Just Say No (To Providing Class Slides)?

“Please Sir, May I have some More?” Oliver Twist’s request for more porridge was denied with vehemence. Sometimes students’ requests for instructor lecture slides are treated similarly. Should teachers give students their slides before or even after class?

To some faculty this may not even be an issue to question. Many instructors I have spoken to post their slides before class or freely make their slides available. It cuts out the begging and complaining they add. A great read packed with good tips for motivated students from cognitive science (Putnam, Sungkhasettee, & Roediger, 2016) likewise suggests students should ‘obtain slides before class” (p. 655). The published scholarship on teaching and learning tends to advocate otherwise but a multitude of issues abound.

The effect of making slides available on learning will depend on when they are made available, the quality of the slides, how quickly instructors go over slide material in class, the course or even discipline the slides are used in, level of course, how they are handed out, and what the students do with them. No researcher tests even a good subset of these variables in a single study. Great fodder for SoTL here.

Slides themselves vary considerably. Lecture slides can be chockfull of text, ablaze with images, or terse phrases and words providing a framework for oral exposition. Slides may parrot sections of the assigned text or provide brand new material. If you teach statistics or use equations you could argue making the equations available helps students think about what they mean more but even using premade slides (let alone making them available) pales in comparison to creating them in class (e.g., drawing an explanation of the Doppler effect; Fiorella & Mayer, 2016).

Researchers have done some global comparisons and the bulk of the news does not favor making slides available. Students with slides do worse on exams or show no improved learning over students without slides (Marsh & Sink, 2009, Study 1; Noppe, 2007; Worthington & Levasseu, 2016). In perhaps another nail in the coffin of the learning style myth, getting slides did not have differential effects across students with different learning styles (Noppe, 2007). In short, no classroom test of giving students slides showed significant increases in learning.

It is not that providing slides have no documented benefits at all. One lab experiment on learning of physics did show a significant, though infinitesimal, increase in exam scores (Marsh & Sink, Study 2, 2009), although even this effect only held for short answer questions and not on free recall of lecture material. In another study, students who received partial slides (only headings, key terms) did score higher on cumulative final exams than students receiving full slides (all instructor lecture material; Cornelius & Owen-DeSchryver, 2008). Not surprisingly, providing slides is related to students taking less notes but also related to taking less time to prepare for finals (Marsh & Sink, 2009).

Providing students with slides before or after class is easy to do. Yes, it may mean more work for the instructor who may not feel able to make last moment changes for fear that students have already printed them out. Yes, it may lead to environmentally poor practices (think of all the paper from students printing out entire semesters of lectures). Maybe tablet use precludes printing so one issue taken care off. Both these issues would be inconsequential if providing slides helped students learn better.

There is currently little compelling evidence to support the utility of providing students with your lecture slides.

  • Let’s aim to create better slides. The science of learning provides evidence-based strategies for slide creation (see Overson, 2014) that may reduce cognitive load on students.
  • Let’s aim to be more aware of our pace and if students have enough time to process and take notes. When students are forced to be active note takers, they tend to learn better especially if they are taking notes on paper and not laptops (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).
  • Let’s get students to take better notes, pay more attention (less texting perhaps?).

Strikes me that these are the better routes to go.


Cornelius, T. L., & Owen-DeSchryver, J. (2008). Differential effects of full and partial notes on learning outcomes and attendance. Teaching of Psychology, 35, 6–12.

Fiorella, L., & Mayer, R. E. (2016). Effects of observing the instructor draw diagrams on learning from multimedia messages. Journal of Educational Psychology, 108, 528-546.

Marsh E. J., Sink H. E. (2009). Access to handouts of presentation slides during lecture: Consequences for learning. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24, 691–706. doi:10.1002/acp.1579

Noppe, I. C. (2007). PowerPoint presentation handouts and college student learning outcomes. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1(1), Article 9. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2007.010109

Overson, C. (2014). In Benassi V. A., Overson C. E. and Hakala C. M. (Eds.), Applying multimedia principles to slide shows for academic presentation Society for the Teaching of Psychology, Washington, DC.

Putnam, A. L., Sungkhasettee, V. W., & Roediger III, H. L. (2016). Optimizing learning in college: Tips from cognitive psychology. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 11 (5), 652-660. doi:10.1177/17456916166455770

Worthington D. L., Levasseur D. G. (2015). To provide or not to provide course PowerPoint slides? The impact of instructor-provided slides upon student attendance and performance. Computers & Education, 85, 14–22. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2015.02.002

Re posted with permission from the author. Read more here

About the Author

Regan is an active scholar of teaching and learning. A social/personality psychologist by training, he is co-editor of APA's Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology journal, and author/co-author/editor of 14 books. He has published in the American Psychologist and Psychological Review amongst other outlets and runs the Pedagogical Pundit, a blog on teaching and learning. He is passionate about teaching and loves to cook.