Edgar Dale’s Pyramid of Learning (Cone of Experience) is Fake! Don’t Use It!

Medical Education Flamingo
3 min readOct 22, 2020


Must Watch for the Sake of Medical Education: Kill The Learning Pyramid Myth

“The Pyramid is rubbish, the statistics are rubbish, and they do not come from Edgar Dale. Until the NTL can provide details about the original research, their version must also be treated as rubbish.” Ken Masters

The words that you just heard are from a scientific article. It uses “rubbish” to describe something. In articles, we are familiar to see some polite words to reject some baseless things. We use words such as “disputed, debated, controversial” instead of rubbish. But what made the author much angry? What made him so crazy? When you hear the reason behind this, I believe you will give him right and think that “he should have spoken more harshly”.

Medical Education Flamingos are getting ready to explain this story. They will get you to witness one of the interesting article story of medical education history.

Here is the video: https://youtu.be/X5l_ayRr9Fc

First of all, for those who are not familiar with the famous learning pyramid, I will introduce that.

The pyramid says that students remember ten percent of what they hear, twenty percent of what they read, and these percentages increase in multiples of ten percent towards more interactive teaching methods.

Ken Masters published a literature review about the learning pyramid in two thousand thirteen. He revealed that the pyramid is not backed by scientific data. He traced back the sources and stated that a lot of article that mentioned the learning pyramid, cited National Training Laboratories (NTL). He sent an e-mail to NTL and asked what is the source of the pyramid. According to email correspondence from the NTL, the pyramid of learning is based upon their own research, although it has never been able to locate this research and has not been able to provide details of this research.

As Ken Masters said, The NTL further acknowledges that Edgar Dale produced ‘‘a similar pyramid with slightly different numbers’’ in his text “Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching”.

Then, Masters take a look at the text that NTL mentioned. He realized that, in Edgar Dale’s text, “Dale presents a ‘‘Cone of Experience’’, not a Pyramid of Learning. Dale’s Cone of Experience has no numbers or percentages, and no suggestion of retention of information from any input source or activity of any type”.

In short, the pyramid of learning has no scientific background as long as NTL cannot provide details about the research.

Now, we arrived the most interesting part. Although the pyramid is not backed by data, and Ken Masters revealed it clearly in his literature review in two thousand thirteen, so many authors cited the pyramid as if it is backed by evidence.

When you read Masters’s second literature review which covers the articles until two thousand eighteen, you see how the trend of citing the pyramid has carried on, and even increased in years. Therefore, Ken Masters says in his second review that “I stated in my literature review that “any reference to the pyramid should be avoided.” This is more polite but also very weak. We know that many researchers read only the abstract.”

He is totally right. It seems he decided to be harsh to get the attention of researchers to prevent them citing this baseless pyramid. That’s why he called the pyramid of learning as rubbish and that’s why he put these sentences in abstract section.

So one more thing, why the authors continue to use this myth? Masters says something about that as well:

They feel that active learning is better than passive learning. The pyramid allows them to mention clear numbers to drive people to active learning.

Besides, they do not read what they cite. They glance at them or only read abstracts. They simply do not know that it has no scientific base.

If then, you, yes you can grab their attention. Just share this video with your colleagues in your private Medical Education group or social media accounts. Let them save themselves and be free from the myths! Liberate the medical education community!

You can see the links of articles that I mentioned in the video in the description.

See you and adios para amigos!

And also don’t forget flamingos.