Learning Effectively: Dale's Cone of Experience (Pyramid of Learning)

Knowledge and Intangibles Management


Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

Learning Effectively: Dale's Cone of Experience (Pyramid of Learning)

🔥NEW Confucius (550 BC, Chinese philosopher) taught mankind:

"I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand."

Perhaps this pearl of wisdom inspired Edgar Dale in 1947 to conceive his "Cone of Experience", later referred to as the "Pyramid of Learning".

The Cone of Experience (Dale)

The Cone is a visual model composed of 11 layers of experiences/ways of learning. It is starting with "Direct, Purposeful Experiences" at the bottom of the cone and becoming more and more abstract as it reaches "Verbal Symbols" at the peak of the cone. On the right is a good, early interpretation by Edward Counts, Jr. of the Dale's Cone of Experience that oddly shows only 10 layers instead of 11. For the original Cone, see further below.

The Cone reflects the average retention rate for various methods of teaching and learning. The further you progress down the cone, the greater the segment and the greater the learning and the more information is likely to be retained.
According to Dale, the arrangement in the Cone is not based on its difficulty, but rather on abstraction (or concreteness) and on the kind and number of senses that are involved.

The exact 11 original experiences as described by Dale in 1947 were:
  • Verbal Symbols (words, text)(least effective)
  • Visual Symbols (pictures)
  • Recordings, Radio (audio), Still Pictures (photos)
  • Motion Pictures (film)
  • Educational Television
  • Exhibits
  • Study Trips
  • Demonstrations
  • Dramatic Experiences (acting, role playing)
  • Contrived Experiences (cases, models, simulations)
  • Direct Purposeful Experiences (action learning)(most effective)

According to Dale, the less abstraction and the more senses are involved, the more meaningful and deep the learning will be. Note that the experiences in each stage can be interrelated and mixed to foster even more meaningful learning.

The Pyramid of Learning

Over time, the ideas behind the Cone and the Learning Pyramid and their graphical representation were improved to reflect new thinking and technological developments. Here's a particularly good graphic.
Of course, the percentages in the picture are only indicative, definitely not exact, and not mentioned by Dale. Dale indeed stated that the Cone is not offered as a perfect or flawless picture and is not to be used literally.
Instead, the Cone was designed as a visual aid. The aim of the model was to help explain the interrelationships of the various types of audio-visual materials. The model also does show their individual 'positions' and relevance in learning processes.

Key Takeaways from the Learning Pyramid

There are at least 3 main lessons you can learn from the Learning Pyramid model:
  1. There is a certain approximate order in the effectiveness/efficiency of learning (and teaching) methods:
    • Listening (to lectures) and Reading (text) are least effective.
    • Discussing with others, Practicing and Teaching others are a lot more effective.
  2. Very effective is the combination of the various learning tools and audiovisual methods. Remember this whether you are a teacher or a manager communicating important things to your workforce.
  3. Most effective is learning in a direct, (inter)active, purposeful way.
💡It's interesting to compare the above 3 things with What people think of 12manage.
💡Participate actively in our forum discussions. This will speed up your learning about management considerably.

Dale E. (1947) "Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching", The Dryden Press.


Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

The Original 1946/1947 Picture of Dale's Cone of Experience

By the way I'd like to include the exact original 1946/1947 picture of The Cone of Experience as per... Sign up


Don't Focus All Learning on Direct Purposeful Experiences

Must all teaching and learning move towards the base of the cone? According to Dale (1969) this is ... Sign up


Individual Learning Styles and Preferences

I'd like to add some info about individually preferred learning styles. Dale focused on explaining w... Sign up

Melchiorre Calabrese
Business Consultant, Italy

The Cone of Dale and the Best Ways of Teaching

I don't think we can be categorical on this subject. It all depends on two factors: 1. The object o... Sign up

Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

The How and Use of Learning

A couple of factors strike me in this topic. The cone indicates methods and media but presumably th... Sign up

Jaap de Jonge
Editor, Netherlands

How and When People Learn in the Best Way

@Maurice Hogarth: Thank you for your valuable ideas. Indeed as per your example children are incredi... Sign up

Maurice Hogarth
Consultant, United Kingdom

Remembering and Memorising

@Jaap de Jonge: take your point re "remembering". I was thinking of the (paraphrased) point made (I... Sign up


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