September 22nd, 2010

How Much Multimedia Should You Add to PowerPoint Slides When Teaching Online?


PowerPoint is versatile in allowing us to add multimedia (graphics, sound, audio, video, text, animation, etc.) to our presentations for keeping online students’ rapt attention. But how much multimedia should you add? In answering this question, I find that taking into consideration students’ learning styles and cultural/international backgrounds can help to lessen the risk of using too much or too little multimedia in your online PPTs.

Learning Styles: Theory and research confirm that students have preferred learning styles that can enhance their learning effectiveness. There are many instruments available to measure students’ learning styles from related literature. The Learning Style Survey developed by Diablo Valley College is a popular online instrument used for determining students’ learning styles, and won an award for “Best Use of Technology in Education for 1999.”

This survey provides immediate results on students’ learning style preferences, which I then use to gauge the amount and types of multimedia to include in PPT lectures. U.S. research suggest that typically, 30 percent of students prefer learning visually (e.g., images, charts, maps, videos, and notes), 34 percent auditorily (e.g., lecture tapes, sound bites, background music, and discussion) and 36 percent kinesthetically/tactilely (e.g., keyboarding quiz answers or comments, and manipulating learning material).

Using these findings as a multimedia gauge for a 30-slide PPT lecture, roughly 30 percent of the slides (9) will contain graphics, 34 percent (10 slides) audio or sound, and 36 percent (11 slides) interactive content (keyboarding, quiz in PPT, animations, and links to possible simulated exercises). I also include any detailed notes within the PPT “Click to Add Notes” feature for the particular slide, so students have all the information on the topic at hand. I would hasten to add that the latter is not absolute and other modalities can be used to present online course content.

Cultural/International Backgrounds: In addition to knowing students’ learning style preferences, I also ask my online students to share a little about themselves including their cultural/international backgrounds. In this way, the online learning community (students and instructor) can have a shared understanding and appreciation of its diversity. Using this information, I can choose graphics, audio, and interactive content that will accommodate for their cultural/international backgrounds in making learning more interesting and stimulating for students. For example, I would not place a black border or rim around pictures of persons as this symbolizes death for Chinese students. The color red can have both negative and positive meanings culturally so I use it sparingly.

Further, while Americans hold their dogs and cats in high esteem, other cultures do not. As such, I am culturally sensitive when using animal graphics. If I have Caribbean students, their infamous reggae, calypso, or steelpan music is included in the PPT audio. In addition, combat scenes are quite acceptable to U.S. students, who are reminded daily of the different wars being fought by U.S. troops around the globe. However, such scenes may appear abrasive to other international students, so I choose course content that will be generally acceptable to all students.

In being sensitive to online students’ learning style preferences and cultural/international backgrounds, I think we can enhance our online PPT lectures in making them easier for students to relate to and learn from effectively.

Debra Ferdinand, PhD, is a recent consulting distance education facilitator with Cipriani College of Labour and Co-operative Studies, Trinidad.

Diablo Valley College (1999). A learning style survey for college. Retrieved August 19, 2010 from

Miller, S. C. (2007). Learning styles. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from

Carlson-Pickering, J. (1999, November). MI & technology: A winning combination. Retrieved August 19, 2010, from

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  • lakshmi (UWI)

    From my teaching experience when I consider my students’ learning styles and cultural backgrounds in determining multimedia use in my PPTs, I observe that it is easier for them to internalize the content and as a teacher for me to analyze and evaluate content taught. Thus, I support that being sensitive to online students’ learning styles and backgrounds, more value can be added to the presentation. The content and educational purpose will be certainly communicated more effectively.

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