Myths and Misconceptions
The world of teaching and learning is rife with received wisdom, including the potency of learning styles (which deserves a page to itself), and plenty of other unproven but fashionable ideas.See "What works..." on the teaching siteIt is not so much that they are "wrong", but:
- the evidence base and/or research methodology may be flaky, and/or
- they may have been misinterpreted and generalised beyond their legitimate use, and/or
- they originate from such tightly controlled laboratory settings as not to make sense in the real world.
The "Learning Pyramid"
Average retention rates for material taught using various methods
Looks plausible, doesn't it? It is plausible enough to appear on over 1,200 web-sites, according to one search engine, and in goodness knows how many textbooks on teaching. Moreover, its provenance is impeccable; NTL (no relation to the former UK cable company) is a highly-respected institution, now "NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Sciences" undertaking research and training in group dynamics. (The attribution is always to "National Training Laboratories, Bethel, Maine)"
Unfortunately, according to a recent article even NTL does not know where it comes from.
"NTL believes it to be accurate but says that it can no longer trace the original research that supports the numbers"
Does that matter? The pyramid makes sense, and it is intuitively accurate. Perhaps so; perhaps too much so! It is just too neat. The figures fit too closely and neatly with our (i.e. sophisticated teachers') beliefs. I am inclined to think that one of our kind conjured them out of the air in a less demanding age (I do the same thing, but I'm not daft/arrogant enough to attach figures to my half-baked ideas). I don't even know whether Pask's commitment to the value of "teach-back" was really based on his own research, or on this notional model.
- "retention" = "knowledge" or "remembering". Whichever way you look at it, it is the lowest level of Bloom's taxonomy in the cognitive domain.
- If it was researched;
- In what subject areas?
- With what students?
- How was it tested?
The Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy judgement on Earth was "mostly harmless". That probably applies to this model, too; just don't cite it as authoritative, please!
"It is important to discuss what the Cone is not as well as what it is because of a widespread misrepresentation that has become ubiquitous in recent years. At some point someone conflated Dale’s Cone with a spurious chart that purports to show what percentage of information people remember under different learning conditions. The original version of this chart, [...], has been traced to the Socony-Vacuum Oil Company, according to Dwyer (1978), who cites Treichler (1967). [...] Despite the lack of credibility, this formulation is widely quoted, usually without attribution, and in recent years has become repeatedly conflated with Dale’s Cone, with the percentage statements superimposed on the cone, replacing or supplementing Dale’s original categories.
MOLENDA M (2003) "Cone of Experience"
in A. Kovalchick & K. Dawson, (eds) Educational Technology: An Encyclopedia. ABC-Clio, Santa Barbara, CA, 2003.
Subramony, D.P. (2004). "Dale’s cone revisited: Critically examining the misapplication of a nebulous theory to guide practice." Educational Technology 43.
Treichler, D.G. (1967) "Are you missing the boat in training aids?" Film and Audio-Visual Communications 1: 14-16.
Note: I have not personally verified these references beyond Molenda: JSA 1.11.05 [back]
The Power of Non-verbal Messages
Mehrabian's model of communication is often cited for the opposite reason from the Learning Pyramid; it is counter-intuitive and shocking (intellectually, if not emotionally). Broadly, it claims that in a given (spoken) message:
- 7% of the meaning is in the spoken content,
- 38% of the meaning is in how it is spoken,
- 55% of meaning is in the facial expression of the speaker.
This is not merely counter-intuitive, it is self-evident rubbish. It relates to some very deliberately ambiguous communication exchanges, and Mehrabian himself disclaims the misinterpretation of his points.
Even so, the "framing" of messages is important in teaching. Are you serious, or are you bantering with students, or teasing? Much of this depends on what you represent to students, rather than your intentions; see my paper on "Process and Content " More important, how do they understand what you are saying? How many times have you had your "jokes" repeated in students' assignments? How do they "take" what you say? There needs to be a sound basis of clear, non-coded, communication before you can start playing with it.
|and his own site and a more general discussion on Alan Chapman's wide-ranging site, always worth a visit|