Beyond “Death By PowerPoint”: New strategies for visual learning

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PowerPoint and similar software is handy for ensuring that students note down key points, and many lecturers rely on it to keep themselves on track. However, it’s been used so often that yet another set of text/picture slides risks looking stale. What else can you do with that whiteboard to get your points across in a memorable way and activate visual learning? Plenty!

As you try these options, be sure to take advantage of the  opportunity to build up a store of teaching materials that can be repurposed in the same way you chop and change PowerPoint slides. For example, these visual learning resources can also be added to virtual learning environments like Blackboard.

Animated simulations

When it comes to complex processes and designs, seeing is understanding. Animated simulations can bring these to life. There is a vast array of animation software out there, but some is made for experts, and some creates files that don’t display well using typical whiteboard systems. Adobe Edge Animate ( is one of the better tools, with a good range of free tutorials and templates available online to ensure you don’t spend too much prep time on a five-minute simulation.

Remember to ensure that animations run slowly enough for students to really see what they need to, and include a facility to stop, slow down and backtrack.

Timelines and concept mapping

Get students actively involved by asking one student or a small group to move events onto a time line in the right order, link concepts, or build mind maps. They can create and move text objects themselves, or you can prepare all or part of the task elements.

Software tools are easy to find, because mind-mapping is frequently used in schools, and concept diagrams are commonly used in business. For example, LucidChart ( and ProcessOn ( are just two of many such tools.

Much interactive diagramming and process-mapping software is available free to educators, or can be tested via a trial version. However, chances are that your university already has licenses for some form of software that can do interactive diagramming: for example, Adobe Creative Suite has this capability even though it isn't as easy to use at first as some of the dedicated packages.

Video modeling

Ask students to videotape how to carry out a key task or lab process, and then share the video with the larger group via the whiteboard. Or, you could create your own video models to share.

This option is especially useful for creating a bank of role-play examples for fields such as teaching, social work, or business, allowing students in coming years to view and critique past examples.

Guest speakers for less

Love to have a prominent expert in your field, a young researcher students can relate to, or someone in the workplace contribute to a lecture? Often universities are unwilling to budget for guest lecturers, or requests must go through complicated processes in advance of the term’s start. If you can locate people who are willing to “drop in” virtually for 15-30 minutes, however, you may be able to add some spice to a lecture through a short Skype session, using the whiteboard as a screen, at low or no cost.

Great ideas include:

  • Setting up a short Q&A session, with you sending your guest the five best questions submitted in advance by your students.
  • Asking a guest to walk students through a process or procedure using a tablet or phone camera
  • Asking a guest to comment on a case study that your class is analysing

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