Creating an Effective Slideshow

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Module Summary

A slideshow is a common structure used to convey information, images, and mediated experiences to online learners. As technologies have evolved, this format incorporates a variety of different types of multimedia—audio, video, interactive widgets, image maps, and other elements. This short module reviews some of the basics of creating an effective slideshow.


Learners will...

  • Consider what slideshows are and how they are used in online learning
  • Consider minimal basic elements used in a slideshow
  • Review slideshow “design” conventions
  • Brainstorm strategies for slideshow sequencing
  • Consider what additional multimedia elements enhance the experience of a digital slideshow
  • Enhance the accessibility of a digital slideshow

Module Pretest

1. What are electronic slideshows? How are electronic slideshows used in online learning?

2. What are minimal basic elements used in a typical slideshow?

3. What are slideshow “design” conventions?

4. What are strategies used for slideshow sequencing?

5. What are additional multimedia elements that may enhance the experience of a digital slideshow?

6. How may a digital slideshow be made to be more accessible?

Main Contents

Slideshows are a common presentation tool that has moved from face-to-face classrooms into online courses (both human-facilitated learning and automated computer-based-training types of learning).

1. What are electronic slideshows? How are electronic slideshows used in online learning?

At its most basic, an electronic slideshow consists of a sequence of slides (that themselves consist of text and imagery). Contemporary digital slideshows may be narrated and enhanced with audio files. They may also be enhanced with interactive widgets and games, live links (like links to relevant sites or live polls), embedded or linked video, and other contents. There are photo albums (which may be “thumbed through” page-by-page vs. clicked through screen-by-screen) and photo slideshows as well, with much more of a focus on imagery. Some slideshow software is built around more dynamism (like Prezi, which begins with an opening visual map and then transitions with movements between screens or Microsoft Photo Story which integrates multimedia for more of a storytelling framework).

Slideshows are generally used in the following ways for online learning:

For instructors

  • Conveying related (packaged / chunked) textual and visual information
  • Humanizing the presenter with voice and sometimes even a “talking head” video
  • Helping learners review information
  • Explaining processes and sequences
  • Sharing imagery in context
  • Telling stories
  • Structuring pre-recorded and live presentations

For learners

  • Offering a venue for students to present their own research, experiences, and findings
  • Summarizing the contents of a digital portfolio of learning work

2. What are minimal basic elements used in a typical slideshow?

At the base level, a typical slideshow consists of the following elements with the following functions:

  • An opening screen: to introduce the topic (and / or the presenter name)
  • An overview of the objectives of the slideshow: to explain purpose / intent
  • An overview of the contents of the slideshow: to provide an overview and general trajectory
  • The body contents (information): to convey the main information
  • Designed interactivity: integrated and interspersed slides that solicit information from the audience, launch activities, launch websites, or other interactive pieces
  • Additional resources: to offer additional links or information that may enrich the slideshow
  • Conclusion: to wrap up the presentation
  • Contact information: to allow audience members and learners to contact the presenter

Some of these elements are clearly optional. Different organizations have different basic requirements for what should be included. Some may require additional uses of logos and color templates for branding, for example. If the materials presented are sensitive, then caveats or disclaimers should be included.

3. What are slideshow “design” conventions?

Slideshows are designed to convey information in the most effective way possible. To these ends, templates are designed to have the proper color contrasts for the highest accessibility. There are certain “parts” to a slideshow, such as different screen types, text types, and layouts.

Generally, it’s a good idea to build within these parameters in order to have a readable slideshow. Subject matter experts that use a mish-mash of font types and font sizes can make a slideshow highly unreadable very quickly.

This same concept applies to the use of imagery. Imagery should be fairly consistent in terms of sizing and resolution.

Design template colors should align with the overall look-and-feel and theme of the slideshow.

Slide numbers should be used to help users navigate the slideshow. This will enable them to refer to questions specifically (such as by slide number and line of the text).

The Uses of Notes

Some slideshows include speaker notes that may be downloadable with the rest of the contents. (These notes though disappear if the slideshow is turned into a .pdf document or is recorded using screen capture software.)


Slideshow templates may be used to help ensure consistency, especially for course builds that are done across different disciplines or institutions. A template is defined based on the needs of the project. There is not a general and set way of creating these.

Source Citations

The contents of most slideshows come from research sources and peer-reviewed journals. There should be a clear method of citing the sources, for professionalism and for giving credit where it is due. Information should be traceable to its original source (which is one reason for professional citation).


Ideally, slideshows should be as updatable as possible. This means that when new information is available, that should be included into the slideshow. This issue should be considered before add-ins are made to a slideshow.

