1. I’ve come across several variations on The Learning Pyramid previously and I am curious about its origin. The idea of it is very appealing, but its unqualified assertion that the retetnion rates of the activities listed have these precise and neatly distributed percentage figures seems just too good to be true (and by “true”, I suppose I mean something like “firmly founded on reproducable scientific observation”).

    My suspicion is that The Learning Pyramid originated in somebody’s use of a quantitative description to articulate an instinctive belief (presumably based on his or her experience and maybe one or more experiments). I had a very quick dig around to see if I could trace its origin, but I didn’t have much luck. I found plenty of people referring to it unquestioningly as fact, and I found several people enthusiastically refuting it.

    Apparently, The Institute for Applied Behavioral Science is part of something called The NTL Institute. One of the more revealing snippets I found was this (unfortunately slightly incomplete) quote of a response by the NTL Institute to a query from researchers Lalley and Miller (I found this via David Jones’s interesting blog post on The Learning Pyramid).

    Institute at our Bethel, Maine campus in the early sixties when we were still part of the National Education Association’s Adult Education Division. Yes, we believe it to be accurate–but no, we no longer have–nor can we find–the original research that supports the numbers. We get many inquiries every month about this–and many, many people have searched for the original research and have come up empty handed. We know that in 1954 a similar pyramid with slightly different numbers appeared on p. 43 of a book called Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching, published by the Edgar Dale Dryden Press in New York. Yet the Learning Pyramid as such seems to have been modified and always has been attributed to NTL Institute.

    Anyway, interesting stuff – whatever the origins of the Learning Pyramid, I think I hope it’s kinda true!



  2. Perhaps it was developed as a theoretical model? I’ve been traveling this weekend and didn’t have the chance to track down the original sources. As a theoretical model, it’s intriguing.
    Thanks for investigating the history of the claim, Ted. I’ll add the pyramid to the blog post when I get home.



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