January 7th, 2013

Adapting PowerPoint Lectures for Online Delivery: Best Practices


woman at computer

If you use PowerPoint lectures in your face-to-face classes, you can use those same lectures as jumping-off points for creating narrated animations for your online students to watch. That’s the good news.

However, chances are you’ll need to make extensive changes — both to your existing PowerPoint slides, and to how you deliver them. Typically, this means scripting the lecture before narrating and recording it so that all information presented online is:

  • As concise as possible
  • Organized logically (no skipping around)
  • Relevant to the important concepts you’re trying to convey (as opposed to spending equal time on minor points or details)
  • Rich with stories, personal examples, and/or examples that clarify and amplify the important concepts
  • Primarily visual (very little text presented on any screen)
  • Broken down into separate 2-7 minute recordings, each based around a single concept

Unfortunately, there’s no quick and easy way to adapt face-to-face lectures for effective online presentation. Simply recording yourself narrating your PowerPoints as you would in a face-to-face classroom is ineffective because the online environment differs from the classroom in several ways:

  • The time and attention students are willing to spend watching a screen is much less than the time and attention they’re willing to spend watching a live human being lecturing.
  • The online environment is poor at conveying information in text form (but excels at conveying information visually).
  • Online students can’t ask questions in real-time—and you won’t be able to see when they’re “getting it” so that you can diverge from your standard lecture and supplement their understanding. Therefore, your presentation has to be extremely clear and explicit.
  • Online students are typically much less tolerant of extraneous or confusing information presented in a recorded lecture than they are of an in-person lecture.
  • Students will be accessing lecture recordings differently—and for different reasons—than they “access” face-to-face lectures. Face-to-face students come to class, listen to lecture, and leave. Online students may use lecture recordings for previewing material, as their main source of course content, or for review. They may access recordings never, once, or multiple times for any of all of these reasons.

All of this means that you’ll need to rethink the way your existing lectures are organized, what information they contain, and how that information is conveyed.

Below are best practices for converting a PowerPoint presentation for online delivery:

  • Break long lectures into five minute (or so) chunks. Studies show that online students won’t sit through hour-long lectures—so don’t create them. Instead, create a handful of smaller lecture “chunks,” each of which defines and elaborates a main concept. Chunking lectures in this way also makes it possible for online students to customize their learning by reviewing—and re-reviewing—only those concepts they’re having trouble grasping.
  • Write a script for each concept. Speaking off-the-cuff may work in a classroom, but it doesn’t online. Scripting forces you to organize the presentation of your material—to make sure you don’t leave anything out or throw in anything extra. It also gives you time to think about the most effective approach to convey material in the highly visual online environment. If you decide not to write a script beforehand, be prepared to spend the same amount of time you would have spent on the script in the recording studio instead, recording and re-recording your lecture chunks (in effect, scripting your recordings during the recording process instead of beforehand.) There really is no way around the scripting step in the production of effective content optimized for online delivery; it’s “pay me now or pay me later.”
  • Rework your PowerPoint slides to act as a storyboard for your script. Your PowerPoint slides should contain mostly visuals; you’ll need to reduce text to a few words per screen at most. Animations (recorded PowerPoints) are good at conveying visual information; they aren’t good at conveying text information. Any text that appears on the screen should be the “take aways” or critical notes you would expect students to take, not simply explanations or nice-to-have details.
  • Time any text or images that appear on your PowerPoint slides to display at the same time that you, the narrator, speak the text or discuss the image. Studies show that presenting text causes students to try to read it—which means they’re missing whatever the narrator happens to be saying at the same time. Learning theory also suggests that displaying images and talking about them later isn’t as effective as introducing the images at the very time you begin speaking about them.

For some PowerPoint design examples, both good and bad, go here »

Emily A. Moore, M.Ed., is an instructional designer in the online learning office at Texas State Technical College – Harlingen Campus.

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38 comments on “Adapting PowerPoint Lectures for Online Delivery: Best Practices

  1. Emily, may I have your permission to use this information and example in faculty training, you would be credited and referenced as the author, thanks Diann

    • Hello Diann,
      I'm glad you found the article useful. Faculty Focus grants you permission to share the article during faculty training provided provided you cite Emily A. Moore as the author and Faculty Focus as the source.

      Mary Bart
      Editor, Faculty Focus

    • Hello Kathy,
      Faculty Focus grants you permission to share the article provided you cite Emily A. Moore as the author and Faculty Focus as the source.

      Mary Bart
      Editor, Faculty Focus

  2. I would also like to have permission to use this information with citation of Emily and Faculty Focus. Thank you, Vicki

  3. Would you grant me permission to use this article in a workshop I am planning for faculty this semester. I would, of course, provide full citation information about the auther and Faculty Focus.