Technology Sizing

The adding on of audio means that the slideshow will become a much larger file. The use of screen capture software to capture a slideshow will also result in a much larger digital file.

4. What are strategies used for slideshow sequencing?


Most slideshows are presented in a time-based chronological way. Presenters will interrupt a slideshow to go off on tangents, but they generally return to the slideshow at the area where they left off and will continue.

In terms of processes, slideshows usually progress step-by-step, or phase-by-phase.

Storytelling slideshows may also progress step-by-step.

Logical Segues

In a topical slideshow, this means a developmental organization moving from simple ideas to more complex ones; theories to practice; and so on. The logical segues depend on the presenter’s expertise and mental conceptualization of the information.

Spatial Organization

In some topics, there may be spatial organization—from outer to inner, small to large, large to small, etc.

An underlying structure and logic creates a sense of organization whether the learner notices consciously or not.

5. What are additional multimedia elements that may enhance the experience of a digital slideshow?


Short animated gifs and other types of animations may be integrated with a slideshow to show simple movements.


Audio may be included—such as brief quotes or interviews or songs or historical sounds. Audio may include narration by the presenter of the slideshow.


Videos may be integrated with a slideshow to elaborate on a particular point. These may be used to spark online conversations or activities, too.

Web Links

Web links may be used to enrich the learning in a slideshow and to offer more up-to-date information.


Self-assessment pieces of code may be offered through a slideshow, for learners to experience true/false, multiple-choice, matching, and other methods of interaction. There are various authoring tools that enable this.


Various widgets may be integrated into a slideshow, for interactivity, short games, or even short polls.

A Technology Caveat

All slideshows should be checked multiple times to make sure that they’ve been created and uploaded correctly. Some software program will not embed audio files but will treat these as links, which will require users to have the copies of the audio files in the same folder level as the slideshow for all the audio to play. This may save on file size for the slideshow, but this means an extra level of technological savvy and diligence for those uploading their slideshows.

6. How may a digital slideshow be made to be more accessible?

Accessibility is a critical requirement for online learning based on federal laws. A digital slideshow may be made accessible in several basic ways.

It’s a good idea to use the templating that is offered by the software because of the designed accessibility color contrasts and the machine-readable text. (Newly inserted text-boxes are not usually captured by browser-based text-readers).

All imagery should include alternative text (alt texting) that captures the informational value of the image. No text should be embedded in the image for those who have visual acuity issues.

Any videos should involve text transcripts (either embedded into the video or set aside as a stand-alone transcript).

A slideshow’s pace should be set by the user, through a screen-by-screen forwarding or by selective pacing. A user should be able to pause or stop a slideshow at any time. A user should also be able to review the slideshow and to find relevant contents at any time. The pacing of the slideshow should not cause nausea (which may be brought on by sudden visual changes).


The slideshow below was created by Dr. Roger W. McHaney. He created this slideshow for a publishing company; however, the rights have since reverted back to the author. This is a basic slideshow without multimedia elements.

Organizing Data and Information (.ppt version)

Organizing Data and Information (.pdf version)

This next slideshow "Computer Basics and Terminology" includes an audio narration. Dr. McHaney is narrating this.

Computer Basics and Terminology

SlideShare offers some high-quality examples as well.

(Other example slideshows are forthcoming.)

How To

Please see the suggestions in the Main Contents area.

Possible Pitfalls

Slideshows have been criticized for offering too rigid of a form to deliver information. Its overuse in some online courses has resulted in less student engagement. Slideshows serve important purposes in terms of presenting information in an orderly way, but their mis-use may lead to less student attention. It may be helpful to mix up the various types of technologies used. For example, an e-learning sequence may involve

  • A narrated slideshow (with accompanying notes)
  • A video presentation / demonstration / field trip
  • Student discussion questions
  • A short research assignment and student contributions to a shared course wiki

In other words, slideshows may be embedded into a larger learning context that offers a range of ways to interact.

Technologically, embedded visuals in a slideshow are often resized and do not retain a high resolution, so if learners need to analyze imagery for greater detail, it may be helpful to offer those resources as stand-alone separate ones in the learning / course management system or off a website. These images then need to have high resolution, so when users zoom into particular details, the imagery stands out clearly.

Module Post-Test

1. What are electronic slideshows? How are electronic slideshows used in online learning?

2. What are minimal basic elements used in a typical slideshow?

3. What are slideshow “design” conventions?

4. What are strategies used for slideshow sequencing?

5. What are additional multimedia elements that may enhance the experience of a digital slideshow?

6. How may a digital slideshow be made to be more accessible?


Extra Resources

Microsoft PowerPoint

Prezi: A Zooming Presentation Editor

Photo Slideshow Software

Microsoft Photo Story 3 for Windows