How to distinguish a knowledge from pseudo-knowledge? Why are we falling into educational traps of effective learning pyramids which in fact have little to do with effective learning? How to search and choose the source of knowledge online and to verify information? Today we are taking up the subject which disturb dreams of experienced teachers, educators, psychopedagogists and educational trainers.

Cliff Notes version: don’t climb ‘Learning Pyramid! Why? Read our article and enjoy it!


About pyramids, cones and other shapes

It’s good to start with already legendary concept which is a queen of all trainings’ introductions. Also known as the specific educational axiom which is willingly published by schools, universities, preschools or training companies. What’s more, it became a basic link of different kinds of games, exercises and other methods of training groups’ activation what frequently causes paradoxes, but those we will discuss it later. What are we talking about? About ‘Learning Pyramid’, that is a concept which is one of the largest problems disturbing an educational system. It contains the plenty of data versions, has a lot of names (Dale’s Cone, Remembering Pyramid, Triangle of Teaching, Effectiveness Pyramid (sic!), Experience’s Cone) and many authors who modify it according to their needs.

What’s the big deal? After all the first contact with this concept is sensational – it is a simple, clear and understandable scheme to everyone. Well, the big deal is about the inaccuracy, distortions and unsupported contents. It is supposed to result from the concept, how the form of the transmission of information influences remembering them. The diversification of nomenclature and authors causes the quite big confusion in levels of the concept, their percent of the retention and defining itself, e.g. in one version the level of the vision includes 15% and in other 50%.

Author of the book ‘Psychopedagogiczne mity’, Tomasz Garstka, whose research we will discuss soon, mentioned that Edgar Dale had dealt with a field of how to use audiovisual materials in the educational process as well as what manners of the processing information differ at using methods of handing over in of knowledge (from traditional to abstract). Thanks to his deliberations a myth arose – Dale’s Cone which waited to get plenty of copies with assigned percents, although in the initial concept they weren’t mentioned!

How does ‘Learning Pyramid’ look like? 

  1. 10% – this we remember of what we read (schoolbook, book).
  2. 20% – this we remember of what we hear (lecture).
  3. 30% – this we remember of what we see (pictures, paintings).
  4. 50% – this we remember of what we see and hear (film).
  5. 70% – this we remember of what we say (debate).
  6. 90% – this we remember of what we say and do (practical activities, exercises, simulations).

Dale’s Cone – a lot of doubts

Garstka excellently shatters the myths: Dale thought that we should use all experience methods. He noticed that recognizing education with experience as the only right method can lead to stopping the process of knowledge generalization’. Moreover he pays our attention to the comment of the researcher from Pennsylvania State University: ‘Current applying and advertising Dale’s Cone with percents […] as the paradigm of learning is ethically wrong and it reflects, that they only have little awareness of the existence of corresponding literature in the field of planned design of environment for effective teaching’. Hurts! He also shows a source which brightly emphasizes, that reading isn’t only an effective method of teaching/learning, but this is also main foundation for becoming a person who learns for entire life. Checkmate!

It is hard to disagree with these conclusions. Unfortunately a ‘pseudo-knowledge’ based on a percents from each levels of Dale’s Cone is being repeatedly handed over during educational trainings. We have an impression that educational coaches unwittingly use the Pyramid, promoting false information in the process. It alarms us, at least it should. We recommend solid research of content, before it will hit others.

Question marks centre

We decided to take apart absurd data from Dale’s Cone which are often handed over worldwide during trainings by lecturers for even a few thousand PLN, leaving the plenty of rhetorical questions in the space. So… we remember 90% of what we do. Really? What does ‘to do something by oneself’ and mean and how to do it? Will doing some activity incorrectly influence remembering well or just the opposite? Can we count on feedback? From who and in what way? Where does the belief that contents which we will remember, will result from ‘doing something’ rather than from feedback come from? In what way should we handle with stress? All right, a chance of acquiring sure competence from performing some activities exists – we won’t learn how to swim from the book after all. Unfortunately it isn’t regarding the entire spectrum of remaining areas. What’s more, we don’t know:

  1. What does specifically 90% and 20% mean?
  2. In what way ‘watching’ and ‘reading’ was diversified (we must see to read)?
  3. What does specifically a discussion mean? If two people talk about content they both learn about – are they discussing? We remember 50% information of discussion. Of what specifically? Words? If yes – whose? Ours? Someone’s? It’s ‘listening’ yet, isn’t it? 
  4. How was better remembering while listening to the lecture than reading the same material measured?

Additionally, we don’t know what ‘remembering’ really is in Dale’s Cone. There is no description of the concept which explains, what ‘remembering’ is and what specifically we remember. We don’t know whether individual levels of Pyramid cause, that information isn’t acquired by the recipient, or perhaps something disturbs while doing it. Perhaps it is a completely different problem, e.g. of the concentration or attention?

Time for the most relevant aspect: how was it researched? What groups were compared? Where is methodology (which stores de facto seem impossible to use)? All materials would have to match to each other with contents and be introduced to individual groups and remembered with various methods. Impossible exists! Especially that values in Dale’s Cone are equal and accidental: 10%, 50%, 90% etc.

We don’t like to leave you without answers, but we don’t find any. They aren’t out there. They don’t exist. Even Dale doesn’t know them and Pyramid/Cone are simply a nonsense. Very harmful indeed.

Still so many people are into the mythical Dale’s Cone, handling over false unsupported data with no research. Why? Why did nobody tempted to analyze this theory? Lack of time for verification? Perhaps. Let’s not look for abbreviations. Let’s think. Let’s check and verify. In this way we can be sure that we deal with honest information.

And you? Do you know ‘Learning Pyramid’? What do you think about it?