Presentation and Learning Design

Probably the most commonly used technology in teaching is PowerPoint, some might say it’s also the most misused or badly used.  Students make presentations for small group work, attend many lectures with presentations (the good, the bad and the ugly).  Not many people though are aware of or think about some of the key principles which need to be considered when designing a PowerPoint presentation.  These principles are also a helpful guide when developing an online learning resource. This tutorial will guide you through a series of activities and introduce you to some keys to developing an effective presentation which also apply to designing any digital learning resource.

Activity 1 – the good and the bad

Good presentations

It’s useful to start thinking about what makes a good presentation. Why did a lecture go well? Did the presenter tell a story or simply impart a list of facts? Was there an obvious start, middle and end? Were learning objectives explicitly shown?  Was there good and effective use of visual aids? As you reflect please don’t identify specific people or lectures, just a general discussion is needed.

List 5 key principles that YOU think should be considered when developing a good presentation.

Bad presentations

Watch the videos below.  It’s done in jest but what do you think the point of it is, does it bring to mind any lectures you’ve been in? When you’ve attended a bad presentation think about what made it bad? You might want to consider the presenter (interest, on time, expert level, their talk) the environment (was the room lit well and the right temperature) Was the slide content appropriate?

List 5 key principles that YOU think should be considered when avoiding bad presentations.

Take a look at these presentations – Do you think the principles presented here apply to teaching presentations?


Activity 2 – Critique

Now take a look at these 2 presentations below and have a think about what is good and what is bad about these. As you review these consider the following points:

  • How easy is it to read the slides?
  • Think about how the presentation would come across in a teaching session?
  • Is the presentation too long? Too short?
  • Are the images clear? Are they appropriate?
  • Would more images help?
  • Can you summarize the key message of these presentations in one sentence.

Presentation 1

Presentation 2


Having looked at these presentations would you make any changes to YOUR 5 key principles for developing a good presentation.

Check your principles with these 11 design tips.

Activity 3 – Storytime

This activity is designed to get you thinking about planning a presentation or learning resource. In order to do this well you need to *know* the topic you’ll discuss.

Start by planning,  write down a storyline, this can be on a piece of paper (take a photo!), post-it notes, a mind map or as a list. Do you know the target audience? If they’re students consider what stage of their course they’re at. If you pitch a talk too simply then the audience will be bored, likewise if it’s too advanced there’s a risk of overwhelming people. Break down the topic you’ll be covering and start plotting your story, think about having a start, middle and end. Once you have your story you can start to think about the supporting visuals that you need to help present your story. The third stage is thinking about how you will deliver it.  As you consider this you might find it helpful to check out the work of Ross Fisher a paediatric surgeon who’s passionate about helping doctors develop their presentation skills. Ross has a great website P cubed presentations, where he shares helpful advice on how to create effective presentations.  It’s a super resource to refer to, there’s also a handy post on the St Emlyn’s site that provides a concise overview of his approach.

Activity 4 – Visual aids

Design and appearance of presentations and online resources can have a big impact and are important to consider, especially as people in your audience may have dyslexia or be colour blind. Contrasting colours with dark backgrounds on light text are difficult to see. Likewise fancy fonts can be difficult to read from a distance.  Take a look at

The mulitmedia design theory work of Mayer and Clark that you might have looked at in the previous tutorial is also really important to be mindful of when you are designing a digital learning resource.  These papers provide some insight and helpful principles to consider when designing PowerPoints, multimedia and animation type learning resources:


Remember what we covered in the copyright tutorial and make sure you only include images that are licenced for re-use or your own images.

A common howler you see in presentations is images that look squashed or stretched.  When you add an image to a PowerPoint or Keynote slide you can easily adjust the size of an image using the format picture function, but the important thing is to constrain the proportions so that if you make it smaller or larger you ensure the image remains in proportion.

You can also crop images in PowerPoint and Keynote or apply masks to remove sections that don’t need to be on view to your audience.

Having reviewed these resources would you edit your 5 key principles for designing a presentation or online resource?  Would you remove or add to your list of principles?


Authors: Iona Campbell; Natalie Lafferty; Annalisa Manca

© University of Dundee 2015 – Updated 2022

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