Training Industry Top Leadership Training Company

#TrueOrFalse: The Cone of Experience

By Udeet Datta & Sam Marquez

Dale’s Cone of Experience serves as a visual learning and development model that is composed of 11 stages and represents the interrelationships between the different types of Audio and Video media and their effects on the learning process. Simply put, the Cone of Experience states that we absorb:

  • 10% of what we learn.
  • 20% of what we hear.
  • 30% of what we see.
  • 50% of what we see and hear.
  • 70% of what we say.
  • 90% of what we say and do.

Here is a visual that illustrates this a little better:

Developed and revised by Bruce Hyland from material by Edgar Dale

This model is attributed to Edgar Dale (Dale, E. 1495), an early researcher in the field of visual learning.

The Verdict? FALSE

The research says:

  • The exact origins of the percentage mentioned above are unknown as they were non-existent within Dale’s original formulation of the cone. In fact, the original formulation of this cone did not mean to emphasize retention. The focus was more toward abstraction. The idea is as you move upwards within the cone, experiences become more abstract. No implication whatsoever is evident that these higher level abstractions are even related to the possibility of retention, and certainly not with the precision implied by the oft-quoted percentages.
  • The amount a person learns varies tremendously and is dependent on content, context and learning objective. Studies on learning retention demonstrate that people forget between 0% and 94% (Thalheimer, W., 2010). While instructional modes remain relevant, there is no evidence that the relationship between instructional tactics and retention is nearly as clear or predicable as indicated by the Cone of Experience. Moreover, other factors such as the learner’s previous experience or education as well as use of reinforcement technique can significantly impact the long-term retention of information. Hence, we do have to be aware of any model that provides such clear-cut formulations.

So there you have it. What are your thoughts on the matter? Feel free to comment here or on our post in Facebook or Linkedin. We look forward to hearing your thoughts/arguments/opinions on the matter.


 Dale, E. (1954). Audio-visual methods in teaching. New York: Dryden. p. 42

Thalheimer, W. (2010, April). How Much Do People Forget? Retrieved July 7, 2019, from https://www.worklearning.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/How-much-do-people-forget-v12-14-2010.pdf

Leave a Comment