Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience: A Quasi-Experimental Analysis

By Dwyer, Francis | International Journal of Instructional Media, Fall 2010 | Go to article overview

Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience: A Quasi-Experimental Analysis


Dwyer, Francis, International Journal of Instructional Media


INTRODUCTION

Edgar Dale's experience in teaching and his interest and involvement with audiovisual materials during the 1940's led to his conceptualization of the Cone of Experience (Dale, 1946). Dale (1946, p. 37) indicated that the Cone was "... merely a visual aid to explain the inter-relationships of the various types of audio- visual materials, as well as their individual positions in the concrete-to-abstract dimensions of learning process--and was not offered as a perfect or mechanically flawless picture to be taken with absolute literalness in its simplified form." (See Figure 1.) Dale presented this caution because, even though the sequencing of the levels seemed logical and attractive to the practitioner, he had collected no experimental evidence to support its usefulness as an instructional tool. The basic contention attributed to the Cone of Experience was that as the learning experience became more realistic and interactive, learning would be more complete implying that the more realistic of lifelike the stimulus was, the greater the probability it has for facilitating learning. The Cone's conceptualization reflected much of the current thinking inherent in what 10-20 years later has been termed the realism theory proposed by Dwyer (1972, p. 4-6) and was supported by the iconicity theory (Morris, 1946), Carpenter's sign similarity orientation (1953), Knowlton's Transparency-Opacity Continuum (1964), Gibson's Projective-Conventional Continuum (1954) and Osgood's more Detachable less Detachable Orientation (1953).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

In the late 1960's Treichler (1967, p. 15) in an article published in Film and AV Communication presented some interesting data, that was being distributed by the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company. This data related to what people generally remember from mediums of instruction (Table 1).

The percentages identified in Table 1 reported the amount of "information" people remember as a result of interacting with different instructional mediums. A letter of inquiry sent to the Vacuum Oil company regarding the source of the percentages resulted in the receipt of a letter indicating that the percentages were initially generated by Mr. Phillips who served as an instructor of Visual Aids from 1940 to 1946 at the Ordnance School, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland where during the war years a large number individuals were trained. The implications contained in the letter were that the percentages were obtained from experiments conducted in training at the Ordinance School and that "... our experiences in teaching gives us no reason to question the apparent reasonableness of these percentages...." These percentages have persisted in the literature and have gained "credibility" over time. In fact, these percentages have been reported extensively in conjunction with Dale's Cone of Experience and has been presented as a Pyramid of Learning (Figure 2). An examination of google.com using Edgar Dale and Cone of Experience as key words will identify more than 250 citations where the Cone and the unsubstantiated percentages have been combined in varied permutations and propagated by individuals, academic institutions, religious organizations, state agencies, training organizations, consulting firms, computer companies, etc. to serve their own purposes--to "credibly" present their services and/or products.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

LIMITATIONS OF THE CONE/PERCENTAGES

The "naive" practitioner glancing at the Cone and the percentages might be left with the impression that merely integrating the varied media into their instruction/training environment would automatically facilitate increased learning and retention by the students. In this sense, the reported percentages are misleading. However, by looking at the percentages, there is no way of knowing (Dwyer, 1978, p. 10):

* How the data was obtained--by survey techniques or experimentation? Educational research conducted in the 1940's was not characterized by controlled experimentation. …

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