The Power of Narrated PowerPoint Presentations in Online Teaching

One of the more painful experiences in life is listening to someone give a PowerPoint presentation that they read word for word. The process is even more painful if the bullet points don’t “build” one by one (as they should) and the entire screen of text appears at once.

Audiences can typically read faster than most presenters can speak, so spectators’ brains try to process two sensory inputs (vision and hearing) at once, and they are typically out of sync if the presenter is reading every word on the screen.This mental discontinuity can make the live note-taking process more difficult for students.

Mercifully, most online students don’t have to have deal with this problem, unless “lectures” are video recordings featuring a word-for-word presentation. A lot of online course content is delivered in the form of a silent presentation .pptx file. This is one of the primary benefits of online courses: students have the chance to process the information at their own speed and go back and review any unclear content. They dictate the pacing of the information presented and can jump out of the “lecture” to look up additional content in online sources.

With this caveat about avoiding reading a presentation word-for-word in mind, I would like to talk about narrating online PowerPoint presentations. I first started doing this for online students in my New Communication Technologies and Society course years ago. Technically, the narrated files are very easy to produce with a microphone-equipped headset and a quiet room to record them. I would deliver the lecture much as I would in classroom by revealing the key points on a slide one by one, with related illustrations that would appear in sync with each bullet point. The slides would advance automatically based on the pacing that I built into the presentation, but a student could pause the presentation at any point, and even back up as necessary to note a key point. In this regard I think that the self-paced online process offers a superior learning experience, especially when compared to a live lecture.

In addition to never reading the slide text verbatim, I learned from student feedback that they liked the extensive use of illustrations on each slide. They also indicated they liked that I used the carefully edited text on each page to introduce a brief story about the key point. In an online world where facts and statistics are just a Siri inquiry away, students enjoyed the added stories about the development of new communication technologies such as virtual and augmented realities and their possible future applications.

Narrated online PowerPoint presentations proved to be such a success with my online students that I’ve used this simple technology in almost all my Internet-delivered courses since 2008. The narrated presentations are far more personal than my traditional click-and-advance silent versions. Since I typically record them over the weekend at home for the coming week in a course (to keep the content as up to date as possible), you can sometimes hear our dog Scout barking in the background at neighborhood squirrels. It doesn’t get any more personal than that in online education.

What other strategies, in addition to narrated online PowerPoint presentations, can you think of to personalize the online learning experience?


  • r.Costello

    Thanks for the article. I am trying to perfect this myself, as I am a recent CSU MBA grad, trying to become a community college teacher and I want my lectures to be dynamic. Camtasia Studio seems to be the next step up from Powerpoint; more advanced editing capabilities etc. My question is, what is the best way to drop television media that will enhance your lecture into a Powerpoint/Camtasia Slide Show? Are you allowed to you use any video you find online without violating copyright laws. I am so confused on what is legal and what is not…advise appreciated.