Whatever you call it, it’s probably not what you expected. Dale Cone of Experience, Cone of Learning or the Learning Pyramid is not how most books and sites quote it. The origins of this stuff have been distorted over time. Or did they really exist, and was it just a figment of someones imagination? The reality of course is that its a mix. dales did develop a cone of experience, but it had no numbers and was a metaphor not a piece of research. as for the National Training Laboratory in Maine and the learning pyramid, well that is a different story.
Dale Cone of Experience
The Dale Cone of Experience is a visual model meant to summarise Dale’s classification system for the varied types of mediated learning experiences.
The original labels for Dale’s ten categories are: Direct, Purposeful Experiences; Contrived Experiences; Dramatic Participation; Demonstrations; Field Trips; Exhibits; Motion Pictures; Radio; Recordings; Still Pictures; Visual Symbols; and 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”
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 too rounded and “perfect” to be real.
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.
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.
Do we really remember 90% of what we experience? If so why do we often lose our keys or forget where we last had our cell phone?
Note – 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?
Is Dale’s Cone of Experience a fraud?
No – not as Dale originally write it. The Dale Cone of Experience was supposed to be a metaphor not a set of facts – but yes when ‘adapted’ by individuals without due consideration or backup research.
The Learning Pyramid – source National Training Laboratories
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.
Quite where these numbers come from is a mystery to many. It is NOT from the national Training Laboratories Bethel, Maine, that is for sure.
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!
One recent example quoted as coming from “National Training Laboratories” is in colour. In the late 1960s when this is reported to be from, colour reproduction in these texts was rare!
Remember – Dale Cone of Experience and Learning Pyramid
The NUMBERS on Dale’s Cone of experience and the learning pyramid are models without any demonstrable research and should not be used as fact.
References for Dale Cone of Experience and Learning Pyramid:
http://www.visualbeing.com/2005/07/08/forget-what-youve-heard-about-remembering/ – link now broken, use the Archive version here
For more information, checkout this excellent summary of the research and an incite to the potential reasons for misinterpretation http://www.indiana.edu/~molpage/Cone%20of%20Experience_text.pdf – link now locked – see the archive version: https://web.archive.org/web/20050306153418/http://www.indiana.edu/~molpage/Cone%20of%20Experience_text.pdf
Latterly this is a great summary of some of the issues – https://davidtjones.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/the-learning-pyramid-true-false-hoax-or-myth/
3M Study in Presentation Magazine
Several sources discussing this topic quote a 1980’s 3M study in Presentations Magazine. A reprint of this article was on the 3M site until 2006 when it was removed (source archive.org – it has since been removed from the Archive) It is currently available http://www.3rd-force.org/meetingnetwork/presentations/pmag_visualsstudy.html – it is replicated below:
Study Shows Just How Much Visuals Increase Persuasiveness
Do you want your audience to remember more of what you say? A recent study by the Management Information Systems Research Center at the University of Minnesota and 3M found that presentations that use visual support are more persuasive than ones that don’t — 43 percent more persuasive, in fact.
The reason? Visual support helps listeners understand abstract concepts. Complex data can be organized and reduced to a graphic, chart or table to make a point clearly and concisely. Furthermore, effective visual support maintains listener interest and increases audience retention of the material being presented. With that in mind, here are four key points to remember when designing visuals for your next presentation.
- Color: Whenever possible, use color in your visuals. Color attracts attention, adds vitality and increases people’s willingness to pay attention to your visuals. Keep your general color scheme and design consistent throughout your presentation. The background color, font style, colors and logo should be the same throughout.
- Simplicity: Visuals should be easy to read and absorb. Follow the “one concept per visual” rule, and try not to use more than three bullets per slide. Consider putting as much text on your slide as you would on a billboard or T-shirt. And always remember to say more than you show.
- Balance: Design your visuals to help your listeners follow their natural tendencies. Words and phrases should read left to right and top to bottom, the way audiences are used to seeing them. Don’t put the title anywhere but at the top. Use arrows and other visual cues to help guide your audience immediately through the visual.
- Evaluation: Step into an audience member’s shoes. When evaluating your visuals before delivering your presentation, ask yourself these questions:
- Is this visual easy to absorb within five to eight seconds (the average adult attention span)?
- Is it clear where the eye should travel and what the listener should look at first?
- Does the visual hold your attention and support a key point in your overall message?
If you answer “yes” to these questions, you will be well on your way to increasing what your audience remembers — and you’ll be 43 percent more persuasive in the process! Source: Information provided by presentation skills training company Decker Communications, 800.523.7039, 415.391.5544, http://web.archive.org/web/20001210132300/http://www.decker.com/.
* Tad Simons
This blog article (Dale – Cone of Experience or Learning Pyramid Theory – Misleading Quotes) Originally written in 2007, published in 2008 – updated 2016 – Dale Cone of experience and The Learning Pyramid – miss understandings or myth?