Cone of Experience – Dale

Dale’s Cone of Experience

The Cone of Experience is a visual model meant to summarise Dale’s classification system for the varied types of mediated learning experiences.

Please read carefully – as all is not as it first seems!

Dale's Cone of Experience - (Audio visual methods in teaching 1957)

The original labels for Dale’s ten categories in the Cone of Experience were:

  1. Direct, Purposeful Experiences
  2. Contrived Experiences
  3. Dramatic Participation
  4. Demonstrations
  5. Field Trips
  6. Exhibits
  7. Motion Pictures
  8. Radio, Recordings, Still Pictures
  9. Visual Symbols and
  10. Verbal Symbols

When Dale researched learning and teaching methods he found that much of what we found to be true of direct and indirect (and of concrete and abstract) experience could be summarised in a pyramid or ‘pictorial device’ Dales called ‘the Cone of Experience’. In his book ‘Audio visual methods in teaching’ – 1957, he stated that the cone was not offered as a perfect or mechanically flawless picture to be taken absolutely literally. It was merely designed as a visual aid to help explain the interrelationships of the various types of audio-visual materials, as well as their individual ‘positions’ in the learning process.

Dale points out that it would be a dangerous mistake to regard the bands on the cone as rigid, inflexible divisions.

He said “The cone device is a visual metaphor of learning experiences, in which the various types of audio-visual materials are arranged in the order of increasing abstractness as one proceeds from direct experiences”

People Remember

It is said that people remember:

  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 50% of what they see and hear
  • 70% of what they write and say
  • 90% of what they say as they do

The percentages –> 10% of what they read 20% of what they hear 30% of what they see 50% of what they hear and see 70% of what they say or write 90% of what they say as they do a thing are not from Dale. The bogus percentages appear to have been first published by an employee of Mobil Oil Company in 1967, writing in the magazine “Film and Audio-Visual Communications”.

These percentages have since been discredited. THEY ARE FICTION! This is one of the great training/ people development myths.

Old Chinese proverb

“What I hear, I forget;
What I see, I remember;
What I do, I understand.”

Stands true – but only again as a saying, and NOT as statistical fact.


While Dale’s work is valuable as a metaphor (as he had originally designed it) the way a concept or model has been turned into fact is disturbing. How many of us and our learning believe these magic percentages to be fact?

Dale’s Cone of Experience a fraud?

No – not as he originally write it – but yes when ‘adapted’ by individuals without due consideration or backup research.

The Learning Pyramid


In a similar vein to Dale’s Cone of experience is the ‘Learning Pyramid’ from “National Training Laboratories in Bethel Maine”, where retention rates are shown as percentage rates against delivery techniques. There is a lot of similarity between the two models – the difference is that this appears to be a complete hoax.

(Fictitious) research from the National Training Laboratories in Bethel Maine summarises the impact different teaching strategies have on learning retention rates


Quite where these numbers come from is a mystery to many, and indeed it is difficult to understand what 90% retention actually means… 90% of what for how long? As a model it looks and on first thought appears to be credible, however as many of us will know some people have almost 100% retention for a considerable period of time if they read something, others teach others from a structure or procedure which they themselves do not understand!


** NOTE the NTL – National Training Laboratories has no record of any such research, and is widely attributed to them. This is also fiction! – unless you know otherwise!


The NUMBERS on the many quoted Dale’s Cone of Experience models and articles and the learning pyramid are models without any demonstrable research and should not be used as fact. Indeed dale never had any figures on his work – it was purely illustrative.

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