Dale’s Cone of Experience is a model that incorporates several theories related to instructional design and learning processes.  During the 1960s, Edgar Dale theorized that learners retain more information by what they “do” as opposed to what is “heard”, “read” or “observed”.  His research led to the development of the Cone of Experience. The Cone was originally developed in 1946 and was intended as a way to describe various learning experiences. Essentially, the Cone shows the progression of experiences from the most concrete (at the bottom of the cone) to the most abstract (at the top of the cone).

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’. 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.

 It is important to note that Dale never intended the Cone to depict a value judgment of experiences; in other words, his argument was not that more concrete experiences were better than more abstract ones. Dale believed that any and all of the approaches could and should be used, depending on the needs of the learner.



Dr. Bilash Bio argues that the figure above shows what students will be able to do at each level of the Cone (the learning outcomes they will be able to achieve) relative to the type of activity they are doing (reading, hearing, viewing images, etc.). The numerical figures on the left side of the image, what people will generally remember indicate that practical, hands-on experience in a real-life context will allow students to remember best what they do. Again, it is important to remember that this doesn’t mean reading and listening are not valuable learning experiences, simply that “doing the real thing” can lead to the retention of the largest amount of information. This is in part because those experiences near the bottom of the Cone, closer to and including real-world experiences, make use of more of our senses; it is believed that the more senses that are used, the greater our ability to learn from and remember an event or experience.

“It has been well said that “teaching” means “causing to learn.” Nothing has been given until it has been taken; nothing has been taught until it has been learnt. Teaching is more than the efficient delivery of thoroughly prepared lectures, and a clear realisation of this simple fact will save many beginners in the art of teaching from much disappointment.” (Hughes 1959 ) This clearly points us to the fact that until a theory or concept you are relaying to a pupil or a group of pupils have been understood, you have not actually taught.

“Teaching is the process by which the teacher brings the learner and the subject together. Therefore, there are three focal points in teaching- the teacher, the learner and the subject. The entire process of teaching can be reduced to something simple enough to be both understandable and useful. This reduction is provided in the form of teaching model. This model consists of the teacher, the student, the subject, teacher preparation and the teaching process.” Annoh 2003

Hughes argues that knowledge of how children learn is the first essential for success in teaching. The teacher helps children in school to develop intellect, character, skill, taste and sociability. We teach them knowledge, habits, ideals, skills, attitudes, manners. By this statement, teachers help them to adjust themselves to their environments- spiritual, social and material. This view of education as adjustment puts us, as teachers, in our proper position. We are subsidiary to the process of learning, for in this process there are two factors- a child on the one hand and his world on the other. The teacher’s function is to bring the two into contact, to help to put them en rapport.

In some respects teaching is like lighting a fire. We bring heat to paper to enable it to start combining with the oxygen in its environment. In the classroom our function is similar; we bring to bear various teaching devices with a view to producing a “flash” between each child and some part of his environment. The essential activity is not the adjustment of child to teacher but of child to world.

Adamson affirms this by saying; the whole business is between the individual and his worlds, and the teacher is outside it, external to it. He may facilitate it, turning his attention to one or other member of the wedded pair. He may approach the individual, and his avenues of approach will be one or other of the instincts or emotional dispositions which are the prime movers of mental life. But whether he tries subject or object or both together he remains outside the process, a spectator, a manipulator, perhaps a disturber; he is never in it and of it. Within that mysterious synthetic activity through which the individual is at once appropriating and contributing to his environment, forming and being formed by it… the teacher has neither place nor part. For instance, when we teach children the geometry of the circle, that is, when we enable children to learn it, we do not instill into them a fraction of our own knowledge; we put them en rapport with geometric facts about circles. We arrange and present certain data; we do this in ways that excite the children’s interests; their minds then play with these data and as they do so flashes of illumination, or at least glows of dim understanding, are produced. If this does not happen, the children have not learnt the lesson we set out to teach them.

