Making Our Presentations More Appealing

The effectiveness of a lecture presentation needs to take into account the audience. It is very helpful for an instructor to know beforehand the prior knowledge his or her students have. This is apparently important not only in deciding the pace and content of the lecture, but also in adding embellishment to visual aids or slides, which are known to enhance learning by heightened engagement. Obviously, when the intellectual curiosity or motivation of the audience is not in question, as in the case of an "expert" audience, unnecessary decorations can be detrimental. However, within basic education, increasing the engagement of students by using enticing images can be facilitative. One way to engage young learners, for instance, is to use human like or anthropomorphic images. After all, it seems natural for us to add a human touch to objects. Of course, we may likewise cause distraction so one important question to ask is how much is too much.

There is a recent study scheduled to be published in the Journal of Educational Psychology which addresses this question. And the answer the researchers found depends on the audience. Young learners (Grades 5 and 6) benefit the most with images that have a medium level of anthropomorhism while older students (high school) learn most efficiently with images that have a high level of anthropomorhism. The different degrees of human like features are illustrated in the following images on slides that are used for teaching blood platelets:

Above copied from
Schneider, S., Häßler, A., Habermeyer, T., Beege, M., & Rey, G. D. (2018, March 29). The More Human, the Higher the Performance? Examining the Effects of Anthropomorphism on Learning With Media. Journal of Educational Psychology. Advance online publication.

Adding decorations to figures increases the cognitive load on a learner which can be detrimental to learning. This apparently is the case for young learners who have no prior knowledge on this subject. Having a medium level makes the figure attractive enough to motivate students but without overloading. With young high school students (Grades 8 and 9), high anthropomorphism is required to make a significant difference in learning outcomes. And for senior high school students (Grades 11 and up), anthropomorphism still helps but there is no significant difference between high and medium levels of anthropomorphism.

What happens with very young children seems easily explained by balancing aesthetics with cognitive load. Young learners are very susceptible to distraction so it it important not to overdo the embellishment. For young high school students, the highest level of anthropomorphism works best. But as students get older, there are no more additional benefits by adding more to an image. One can perhaps extrapolate this to even older students (college and graduate school). At this stage, students may begin to view these drawings as simply childish.