Instructional Technology/Edgar Dale

Edgar Dale

Edgar Dale's cone of learning

THE PICTURE TO THE RIGHT IS VERY INACCURATE: In fact, Dale’s original model of the cone does not include any percentages, and is explicitly described by Dale as a visual aid about audio-visual materials. Dale’s cone of experience is essentially a “visual metaphor” depicting types of learning, from the concrete to the abstract. Dale did not intend to place value on one modality over another. The shape of the cone is not related to retention, but rather to the degree of abstraction.However, he does contend that, as one’s experiences move toward the bottom of the cone, more of the senses are engaged (such as hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, tasting).

In Dale’s text, immediately before presenting the cone, he states: “Much of what we found to be true of direct and indirect experience, and of concrete and abstract experience, can be summarized in a pictorial device which we call the ‘Cone of Experience.’ The cone is not offered as a perfect or mechanically flawless picture to be taken with absolute literalness in its simplified form. It is merely a visual aid [original italics] in explaining the interrelationships of the various types of audio-visual materials, as well as their individual‘positions’ in the learning process…The cone device, then, is a visual metaphor of learning experiences, in which the various types of audio-visual materials are arranged in the order of increasing abstractness as one proceeds from direct experience…Exhibits are nearer to the pinnacle of the cone not because they are more difficult than field trips but only because they provide a more abstract experience. (An abstraction is not necessarily difficult. All words, whether used by little children or by mature adults, are abstractions.)[1][2]

The Cone of Experience (1946) was the most important contribution of Edgar Dale in field of IT. In the cone, he explained inter-relations of the several audio-visual materials and their positions in learning processes. He expressed the divisions based on extreme two points between direct experience and pure abstraction. The divisions proposed in the cone were not accepted as exact demarcations. One audio-visual can be used with other audio- visual materials with respect to situation or purposes.

Dale’s cone is one of the most important theoretical foundations of IT. Hence, the cone makes connection between concrete and abstract ideas which is one of the main principles of teaching and learning. It also helps the professionals to select media on the basis of the experiences aimed to transfer students. It seems a job aid. Moreover, it is an effective tool to support communication process because it makes communication depending on not only just words but also visual and experiential ways. He also emphasized the other components and diversity of sensory experiences. Hence, our experiences are not completely relied on visual or verbal symbols. Other concerns of our perception systems must be considered, such as direct experience, touching, sensing. The cone also fosters diversity in learning environment. As a result, the cone is a good combination of psychological/instructional and communication theories.

The second critical contribution of Dale (1953) was social frame of communication concept. He was one of the person believed the importance of mutual experience sharing was the most important consequence of communication. In other words, he emphasized the concept of feedback.


  • Dale, E. (1946). The cone of experience. In Audio-visual methods in teaching. (pp. 37-51). New York: Dryden Press.
  • Cisco; Multimodal Learning Through Media: What the Research Says. referenced from
  • In D. P. Ely & T. Plomp (Eds.), Classic Writings on Instructional Technology (Vol. 1, pp. 169 – 180). Englewood: Libraries Unlimited, Inc.
  • Dale, E. (1953).What does it mean to communicate? AV Communication Review, 1(1), 3 – 5.
  1. Dale, E. (1946, 1954, 1969). Audio-visual methods in teaching. New York: Dryden.
  2. Cisco; Multimodal Learning Through Media: What the Research Says. Refferenced from