When we work with teachers to build online content, one thing that occasionally happens is that a teacher will start loading the course with PowerPoints and PDFs. While this might work if you are using the course as a storage place for materials, they generally make for weak stand-alone content.
The general rule in web design is to use PDFs in two circumstances. First off, no one likes to click on PDFs and will only do so if you force them, so PDFs are really useful if you have to put something on a website but you don’t want anyone to actually READ it. So if you have a written report of that time in college when you serenaded your whole dormitory at three in the morning after a night of celebrating the end of finals, and you need to put in online, make a PDF of it and stick it on your website! Not that I would know, but you get the idea. Likewise, if you’ve got something that you have to put in a course, but don’t want the students to see, put it in a PDF. No one will ever know what it says, and your shady past will be safe. Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon would have had much less controversial presidencies if they knew of the power of PDFs to hide information in plain sight.
The other, more legitimate use, is when the user should print the document for a specific, non-digital task. In Japanese, for example, practicing motor skills for writing the characters is helpful, so PDFs for writing practice are a good idea. So I wouldn’t go so far as to say not to use PDFs, but in the majority of cases information in a PDF can be presented in a much better way.
I dislike PowerPoints even more. PowerPoint was made to replace a slide projector, which in itself is an ancient technology. So from a conceptual standpoint, PowerPoint was made to retrofit an analog tool onto a digital medium. It was flawed from the start, and that was ages ago. It’s also a very passive teaching tool. Users generally sit and watch or listen (or stab themselves with pencils to stay awake). PowerPoints in an online course are even more lifeless. I hear this countered with the fact that teachers will often ask students to MAKE PowerPoints, which supposedly justifies the whole thing because now it an ACTIVITY and the students are DOING something. It’s like disagreeing with arms proliferation, but asking students to make AK-47s because building something is good for them. Sure, making a PowerPoint is more active, but I fail to see the benefit in teaching students to make something that is in essence about as exciting to watch as The Waltons. It’s just compounding the problem, people!
If you doubt me, just ask yourself this: When was the last time you left a PowerPoint presentation and said to yourself, “WOW! That was an AWESOME PowerPoint! I wish I could SEE THAT AGAIN!” Seriously, I know you’re sitting there, trying frantically to think of a really good PowerPoint you’ve seen, and you’re saying, “I’ve seen hundreds of PowerPoints! There must be ONE that I liked!” But you can’t think of one, can you? Not one, right? See? That’s because there is no such thing as a really good, educational PowerPoint. It’s like Sasquatch, Alien Abduction, or finding the other sock after it goes missing in the laundry. It just doesn’t happen. It’s a flawed tool that should be put in the same place we put those big yellow phone books that telephone companies keep bringing to my house every year.