Mythbuster… do people really only retain 20% of what they hear?

In this short blog post we’re doing our second mythbusters session! Let’s not just accept something because it’s been said so many times that most people believe it. We’re going to delve deeper and explore the facts. So, let’s explore the cone of learning and the suggestion that people only retain 20% of what they hear, compared with 90% of what they do!

Most people have heard some kind of quote around how much information people retain from reading, hearing, and doing; and it all sounds quite plausible. You might have seen the cone of learning or the cone of experience, or the learning pyramid – which all refer to the same principle. And you might have thought – fair enough – as an enabler of change I need to work on helping people to read, discuss and do, as this is the ultimate in helping people retain information.

This cone was originally developed by Edgar Dale back in 1946. He was an American educator who developed the cone as part of his book on how to incorporate audio-visual materials into the classroom learning experience. However Dale did not include any numbers on his cone and warned his readers not to take the cone too literally! 

Unfortunately, someone at sometime, decided to add some numbers to this diagram – perhaps to make it more interesting.

In fact there is no research that supports the claim that people only remember a certain percentage of anything they have learnt. And secondly, as some researchers who wrote an article debunking this said, all the numbers are divisible by 5 or 10 and results are rarely that neat! 

Over the years, beginning in 1971, there have been attempts to debunk this myth. The problem though, is that people seem determined to use the false information! In fact there are several excellent papers outlining the details of why this is indeed a myth, and as usual, we’ll provide links to these below. 

Well, you’ve read our thoughts, now we’d like to hear yours! Add a comment below and tell us if there’s something you’d like us to mythbust! We don’t want this to be just a one-way conversation – join in by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us! 

Resources

Mythical retention data and the corrupted cone: https://www.worklearning.com/2015/01/05/mythical-retention-data-the-corrupted-cone/ 

The corrupted cone of experience: https://sites.google.com/site/thecorruptedconeoflearning/home

Edgar Dale (1946). Audio-visual methods in teaching. Dryden Press, 1946. 534 pages

Subramony, D., Molenda, M., Betrus, A., and Thalheimer, W. (2014). The Mythical Retention Chart and the Corruption of Dale’s Cone of Experience. Educational Technology, Nov/Dec 2014, 54(6), 6-16.

Subramony, D., Molenda, M., Betrus, A., and Thalheimer, W. (2014). Previous Attempts to Debunk the Mythical Retention Chart and Corrupted Dale’s Cone. Educational Technology, Nov/Dec 2014, 54(6), 17-21.

Subramony, D., Molenda, M., Betrus, A., and Thalheimer, W. (2014). The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: A Bibliographic Essay on the Corrupted Cone. Educational Technology, Nov/Dec 2014, 54(6), 22-31.

Subramony, D., Molenda, M., Betrus, A., and Thalheimer, W. (2014). Timeline of the Mythical Retention Chart and Corrupted Dale’s Cone. Educational Technology, Nov/Dec 2014, 54(6), 31-24.

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Adrian Englefield
Adrian Englefield
1 year ago

Hello John.
Do you have any thoughts on the 10-20-70 learning and development model?

If we only develop 10% of our knowledge from formal education you could question why we even bother.

I consider formal education to be extremely important!!!

Similar thoughts to the cone of learning?

Thanks

Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith
1 year ago

Great question Adrian – I would be interested in the answer as well.

Adrian Englefield
Adrian Englefield
1 year ago
Reply to  John James

Great John. Really enjoy these videos

Rhonda Toms-Morgan
Rhonda Toms-Morgan
1 year ago

Thank you. I like these quick updates via video/audio.

Sharon Cunial
Sharon Cunial
1 year ago

This is really quite interesting because I often observe farmers at field days/ short courses when I’ve organised a guest speaker to present on a particular subject, say planned grazing or soil health. Generally speaking none of the participants take notes (where as I’m frantically taking notes so that I can recall details later – I have a sieve-like memory). I do think that the presenters style is essential for info sharing and retention – some talking, some outside walking, and lots of hands-on doing is essential plus simple workshop notes for later reference. I also think it’s important that… Read more »