Diagrams, infographics and damned lies: beware the jibber-jabberwockies of PowerPoint

9th August 2013 at 19:20

S.H.I.E.L.D. official: What does S.H.I.E.L.D. stand for, Agent Ward?

Grant Ward: Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.

S.H.I.E.L.D. official: And what does that mean to you?

Grant Ward: That someone really wanted our initials to spell out "shield."

From ABC Studios' Agents of Shield, 2013


Right now, while teachers bury themselves in cognitive dissonance and fantasy worlds of perpetual R&R, there are people who are – at this moment – preparing for their return. Planning INSETS and training days, post mortems and battleplans, communicating visions, planning for success and reaching for outstanding every time. There will be blood, and there will be PowerPoints. Oh, there will be PowerPoints.


And in those PowerPoints, and in the handouts that accompany the PowerPoints, there will be diagrams. If you're very unlucky, it might look something like this:





Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Learning Bicycle. I have literally no idea what is going on with the Learning Bicycle, but it gives me hours of amusement on cold nights.


Education seems to attract diagrams and graphics like this. Actually, many fields now do. The language of administration has absorbed popular formal discourse to such a degree that it takes an act of will to remember a time when it wasn't the lingua franca. The Learning Bicycle is a great, if terrifying example of this movement. What does it mean? What does it explain? I've read the book that sustains this graphic like a life support machine, and I'm still not sure.


What is a diagram for? Surely it should do at least this:


1. Illustrate and clarify a point

2. Bring together several abstract ideas into a visually coherent whole, in order to make links explicit

3. Inform

My experience of education, educational seminars, textbooks, presentations and INSETS is that a fourth can often be added:

4. To varnish the anodyne, the incongruous, and the incoherent with the patina of authority

and possibly even

5. To attempt to confuse in order to deter scrutiny.


I really can't see any other reason for the knuckleheaded bozograms that seem to accompany many attempts to persuade. I wonder if some people aren't terrified of speaking their minds, and their truths, plainly, with heart.


Here are a few more of my favourites. People send them to me, like I'm some kind of curator of guff. Click on the images to see them full size...



The Archipelago of Learning: The rocks of 'couldn't give a monkeys'.


The Pencil Metaphor...



 A 'learning design chart'...


 'Blended learning'