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No, The “Cone Of Experience” Is Not “Research-Based” & Yes, Some People Debunking It Have Way Too Much Time On Their Hands


We’ve all heard about or seen the perspective of the so-called “Dale’s Cone of Experience” that says:

“We learn 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we say or write…..[and] 90% of what we teach.”

I had originally heard that it was developed by William Glasser, but then learned from his organization that, though he had described it as an accurate reflection of his own experience and sometimes described it as such, he did not originate it nor would he vouch for specific research backing it up.

A few years ago, while searching online, I discovered that, in fact, there wasn’t research specifically supporting those percentages.

Now, a group of people who have apparently been making a major effort over the years to point this fact out have written four articles documenting how they say it’s been misused over the years.


I’m sure they’re right about the inaccuracy of the specific percentages, and I agree we should throw out the Cone. But there is an enormous quantity of research that supports the idea that constructivism is substantially more effective than lecture or direct instruction for student learning. Here are links that research:

The Best Posts Questioning If Direct Instruction Is “Clearly Superior”

The Best Research Demonstrating That Lectures Are Not The Best Instructional Strategy

“What I Cannot Create, I Do Not Understand”

Important Study: “Expecting to teach enhances learning, recall”

So, sure, spend a little time stomping on the Cone if you feel like it. But spend a whole lot more time conveying and acting on its research-supported main message — that “learning by doing” is the way to go…

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Hey, Larry, I have to admit, I’m a little puzzled at your flippant attitude about this. Dale’s Cone of Experience has been cited in some pretty significant research works as some sort of research-grounded source, when Dale used no actual research to create the cone and arbitrarily made up the percentages. It was largely intuitive. The issue isn’t whether or not the Cone conveys generally accurate principles, it’s the authority that continues to be given to it, particularly when it appears in a bibliography. When a researcher or speaker or whomever cites Dale’s Cone as a scholarly source, it brings the authority of any other sources cited into question. Maybe it’s my mindset because I’m writing a dissertation right now, but this is kind of a very big deal in my book.

    • Randy,

      I agree, as I said in the post, that the Cone’s lack of research support should be pointed out. I just think that after you point that out, little is gained by piling it on. Point it out, and then, I believe, showing the research support for its basic perspective is a more productive use of everybody’s time.


  2. Larry,

    But what if real research leads to a different conclusion? If you conduct research in order to support intuition, you don’t end up with good data because non-supportive information is ignored. That may be what Randy was getting at.

  3. Your cherrypicking research that supports your belief. What research actually shows is that construvist teaching is a bad idea for novices, but works for learners who have reached a certain level of proficiency.

  4. Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, (Kirschner, Sweller, Clark)

    Albanese, M., & Mitchell, S. (1993). Problem-based learning: A review of the literature on its outcomes and implementation issues. Academic Medi- cine, 68, 52–81.

    Anthony, W. S. (1973). Learning to discover rules by discovery. Journal of Educational Psychology, 64, 325–328.

    Ausubel, D. P. (1964). Some psychological and educational limitations of learning by discovery. The Arithmetic Teacher, 11, 290–302.

    Berkson, L. (1993). Problem-based learning: Have the expectations been met? Academic Medicine, 68(Suppl.), S79–S88.

    Colliver, J. A. (2000). Effectiveness of problem-based learning curricula: Research and theory. Academic Medicine, 75, 259–266.

    Cooper, G., & Sweller, J. (1987). The effects of schema acquisition and rule automation on mathematical problem-solving transfer. Journal of Educa- tional Psychology, 79, 347–362.

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