10% of what we read … is not what we remember

Education is one of the most important drivers of mankind, after oxygen, food, and sex. You would think we took it seriously, as a society. Sadly, we continue to perpetuate insanely stupid myths when it comes to education. Here’s one of those that often annoys me which I was just reminded of:

Seen this graph? Believe it?


Well, you really shouldn’t (see this report on Multimodal Learning through Media, from Cisco)

As it turns out, doing is not always more efficient than seeing, and seeing
is not always more effective than reading. Informed educators understand that the optimum
design depends on the content, context, and the learner.

For example, the bogus percentages on
the cone would suggest that engaging students in collaborative learning in general would result in
higher levels of learning than would a lesson where a student listens to narration or reads text
about the topic. The reality is that, for the novice student engaged in basic skill building such as
learning chemical symbols, individual learning through reading or simple drill and practice might be
the optimal learning design. Yet, for a different learning objective – for instance, understanding
cause and effect of a specific chemical reaction – involving that same student in collaborative
problem-solving with fellow students through a simulation might be the most effective learning

The concept here – that that graph is completely wrong – was pointed out to me more than 10 years ago by my line manager at IBM, who’d done badly at school, and in later life heard how the cone needed to be mapped to different dimensions according to context (the learner themself, the subject at hand, etc), – and discovered that his primary mode of learning, according to basic testing, was to watch other people do stuff. He confirmed that that “50% Watching a demonstration” was for him often more like 95-100% retained – yet (thanks in part to this myth) was rarely offered as an option whenever teaching was happening. Sigh.

4 thoughts on “10% of what we read … is not what we remember

  1. Eric

    I sort of like the learning cone, but I can see that it’s probably because *my* particular context for learning does agree with it’s overall structure. That being said, I know plenty of people who are more “reading” or “watching” focused. One thing I would argue is more universal across most people though is that actually “teaching” others about a subject is the ultimate cement for learning about it yourself, since it forces you to contend with the various different learning modes & contexts of your students, instead of only approaching it from the ones that are most comfortable for you.

  2. Andrew Crystall

    And for added fun?

    Dyslexic people’s (hi!) learning methods tend to be nothing like most people’s. We really do tend to learn better from interactive presentations.

  3. EdW

    This model is based on Edgar Dale’s cone of experience. It never originally had percentages of affectiveness assigned to it. It is meant to serve as a model of experiences that individuals can experience (especially in education and learning situations) from concrete to symbol systems, such as visuals and text, that take the learner to the more abstract.

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