The dark side of animation

Jun 11, 2009

We've all sat through one of those presentations where the animated slides are more interesting than the speaker. Bold and brassy titles slide into view, tasty slices of pie chart fill the screen one by one, and a hail of arrows spikes the points the lecturer hopes to highlight.

But, are these custom animations and slide fades and dissolves actually adding anything to the lecture, or do they have a dark side that detracts from the message and impacts negatively on the message being presented?

Microsoft PowerPoint has, over the last couple of decades, become the tool of choice for creating instructional slideshows. Long gone for most are the overhead projector with its fickle fan and its high-temperature and temperamental bulb, the smudgy marker pen, and the transparent plastic sheet.

Instead, lecturers, speakers and anyone else with a visual message to present with their talk uses PowerPoint and its ilk to present their digital slides. According to the authors of a study in the International Journal of Innovation and Learning published this month, many instructors use these options regularly with the impression that such effects enhance student learning by allowing concepts to be introduced incrementally.

Stephen Mahar of the University of North Carolina Wilmington and colleagues have explored the impact of custom animation in PowerPoint lectures and examined the idea that custom animation may, in fact, negatively impact student learning.

To test their hypothesis, the team recorded two versions of a PowerPoint lecture. The presentations differed only in the presence of animation to incrementally present information. They then showed students either the animated or non-animated lecture and then tested the students recall and comprehension of the lecture.

The team found a marked difference in average student performance, with those seeing the non-animated lecture performing much better in the tests than those who watched the animated lecture. Students were able to recall details of the static graphics much better. Animated slides meant to present information incrementally actually require greater concentration, which makes it harder to remember content as well as reducing overall exposure time to the "complete" slide, the researchers found.

Although students appear to like the use of animations in lectures delivered using PowerPoint, there is now strong evidence that animation is nothing more than an entertaining distraction.

The team points out that their study was applied only to the teaching of new concepts. It is possible that teaching a technique might work more effectively with animated, rather than static, slides. Follow-up work will investigate that possibility.

Source: Inderscience Publishers (news : web)

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User comments : 11

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jsovine
5 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2009
Finally! I always suspected this.
JJC
not rated yet Jun 11, 2009
Yeah, unless the boring slides cause students to pay more attention to their laptops and cell phones than to the class!
el_gramador
5 / 5 (2) Jun 11, 2009
In other news, we just found the obvious. Again.
docknowledge
5 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2009
Well...ah! Great study, interesting conclusions. And I'm no fan of the hundreds of hours I've wasted putting information into "presentable" format. And, maybe in support of these findings, I've been told that fancy graphics on my knowledgebase site are ignored because viewers assume they are advertisements!!

However, I think the study came to the wrong conclusion. It isn't the animation, as such, that is the problem, it's the type of animation. The random, unprofessional, predictable, pointless animation. A well-conceived graphic has terrific impact. Not letters zooming into place, but more on the order of a carefully crafted pie chart. And for real impact, a completely custom animation: exploding diagrams, time-lapse maps, etc. Those can be unforgettable.
DonR
5 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2009
Agree with docknowledge.

It's less about the animation being a problem and more about the slideshow developer's amateurish attempt to grab attention. Right tool, right job.
vika_Tae
5 / 5 (1) Jun 11, 2009
To be honest, powerpoint is not exactly the best medium to use, to encourage learning in the first place. Very few people seem to know how to use it properly, and it has developed this aura of being 'stale and stuffy' to a great many learners, because of the sheer numbero f badly presented powerpoint presentations.

They just tune out.
Birger
5 / 5 (2) Jun 12, 2009
(OT)-The shortcomings of Power Point was used by British author Charles Stross in his satirical (and quite funny) novel "The Jennifer Morgue" which featured eldritch Lovecraftian entities devouring human souls using a virus embedded in PowerPoint presentations.

As a person who has suffered through badly presented PowerPoint sessions, I have the greatest respect for its soul-destroying properties. :-)
denijane
not rated yet Jun 12, 2009
Presentations are not only made on Power Point, there is also the Open Office Impress and few more. So, let's spare the credits to Microsoft.

But I agree with the study. Animation is not only distracting, it's a waste of time. When I watch a presentation, I prefer clear-cut slides with information, not jumping letters and disappearing text. I agree this differ for the different types of presentations, but when it comes to science, I really dislike the fanciness. Even when it's with taste, I still dislike it. The only exception should be for showing-off to little kids, because it will
definitely makes them happy.

What's even more, I think the effects deny a very precious choice of the audience-to consider the whole slide at one time. It's quite annoying if you want to check something again and it's already gone, but the slide (and so the subject) is still the same.

However, I think presentations are the better way to present something. Because the author takes his/her time to order the slides, to find the best order and way to present the information. Including pictures and graphics is so much easier. And if you compare it with the black/white board style and the desperate efforts to read someone's horrible handwriting-you'll see how tremendously better presentations are.
superhuman
5 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2009
The main problem is that viewers often want to digest the information presented at a different pace and sometimes in a somewhat different order then the speaker presents it.

Normal slides often allow viewers to go somewhat ahead and deduce many things before the speaker even mentions them which is far more engaging then just following exactly what the speaker says.

Another thing is that when a slide contains something the viewer already knows he/she can sometimes focus on some other point which he finds more interesting which is also not possible if animations are used to exactly follow the pace of the speaker.
Ivan2
not rated yet Jun 13, 2009
To test their hypothesis, the team recorded two versions of a PowerPoint lecture. The presentations differed only in the presence of animation to incrementally present information. They then showed students either the animated or non-animated lecture and then tested the students recall and comprehension of the lecture.

The team found a marked difference in average student performance, with those seeing the non-animated lecture performing much better in the tests than those who watched the animated lecture. Students were able to recall details of the static graphics much better. Animated slides meant to present information incrementally actually require greater concentration, which makes it harder to remember content as well as reducing overall exposure time to the "complete" slide, the researchers found.

This is a case of LEARNING IS DOING! The research goes wrong when it doesn't compare it to the opposite, that is, a group of students who **wrote** a PPS document against those who didn't. Chances are that those who wrote the powerpoint will understand it much better than the ones who "did it by hand".

Watching a presentation -cute or not, animated or "dead", b&w or color- doesn't assure that the viewer can repeat those steps in his mind with any organizational coherence because viewers don't necessarily "go through the steps" in their mind. Therefore the understanding that was tested was of the wrong type and what should have been tested was their understanding of the data presented in relation to the geometry (circular, square, or whatever was presented) because this knowledge -testable or not according to whom you ask, apparently- simply isn't the type of knowledge that is lost.

Specific testing of spacial relationships is required... not numeric testing!
Doug_Huffman
not rated yet Jun 15, 2009
Read 'The Visual Display of Quantitative Information' by Tufte. Even micro-mass media is dying of chart junk.

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