    Thank you, Linda G.

    • Laura (and AABerardi),

      There are several inexpensive options for recording PowerPoint presentations. One is TechSmith's Camtasia (good editing options and easy to use, plus it runs on both PC and Mac). Adobe Captivate is higher-end in terms of $$ and ramp-up time, but worth looking into if you do a lot of software demos and/or nonstandard quizzes. Shoestring options include Microsoft's Photo Story and TechSmith's Jing (both free, but the editing options aren't quite as rich as the for-fee Camtasia). I've heard good things about ScreenFlow, but haven't used it myself. I'm sure there are other options as well…

      • Our faculty have used SlideRocket. You can import PowerPoint presentations and then add audio to each slide. There is a small fee to sign up for the advanced features.

        May I have permission to use the information and cite Emily and Faculty Focus on our institution blog? Thank you, Lori Austill, Idaho State University

  4. I would also like to have permission to use this information with citation of Emily and Faculty Focus. Thank you, Sarah

  5. Thank you for this helpful information. Please also grant me permission to use this information with citation of Emily and Faculty Focus. Thanks.

  6. This Information is useful, and I would like to seek permission to use both the article and the example with the required citations provide — Emily A. Moore as the author and Faculty Focus as the source. Many thanks


  7. We have been seeing an unprecedented interest in online education for the past few years. GlobalNxt University with their interactive learning approach has launched their new program committed to raise the standards of online education. It’s good news for students who are interested in online education and updating their skills to prepare for modern global economy.

  8. I coudn't agree more about creating a script! It is a time saver in the end. I use screenr for my my powerpoints. It has a built in five minute limit and can be sized over my slides.

    Thanks for a great article!

  9. It is a valuable teaching information using PowerPoint for teaching online. Would you give me permission to use this article during faculty trainings and cite Emily as the author and Faculty Focus as the source? Thank you Emily.

  10. Thanks for the tips Emily. We'll include these points in our teaching training program. But referring to your point where you have written that online students can’t ask questions in real-time, I would like to mention about WizIQ which is an online learning platform that connects educators and students through its WizIQ Virtual Classroom technology. Using WizIQ, teachers can use PowerPoint presentations for teaching in an online environment and also allow their students to ask questions in real-time through its audio, video, text chat and hand raising features.

    • jainiminhas,

      You make a good point! Virtual classroom sessions can indeed be useful for real-time presentations. (I've never used WizIQ, but have used Elluminate/Collaborate and GoToMeeting… I've also heard the free Google Hangouts can be used for small classes.) The issues with virtual classroom sessions, however, are many. For one thing, they restrict students to a specific time (and in many cases, students are taking online classes precisely because their schedules are too full to be able to commit to meetings that take place on specific days at specific times). For another, configuring the necessary microphones, webcams, and software remotely can be an issue for many students. And depending on a number of variables such as the software and the number of class participants, students can be summarily "kicked out" of virtual class by the software. There is definitely a use for virtual classroom technology, but at this point it's still in its infancy in terms of replicating the rich interaction of a F2F classroom. I'll definitely look into WizIQ–perhaps it offers improvements over the software I've used!

  11. I would also like to have permission to use this information with citation of Emily and Faculty Focus. Thank you, Sally

  12. I think there’s another important principle to consider, and that’s how you’re delivering your PowerPoint presentations. Do you use email? A courseware system? Something archaic, like FTP? A web page? That’s one of the challenges we’re trying to meet at Gingkotree – giving instructors the ability to deliver course materials from a variety of sources, including customer sources like PowerPoint presentations – in a single interface. It makes things much easier for both students and instructors.

    • Scott, I'm intrigued. What's important about how you deliver PowerPoint presentations? How does the delivery channel affect the student and/or the learning presentation?

  13. Thanks you for this timely information. I have been dabbling a little with putting my lecture online so that the students have more time in the laboratory and with the information you have given, it answers a lot of questions I had about the process, particularly about how to coordinate the PPT with the lecture information.

  14. Thanks for the article. I am developing a video course online this summer and have been debating how to convert the lectures to an online format. Now I am planning on using PPT slides into Camtasia Studio so I can edit my lectures and keep them on track.

  15. Could you provide the source for the following statement:
    "Studies show that online students won’t sit through hour-long lectures"


  16. I too would also like to have permission to use this information with citation of Emily and Faculty Focus.
    Thank you!

    Tina Austin
    Online Content Developer
    Johnson & Wales University

  17. Hi Emily,

    Great article…I would like permission to use some of this information in faculty consults for creating PPTs for online education.

  18. Hi Emily —
    I also would like to use this article in training sessions for faculty – with your permission.

    Thank you for your time and effort!

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