Is it worth the time… by @ASTSupportAAli

*UPDATED April 2018*

Today I read this fantastic blog by Andy Tharby- @Atharby- about Cognitive Load Theory.

Using the information from there and what I have learned over the last few years, I have edited the below blog to reflect those invaluable elements of information.

I had been battling with myself as to whether spending time preparing a ‘snazzy‘ PowerPoint and the accompanying resources is simply worth it. I guess, with my role, I don’t know if I can justify spending time doing this… can anybody?

I had been considering:

  • Does it make any difference to the actual learning?
  • Does it show I have made an effort and I expect that from my students?
  • Does it raise engagement with the lesson as a stimulus?
  • Does it create a personalised lesson?
  • Is less more?

I guess, what I mean by snazzy isn’t simply an overload of animations and transitions. It is not an abundance of colour and busyness of slides.

Screen Shot 2015-03-13 at 19.22.35

What I mean by my term snazzy is, the creation of PowerPoints where I have carefully selected a particular font, high resolution images, separated information through shapes, sizes, colours and so on. Where I have added background image/colour to the PowerPoint, creating a change in colour schemes and so on.

Is that worth the time?

  • Or is simply a black and white PowerPoint accompanied by high level, clear graphics and effective questioning enough?

We all need to be fully aware of the difficulties some students with for example autism face with having ‘too much’ to take in; (sensory overload.) Along with some students with visual impairments or dyslexia for example, who may not be able to differentiate an image from text and so on.

We all have our own mental schema which are a series of internal structures which help/hinder us to problem solve and think! Factors both in and out of our control affect these.

Therefore to answer the question is it worth the time making ‘snazzy’ PowerPoints we need to harness a clear understanding of Cognitive Load Theory (CLT).

Andy links from his blog two really useful video clips explaining these principles. (Click here to watch.)

Screen Shot 2018-04-21 at 08.07.57

The key takeaways from CLT, as summarised by Andy are,

All good PowerPoint Presentations should:

  • Remain mindful of the intrinsic load of the task;
  • Reduce extraneous load;
  • Increase germane load.

Sweller, J., Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning, Cognitive Science, 12, 257-285 (1988) explains these three terms:

Intrinsic Load= All instructions have an inherent difficulty associated with it. This depends on how complex the actual task is. The amount of thinking needed affects the actual task. For example if I asked you to complete the mathematical task of 2+2 your intrinsic load wouldn’t be as great as if I asked you to work out 987 + 3245.

Extraneous Load= This is specifically dependent on the person delivering the information. This is damaging for learning as it could affect the development of long term memory. The manner or design of which you present your information is crucial here. For example if you were describing the shape of an item. Presenting an image of that shape would reduce the extraneous load.

Germane Load= This third strand is encouraged. It is the Cognitive Load that helps formulate and solidify learning. For example, 2+2 resulting in your application of long term memory.

Therefore we should all aim to:

(manage) Intrinsic + (minimise) Extraneous + (maximise) Germane = Cognitive Load

When explaining these principles a slide like the below would be useful:

Screen Shot 2018-04-21 at 08.35.49

So what can we do to reduce extraneous loads and increase germane loads?

Well, Andy has written a brilliant list of examples- click here to read!

In my current school we all agreed to use a Standardised PowerPoint template to reduce Cognitive Overload. We will blog about this soon.

Try this…

If you are still wondering what the answer to the below question would be… then don’t. If you follow and understand the principles of Cognitive Load Theory and your students will more than likely benefit more from your lessons. And your lessons may not look snazzy, but will be anything but plain!

  • How do observers feel if they walk into a lesson with a ‘plain’ presentation and resources? Or, to a whole staff CPD with similar? 

The same principles apply to giving out worksheets for students to complete…



  1. I tend to put slightly coloured background on as it helps some children focus better on the text…those who need coloured overlays when reading books and the rest are OK. I don’t add gimmicky stuff…yes it entertains but distracts from learning.

  2. my powerpoints are all on my blog, feel free to have a look.
    They are plain and boring black and white, big enough to see, or to prompt me. They are the same each week, so the students (MLD school) know what is coming next. I also use communicate in print to enhance for the non readers – although the symbols are often somewhat misleading!

  3. I think it’s important, not so much snazzy but professional. It’s how I was trained as an NQT, all slides had to have L/O, AMS objectives etc. Now school expects the above and a list of key words on every powerpoint as well. To save time I use the same style and format day in day out. L/Os at the top, key words at the bottom and then coloured text boxes for rest. Light colour boxes – blue = info, cream = task, lilac = S&C and green = AFL. Each colour chosen with Irlens and SLCN needs in mind. The kids know what each colour text box means and can direct themselves. I usually use opendyslexic font, sometimes century gothic or comic sans dependent on needs and age, for ease of reading for all students. Rarely do I use animations on power points unless to emphasise something as it distracts and there’s never slanted text, when i taught a high number of SLCN students I was told it was a no go and have never done it since. If another teacher uses my templates kids will often comment that someone used it. Guess it’s my classroom signature. From my experience it’s worth the time and effort as the consistency every lesson helps with independence. You can see a few examples on my blog if interested. Thanks for getting me to reflect on why I do it with this post.

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