful supplement to the verbal information from a presenter. Presenters might begin presentations with an outline of the whole of the presentation. Powerpoint then becomes a means of keeping basic ideas visible in the background while a presenter proceeds to greater specificity in each of the presentations' subjects.

When used properly, powerpoint can help to increase the total impact of a presentation by adding to information conveyed to the audience only by speech. An example of this in action is a recurring segment on the comedy new show The Colbert Report, known as The Word.

The Challenges of Using PowerPoint

While PowerPoint can be a useful educational tool, it can also present multiple challenges. Among these are:

  • lady_puterProblem.gifLack of funding to make courseware available to all students
  • Lack of basic computer skills
  • Lack of program knowledge
  • Overwhelming amount of information in presentation
  • Lack of information in presentation
  • Conflicting background and font colors which make key points difficult to read
  • Inaccurate information being shared
  • Overuse of PowerPoint in classroom or office which makes presentations seem redundant and uninteresting

10 Most Common PowerPoint Problems and Solutions

Special Guidance for Using PowerPoint

Successful use of Powerpoint requires that a presenter walk a fine line in the specificity of information provided. If too much is included in the Powerpoint, if the presenter is essentially reading from the Powerpoint text, then it defeats the purpose of having a presenter; listeners could instead simply read the text. Conversely, it is very possible for a Powerpoint presentation to provide so little information as to lose its usefullness as a tool.

The great array of audio and visual effects that a Powerpoint uses requires similar care. One of the great advantages of Powerpoint is that it presents more engaging information than simply the voice of a presenter. Powerpoint can catch and maintain the interest of the listeners, keeping them focused on the subject at hand. If used too much though, these attention grabbing mechanisms can prevent the listeners from attending to the speaker. Too many loud sound effects and flashy visuals can detract from a presentation.

Research on PowerPoint

One finding in the use of Powerpoint presentations is a tendency for a member of the audience to lose focus once they have taken in all of the information on a slide. For an observer, the objective becomes only to pay attention long enough to glance through each slide, or to pay attention only when engaging images or other media appear. Powerpoint can be detrimental to conveying information to the audience if observers treat the visual information as a substitute for the information the presenter seeks to address.

PowerPoint Lesson Ideas

There are a number of ways that Powerpoint can be useful in lessons.
-Outline: Powerpoint can be used as a way of providing an outline of the whole of a presentation. This outline can remain in the background and serve as a point of reference and framework for the presentation.
-Interest: Powerpoint draws student interest because it breaks from the normative paper and pencil lesson. Graphic imagery, sound and movie clips, in addition to creative fonts and backgrounds, captures and keeps interest throughout the lesson.
-Interaction: With online connections and video/audiable capabilities, students are able to interact with the presenation and with the material presented in class. This interaction makes the presentation more meaningful and resounds more strongly with each individual.

Using PowerPoint in the classroom can help strongly enhance student learning. An example would be using a PowerPoint slideshow when studying American History in high school. Students would be assigned the task of creating 3 slides, one per president. They would be given a rubric and guide to help them navigate through useful information and to create a meaningful presentation. Upon completion, all the slides would be turned into the instructor who would then put them together sequentially to form one large PowerPoint. The information would then either be shown in class, placed online, or put onto CD-roms as classroom referenecs. Not only do the students gain a technological appreciation, but they also greatly sharpen their history skills.


PowerPoint is a great educational tool when used correctly. Not only does it enhance learning and attention, but it connects the presenter and their audience strongly to the material at hand. Classrooms and businesses should embrace the positive side of PowerPoint and work hard to make it a valuable part of education.

PowerPoint Links

The history of PowerPoint
PowerPoint in the classroom
Facts and Questions
PowerPoint for Kids
Online Presenters
PowerPoint Backgrounds
ALA PowerPoint Information

One final clip about how NOT to use PowerPoint: