Tip #268: A Bogus Cone of Experience and Learning

In a recent Tip (#261), I made the bold statement that, despite the fact that questions have been raised about Edgar Dale’s authorship of the Cone of Experience and Learning and the percentages assigned to the Cone, I still see it as a very effective graphic in just-in-time learning lessons.

I now know that Edgar Dale’s Cone of Experience and Learning may be an effective graphic, but it is not an accurate graphic.

My good friend, Kathleen Cummings, ISIS Training, UW-Madison, has continually been a fantastic source of information about recent training developments. She sent me a link to an interview with Charles Fadel, Global Lead, Education, for Cisco Systems, Inc. Cisco is committed to finding the science that supports effective learning and retention. A key topic of the interview was the result of their research on multimodal learning. A key topic of the interview was the result of their research on multimodal learning. (You can find the interview with Elliott Masie at http://learningwiki.com/Charles+Fadel%3A+Multi-Modal+Learning+(High+Quality.)

To cut to the chase, the Cone of Experience and Learning as we know and love it (We remember: 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we say, and 90% of what we say and do) is myth rather than real science. There is no research evidence to support the elements in the cone or the retention percentages assigned to those elements.

Apparently, Edgar Dale simply intended his Cone of Experience as a visual aid about audio-visual material. He wrote in Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching (New York: Dryden, 1954, page 42):

The cone…is merely a visual aid [original italics] in explaining the interrelationships of the various types of audio-visual materials, as well as their individual ‘positions’ in the learning process… The cone device, then, 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 experience… Exhibits are nearer to the pinnacle of the cone not because they are more difficult than field trips, but only because they provide a more abstract experience. (An abstraction is not necessarily difficult. All words, whether used by little children or by mature adults, are abstractions.)

We would not even recognize his actual Cone of Experience! From top to bottom, it has eleven different layers: (1) Verbal Symbols; (2) Visual Symbols; (3) Recordings, Radio and Still Pictures; (4) Motion Pictures; (5) Educational Television; (6) Exhibits; (7) Study Trips; (8) Demonstrations; (9) Dramatized Experiences; (10) Contrived Experiences; and (11) Direct Purposeful Experiences.

Despite this, I still submit that the now infamous Cone of Experience and Learning is a very useful graphic when trying to convince non-training ‘subject matter experts and managers that more interactive training methods are more effective than straight lecture with PowerPoint. (This admittedly reflects an ‘ends justifies the means’ philosophy.)

However, as trainers, you need to know that there are real issues with Edgar Dale’s Cone of Learning that are directly tied to Cognitive Load Theory!! Imagine that!

If you don’t believe the amazing coincidence between this topic and Cognitive Load Theory, you can Google to find the 24-page White Paper titled: Multimodal Learning Through Media: What the Research Says, which reports the research conducted by Metiri Group for Cisco. Or you can ask me to send you a copy of the White Paper. Or, you can just wait until I give you the abbreviated version in the upcoming Tips!

Next week, we will continue our discussion about multimodal learning by looking at the research-supported fact that doing is not always more efficient than seeing, and seeing is not always more effective than reading.

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