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Dale's Cone of Experience

As a quick glance at the B-SLIM model will indicate, there is a great variety of activities and learning experiences the teacher uses in the language classroom. Each of these activities or experiences is a chance for the students to learn new information and/or practice what they already know. Each activity and experience has merit and therefore should be incorporated into any second language program. In the following section we will look at Dale’s Cone of Experience and see how the information contained within this model can be used to structure a second language program so that all types of learning experiences are used to maximize student progress.


What is Dale’s Cone of Experience?

The Cone was originally developed by Edgar Dale in 1946 and was intended as a way to describe various learning experiences. The diagram presented to the right (Raymond S. Pastore, Ph.D) is a modification of Dale’s original Cone; the percentages given relate to how much people remember and is a recent modification. Essentially, the Cone shows the progression of experiences from the most concrete (at the bottom of the cone) to the most abstract (at the top of the cone). It is important to note that Dale never intended the Cone to depict a value judgment of experiences; in other words, his argument was not that more concrete experiences were better than more abstract ones. Dale believed that any and all of the approaches could and should be used, depending on the needs of the learner.

How should the Cone be interpreted?

The figure above shows what students will be able to do at each level of the Cone (the learning outcomes they will be able to achieve) relative to the type of activity they are doing (reading, hearing, viewing images, etc.). The numerical figures on the left side of the image, what people will generally remember, indicate that practical, hands-on experience in a real-life context will allow students to remember best what they do. Again, it is important to remember that this doesn’t mean reading and listening are not valuable learning experiences, simply that “doing the real thing” can lead to the retention of the largest amount of information. This is in part because those experiences near the bottom of the Cone, closer to and including real-world experiences, make use of more of our senses; it is believed that the more senses that are used, the greater our ability to learn from and remember an event or experience.

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How can Dale’s Cone be used to enhance SL learning?

As stated above, the Cone should not be interpreted as indicating that teachers shouldn’t make use of reading, listening, viewing experiences and the like. These are all valuable and important parts of learning a second language and all have a place in the B-SLIM model. What should be taken from reviewing Dale’s Cone of Experience is that experiences at ALL of the levels described should be used in the second language classroom. Just as Gardner describes the Multiple Intelligences and appealing to them all, Dale’s Cone emphasizes learning experiences that appeal to the different senses and the different ways in which we learn. Direct parallels can be drawn between the different levels of experience depicted in the Cone and the stages of the B-SLIM model. When looking at Figure 2 (from Alabama Professional Development Modules) to the right, the first 6 types of experience (from the top of the cone downward) are all part of the Getting It and Using It stages of B-SLIM. The real-world experiences at the bottom of the Cone relate directly to the Proving It stage; it is at this stage of the model that students are encouraged to use what they have learned in new, real-life contexts.

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Dale’s Cone of Experience Overview

Dale, E. (1946) Audio-visual methods in teaching.  New York: The Dryden Press.

Dale, E. (1954) Audio-visual methods in teaching, revised edition.  New York: A Holt-Dryden
Book, Henry Holt and Company.

Dale, E. (1969) Audiovisual methods in teaching, third edition.  New York: The Dryden Press;
Holt, Rinehart and Winston.   

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Copyright © Olenka Bilash May 2009 ~ Last Modified January 2011