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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Words & Pictures

Some of my colleagues have been getting excited about this recent report that casts doubt on the efficacity of Powerpoint presentations as a learning aid.
According to Australian Professor John Sweller:
"It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented."
This really intrigued me, not because I have anything against Powerpoint as such, but because it confirmed one of my major reservations about Learning Styles theory. There are various reasons I don't get on with Learning Styles, some of which I ranted ahout last year in my H806 blog. But my dislike was first stirred up back in 2001 when I was writing materials about online learning for the OU's COROUS division. As a newcomer to the theoretical side of online learning, I was deeply sceptical of an approach that discriminated only between visual, auditory & kinaesthetic (VAK) learning styles, lumping together visual learning from words & visual learning from pictures. To my mind these were crucially distinct ways of learning, & I found it difficult to respect a theory that failed to acknowledge this. I actually devised a self-diagnostic activity to enable learners to sort out whether they were primarily 'words people' or 'pictures people' but it was dropped from the final material.

So for me the most interesting part of this latest research is the distinction it draws between 'speaking to words' & 'speaking to diagrams'. If VAK was the whole story, it wouldn't matter what mix of V+A was used, would it?


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