PowerPoint Presentation Tips for Elearning

Sure, the average high-schooler knows how to throw together a PowerPoint presentation. But you’re not just trying to grab a C+ in Mrs. Terwilliger’s social studies class anymore; you’re trying to shape the future of your organization. If PowerPoint is all you have to work with, this guide will help you to get the most from your PowerPoint-based elearning programs.  


1. Time

Before you get started, you need to understand how much time it normally takes to create an effective PowerPoint-based elearning program. A comprehensive study by the Chapman Alliance found that, on average, it takes 80 hours to create one hour of basic elearning. We believe that this estimate is accurate for creating an “average” program, but if you want to create one that is truly effective, it will likely require 120 hours or more.  

2. Cost

If you want to deliver the program and document learners’ activity through your Learning Management System (LMS), once you finish the PowerPoint you will likely need to use a SCORM-compliant authoring tool to convert it into a self-directed elearning program.  Therefore, if you have not already licensed a SCORM compliant authoring tool, you will need to invest in one.

Instructional Design

3. Planning

Stop! Before you start building your presentation, it’s important to have a plan in place. First, develop clear objectives based on what you’re aiming to teach. Then, identify content and activities that relate to the objectives. After that, get an idea of the students’ existing knowledge, interest level, skills, and desired learning outcomes. It’s also good to consider whether this is one of many lessons in a larger course. If it is, make sure the objectives support those of the overall program.

Lastly, remember that you are creating a self-directed instructional program, so the PowerPoint will need to cover all of the information you would present during a class or lecture. You won’t be there to share those anecdotes that are only stored in your head, so document such items so you can include them.

4. Design and Organization

Once your plan is in place, it’s time to create a lesson outline with an introduction, body, and summary/conclusion. Insert your outline into PowerPoint, with the presentation text formatted according to the heading styles used in your original outline document.

After the lesson introduction, state the learning objectives and expectations. As for the body, all info should be organized or “chunked” into sections or topical units and presented in a logical manner, and all content should support the learning objectives. Use graphics, video, audio, and interactive activities where necessary to effectively communicate and engage.

A summary/conclusion screen should restate the learning objectives addressed in the lesson. Provide resources that supplement the program’s content, and cite source material when possible.

Screen Design

5. Master Slides

Use a consistent design and color scheme throughout the program. The design should reflect your organization’s branding and culture and/or relate to the topic you are teaching. Create master slides for each of the main screen types, such as slides with background and title, slides with supporting graphic and title, question slides, etc. These master slides will ensure a clean design with consistent placement of elements.

6. Text

For better readability, use common sans serif Windows system fonts, such as Arial and Verdana. And stick with 18- to 20-point font size for content text and 28 point or more for title text. When it comes to font style, it’s important to stay consistent throughout the program. Never use more than three different styles in the same presentation. To distinguish key concepts, use bold text; avoid underlining or using colors.

Ensure there is enough contrast between the text and the background color. For example, use dark type on a light background or light type on a dark background. And always use font colors that are easy on the eye to avoid eyestrain.

7. Graphics

You should always avoid busy background images, but it’s great to use a strong visual element (photograph, illustration, chart, or SmartArt diagram) that effectively communicates the message on the slide. You might have noticed by now that consistency is key, so keep that in mind with formatting and effects for all graphics in the program.

Save graphics as JPEGs, optimized GIFS, or PNGs. When using “Save As,” compress graphics using the Tools option. Use graphic at original size when possible. If you must increase the size, do so in both the horizontal and vertical directions in proportion. If you stretch the graphic too much, it will become distorted.

8. Learner Feedback

At the end of each program, ask for feedback on the slides to ensure that they are a valuable resource, and modify as needed based on the notes you receive.

Screen Content

9. General

So now we know what the presentation will look like, but what will it say? Keep in mind that slides need to be detailed enough to covey the necessary knowledge to the vast majority of learners without your direct support. However, each slide should convey only one idea or message.

Make each slide as visually appealing as possible; use subtle and consistent animation effects to add a level of visual interest. Some people are visual-oriented (right-brain thinkers), while others are text-oriented (left-brain thinkers). Use both text and graphics to communicate the message effectively to all learners.

Transitions to new chapters should be clear to the learner. Title screens with large graphics are a good way to introduce new sections, and be sure to label slides to indicate which chapter they are presenting. In programs where computations are done frequently, examples will help the student have a guide to use when doing their assignments. Also, important formulas should be noted.

When editions of the textbook change, update your slides to ensure that they are accurate and properly covering the material. And if slides are used directly from the book publisher, leave them as they are, including any copyright markings. A summary slide should recap important topics.

10. Screen Layout

Space the elements evenly on the slide with enough open/negative space around them, and avoid cluttering the slide with unnecessary elements that don’t support the message.

11. Text

Use a short title on each slide that summarizes the content on screen. Slide text should be simple and concise so that the learner can read it quickly and grasp the information easily.

Avoid complete sentences. Present main concepts and essential points in bulleted or numbered lists. Structuring the content this way helps emphasize information visually and facilitate comprehension. Use the Notes section to add supporting detail that will be presented to an audience or used as an audio transcript. This can really benefit a student when complex topics are introduced. This section can be especially advantageous to learners if you are walking them through a step-by-step calculation.

One final tip: Follow the “seven-by-seven rule,” which says that slides should have no more than seven lines of text, with each line having no more than seven words.

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