How Many Slides Is Too Many?

I’ve been asked by SMEs who are developing courses whether they have too many (or not enough) slides.

The real answer is that the only way to know is to pilot it. I tend to use a lot of slides, but then again I tend to use slides that build on each other with small changes. On the other hand, the right instructor with the right slide might only need the one slide, or no slides at all.

That said, I did once have a webcast moderator over several weeks track how much time instructors spent on each slide on average. The answer was 90 seconds per slide, on average.

I would never drive someone to that number, or claim that it is the “right” number of slides, but it is useful to have that in my back pocket as a point of reference when a developer has a deck that includes way more slides than that for the given time.


6 thoughts on “How Many Slides Is Too Many?

  1. Ellen

    My geography prof uses about 1.2 trays of 35mm slides on the carousel projector in a 50 minute class. Each slide comes with commentary: “The Twin Cities have developed in such a way that trains don’t make any sense,” “That man in the hard hat asked me what I was doing there [on the edge of an open-pit mine],” and “The forests have been…OK, it’s 11, we have to stop here and continue on Friday.” Most slides are photographs that he took himself; some are maps, charts, tables, etc. All are legible. Sadly, all or most are outdated.
    John Fraser Hart, Professor of Geography, will retire at the end of the semester after about 60 years of teaching. He’s 91.

  2. Ellen

    My psych prof (I will not give his name) uses PowerPoint. They are pretty much all text, with a few tables scanned from articles (which he acknowledges are illegible to anyone beyond the first row). He walks in with his laptop and “entertains” us with anecdotes about his son the hockey player, or the reason he had to testify in court. Then he drops into his “professor drone” and starts sort-of-reading the slides to us, about 20-30 slides in a 50-minute class. (I kept track once, in an effort to keep my eyes open). We meet three times a week; it is rare that he addresses a question to the class, or they to him; perhaps once a week. His questions are more “Are you getting this?” as opposed to, say, “What do you see as the shortcomings of this study?” Don’t chalk it up to a huge class, as this is a 5000-level class with about 15-20 students. (OK, to keep the playing field level, the geography class has about 50 students and there are NO questions and NO discussion during the lecture, though he’s quite approachable afterwards.)
    OK, here’s your challenge: which course do you think I NEVER miss, stay awake in, and learn the most from?

  3. drmema

    As a new professor in a traditional classroom, I made the mistake of reading my slides as I was so nervous and afraid I would make a mistake. Students stopped coming to class as they could read the slides themselves. I have learned so much now and only use slides as an outline so I do not forget to say something. Needless to say, I am a much more popular presenter now.

  4. Ellen

    Some of my favorite courses have been ones where I can print the PowerPoint slides before class, then use them for notes. That assumes that, as drmema says, they are used only as an outline.

  5. robertmulcahy Post author

    Thanks for your comments, Ellen and drmema. At McGladrey, we’ve created a process for generating electronic participant guides (PDF-based, so they can be printed out, but also with note fields so learners can take notes in the electronic version) that allow course developers to include as much prose as they want along with their slides. This has given me a good response to offer to SME developers who want to create slides that are word-for-word what they are going to say because the slides are the official record of the course, even if they acknowledge that reading off slides is deadly dull. Since they can include all that text in the participant guide, it doesn’t need to be up on the slide (depressing learning due to the redundancy effect). We’ve been doing this long enough that most developers have seen the value, but in the early days, and even often today with new instructors, it takes them some time to wrap their heads around this. They find comfort in blocks of prose on the slide.


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