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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.

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