Hughes continues that, a growing appreciation of the subsidiary nature of the teacher’s function has led many reformers to belittle the value of teaching. Children, we are told, must be left free to express themselves; they must discover knowledge for themselves; the only true education is self –education. Teachers, we are told, must stand aside; they must talk less, explain less, direct less, and correct less. All this is a very natural and a very necessary reaction against much traditional classroom practice. It must be emphasized, however, that teachers are not as superfluous as some enthusiasts suggest; teaching is not as undesirable as it is sometimes represented to be. It is true that children are by nature curious, assertive and creative, but they are also submissive, imitative and ready to appeal for help. It follows, therefore, that we are not necessarily working contrary to child nature when we teach. We must , however, know when to teach and when to stand aside, when to explain and when to leave children to make discoveries, when to demonstrate and when to leave children free to experiment , when to require children to listen and when to give them scope for free expression. No simple rule can be formulated on this matter; teaching is an art and correct procedure in given circumstances depend upon the whole situation.

We can realize that without understanding, teaching because ineffective and it misses it purpose. This means that the appropriate models needed to reach learners at the appropriate time must be an essential avenue to employ. The teacher’s work is that of a disturber or a facilitator that brings the learner to the subject or object (world/environment). This brings to bear what William Arthur Ward said; “the mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”

Looking at Dale’s cone of Experience, one can realize that there can be numbers of model that can be used by the teacher to reach the learner depending on the learners need. From the top, the models are in their abstract nature although not useless; teachers bring the world to the learner by the use of what they read, hear, view among others. Considering effective teaching in the eyes of what Hughes and Adamson said earlier in this discourse, “the only true education is self education” where the learner is allowed to discover knowledge for themselves with some guide. Self expression propels effective teaching however the models from the top of Dale’s cone of Experience do not allow that. I’m not surprised Dale allocated lesser percentages to those models. There is a Chinese adage that goes “Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.” This is in line with Dale’s cone of Experience because at the bottom of the cone where the greater percentages were allocated, the model allows the learner to get involved with the subject under consideration.

“I am more interested in arousing enthusiasm in kids than in teaching the facts. The facts may change, but that enthusiasm for exploring the world will remain with them the rest of their lives” Seymour Simon. This saying is just appropriate and it brings both Dale’s cone of experience which encourages involving the learner in the learning process and effective teaching which want the teacher to do the facilitation while the learner expresses themselves in line. Albert Einstein said this many years ago “I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn”. For effective teaching to be realized, the learner must understand by getting involved while the teacher provides the condition. In line with effective teaching that encourages self expression, Galileo said “You cannot teach a man anything, you can only help him find it within himself” and Dave Cullen continues by saying “You can’t really teach a kid anything; you can only show him the way and motivate him to learn it himself.”

The sensory organs must be awakening in other for retention and understanding to take place. Dale’s cone of Experience provides teaching and learning models that allows teachers to understand how to increase the retention rate of learners by involving the learner. This means that while the learner participate and get involved in the learning process by expression, they awaken the sensory organs. This cone of Experience goes hand in hand with Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences which says that you can’t reach learners with a style of learning but several. The several styles therefore helps awaken the sensory organs of each learner and helps him or her achieve self education.

This further explains the necessity of education through art. When children are taught by the use of art, they are allowed to express themselves and awaken the sensory organs. With art, most complex theories can be understood by learners since they are involved with the process. Teachers must therefore understand Dale’s cone of experience in order to increase retention and understanding since this means effective teaching.



About mantekofi

B.A Publishing Studies, KNUST Mphil Art Education, KNUST
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  2. Alister Fraser says:

    I fully agree with the thoughts of Mr. Dale’s cone since indeed children will retain more if they are fully involved in what ever is being done or discovered and their participation will grasp more of their attention and will he them to remember more.

  3. sharrock67 says:

    Reblogged this on To Talk Like This and Act Like That and commented:
    There are many questions about the research the Cone of Experience is based on. In my mind, I have dismissed it as invalid…until research supports it. I am curious though. I wonder what people believe. Has anyone ever reproduced his research or explored instructional activities for impact, retention, and transferability?

  4. sharrock67 says:

    There are a few people questioning its validity. This blogger makes some good points here: http://www.willatworklearning.com/2006/05/people_remember.html.

  5. Dominique says:

    This is an amazing post.

  6. jake cabales says:

    thank you so much sir edgar dale for your contribution on how we prioritize our task in teaching.I am an education student, and you really helps a lot.

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