PowerPoint: The King of eLearning Tools?

Is PowerPoint the most widely used tool for eLearning development? Should it be?


It seems that everywhere I go in the eLearning world I run into PowerPoint. Most of the new authoring tools either use PPT as their backbone or offer the ability to import slides. Interface creation, navigation buttons, LMS tracking, and testing abilities are then typically added to the PPT functionality.

I “grew-up” in eLearning world using Director/Authorware and then moving into Flash/HTML (PPT was “off-limits”). In the past few years I’ve started using Articulate and Captivate to do the heavy lifting and using Flash more for specific parts of the overall course. Using these new tools meant that I had to start using PPT.

At first I was very anti-PPT, however I have changed my tune a bit in the past few years. I have come to appreciate that with some good thought and instructional design you can use most any tool to a decent level of effectiveness. I’ve seen terrible Flash and Lectora courses even thought they were created in amazing (expensive) tools. Then on the flip-side, I’ve seen some very creative content built with free tools.

Seems clich¬© but maybe it’s not about the tool. Good instructional design skills can be applied anywhere.

Here are a few reasons why PPT seems to be so widely used in eLearning:

1. Classroom training is often converted to an online format. Every classroom course has a PPT and it’s usually the first thing that someone thinks about when they want to put the course online. Unfortunately too often the PPT is simply thrown online without having truly turned it into effective eLearning.

2. Everyone has PPT. It’s probably already on every training person’s computer.

3. Everyone knows how to use it (and if they don’t it’s pretty easy to learn.)

4. You can quickly create content and there are tons of layouts, backgrounds, and color themes.

5. And last but not least, Microsoft already owns the world so why not conform?

What do you think? What has been your experience with PPT as a development tool? What is it missing? Do you think Microsoft will add features and turn it into a more robust eLearning development tool? Good article from Rapid eL Blog.

Checkout these eLearning PowerPoint templates. (40+ themes, 75+ layouts)


  1. I’m a fan of storyboarding in PPT. If you avoid the preset templates and start with a blank slate (like you might with most other tools), you can create pretty much any look and feel you want. And like you mentioned, it’s really easy to use.

  2. You haven’t read Edward Tufte?

    According to him, PowerPoint has no place in eLearning. In fact, his research provides us with insight that PowerPoint diminishes learning – instead of cognitive stimulation – PowerPoint equals cognitive sedation.


    See this link for more information:

  3. It’s possible to do horrible things with great tools like Flash, Captivate and many other expensive tools. And, it’s possible to go great things with tools like PPT. I lean toward the former when I have access to great programmers. I make do with PPT when I cannot. But, all tools are limited by their handler. Templates, endless bullets and cheesy graphics are deadly on any platform. If content is king, then the power behind the throne is knowing how to engage imagination, how to hold attention, how to demonstrate a point, how to turn information into communication.
    Follow this for an example of PPT in a non-standard application. http://www.innovativeye.com/ideacycles-online-course/
    Another tool which combines mind mapping with presentation (new and somewhat limited from what I’ve seen so far) is Prezi.com. It’s worth exploring.

  4. One of the main benefits of well designed elearning is answer-judging and pathing: get an answer wrong and the learning is repathed for the learner personally so he/she can get a grip on the concept before moving on.

    I am not aware of any answer judging capabilities of PPT. Sure, you can say here is the question, here is the answer, if you got it wrong go to slide 7 for a better understanding, but that is learner directed, not system directed.

    Anyone know of something about PPT that can assess learner responses?

  5. This is all dependent on your underpinning elearning framework. We teach distance based business classes to several hundred graduate students. There is very little use of PowerPoint. Instead we use academic readings (including HBR type material), texts, course notes and discussion activities. There is little place for Powerpoint in such a scenario. Except when combined with webinars or tools such as Voicethread. The main problem with Powerpoint is that the Powerpoint by itself contains a lot less material than an average course reading. It is basically only good for summarising. Without the commentary and discussion around its content it is nothing…

  6. I have not been either for or against PPT. Infact I believed on “Death by Pwerpoint”. I think it is just a tool or a techonology and is neither good nor bad by itself. It is the way we use it makes it so. And PPT, like any other tool need not be everything to everybody. PPT may be good for some uses, not so good for some. It is definitely about being a good Instructional Designer. If you can make the elephants dance with the PPTs, then you are a good musician or a choreographer.

  7. PowerPoint is a storyboarding and speaker-notes tool, not e-learning. I don’t hate it. I don’t love it. It’s good, within its limits.

    For me, e-learning must include interactivity/decision making; otherwise, it’s a lecture. It amazes me how many people in our profession still call a deck “e-learning.” Ugh.


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