Go Ask Alice: Checking our own Beliefs


BewareOfMemesYou’ve probably seen—or heard—this meme about learning. It is a text-based version of Edgar Dale’s “Cone of Learning,” sometimes referred to as his “Cone of Instruction.” The question for you, dear reader, is:  Do you believe it?  In total?  Sort of?  You might even be nodding your head as you read.  What’s that? It makes intuitive sense to you, but you’re not going to sweat the exact percentages? Fair enough, but please keep reading, though you may only remember 10% of this later.


  1. Dale himself acknowledged the numbers were not based on empirical data.
  2. If you obtain(ed) a master’s degree in either Training and Development or Organization Development from Roosevelt University, and you use this meme in presentations, please stop doing so.

AuditoryLearningStyleYou’ve also probably seen—or heard—about ‘Learning Styles.’  Supposedly, each of us has a specific modality by which we not only prefer to learn, but learn best by. Ah, another day, another meme. There is no credible evidence to support that anyone learns best by a particular modality REGARDLESS of the subject matter.

Let’s get back on track. Suppose you insist that you are indeed an Auditory Learner. You have personal proof of this, which you are only too happy to share. Fair enough, but please keep reading.

The question I pose is: Can you believe both of these memes at the same time? That is, we remember 20% of what we hear, but auditory learners will remember 75% of what they hear in a lecture? Maybe the first meme is general, but if we control for learning style, we have to…..??????

The truth, Dear Reader, is that there is no “there” there (shout-out to Gertrude Stein) for either of these memes. Believing both of them at the same time can be delicately described as “problematic.”

  • What other generalized beliefs/memes are there about learning or instruction that you have come across?
  • What other generalized beliefs/memes are there about organization development that you have comes across?
  • What about leadership?




  • This is fascinating. I have heard of the “Cone of Learning”, just as I have heard of the multiple preferred learning styles described. After 20 years in facilitating learning experiences for adults, I’ve learned to work hard and avoid both theories. Personally, I believe that learning styles are as unique as the human beings. Given one’s context shapes how they view the world, I propose that one’s own context shapes how they learn. How one sees the world and takes it in (learning) is a personal journey, as unique as the individual learner. I recommend that practitioners avoid “boxed thinking” whenever possible. Avoid the easy way out of putting people into categories. Get to know your audience, know your your learners, intimately. Care about them and care about what they’re learning. Love them. If you do that, I believe, they will learn. Regardless of type, or cone, model, or any other box. If they are loved and cared for, they will learn.

    Thank you for engaging my thinking on this subject. I learned something new today. Thank you.

  • Vince, thank you so much for this post! Next time someone in one of the TRDV classes starts a heated debate defending VAK I will just send them here. I managed to get into one of those in pretty much every class I’ve taken so far…

    • I’m glad you found this useful, Olga. It’s true we need to know as much about our learners as possible, but generally that refers to their knowledge about the topics we’ll be teaching. Keep up the good fight!

  • This is an interesting article. My old boss would always say to engage all of their senses. For me I learn best when I can relate the topic into my day to day life or job. That way it becomes second nature.

  • This is a very informative article. This article totally re inforces my mentality regarding training and development. Everyone is unique and training and development has to be tailored to the individual.

  • Great post, Vince! I am reminded of one of my favorite “statistics”: 84.7% of quoted statistics are 100% ad libbed. As a professional, how do you keep swimming against the tide of misinformation? Is there a Snopes-like data base for empirical versus commonly assumed information?

    • Wendy,
      I love your quote about quoted statistics! There’s no Snopes-like data base that I know of, but that’s an opportunity for you: perhaps a community-grown data base?


  • Hello Marady. Good question. While there will always be learners (adults and children) who truly do learn differently and require differentiated instruction, the answer is in the question you posed: it is primarily what is being taught. Secondarily, it also how it is being taught.

    For example, if I am teaching learners to change a tire on a car (not a truck, van, etc.), this is clearly a tactile-kinesthetic or psycho-motor skill. That means, there will be some demonstration, some practice by the learners, and a demonstration of competency by the learners. Depending on the audience, different types of exceptions and extraordinary circumstances will be covered: if the audience consists of those will work for gas stations and staff tow trucks, more will be covered than for the ordinary car driver. If the audience lives in a state/area where there are long stretches between service areas, different tactics might be covered, etc.


    Vince Cyboran.

  • Thanks for the information Vince. I often wonder how we gauge what types of learners people are and how they are learning our training’s. I really believe we all have the power to learn any way as long as we are interested by the subject matter. Maybe it is more what is being taught rather than how it is being taught?

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