The Learning Pyramid is an attempt to categorise different modes of teaching in terms of their value for learning – with “Teach others” as the most effective mode of learning something new and “Lecture” being the least effective.

In favour of the Learning Pyramid

This image (and derivatives of it) represents one of the most persistent myths in education and it is often quoted in the context of teaching and learning practices. At first glance, the pyramid has a lot going for it:

So on the face of it, the “Learning pyramid” seems to make sense and appears to provide a nice heuristic for understanding the importance, relevance and efficacy of different teaching/learning modalities.

What’s wrong with the model?

Unfortunately, there is much wrong with the model. Let us start by taking a look at its origins. It is attributed to “the National Training Laboratories”, who claims that it originated from them, but cannot supply the original research upon which it was based: “we no longer have – nor can we find – the original research that supports the numbers.” (cf Letrud, p3). In an era where we are increasingly trying to distinguish myth from fact (and do so by looking at the data and research that inform our opinions) this is a serious admission and one we cannot simply ignore. To make matters worse, the NTL acknowledges that there are different “versions” of the Learning Pyramid out there and that the values attributed to the different modalities differ between the versions, so again, this hardly leads to more confidence in the model itself – quite the opposite.

So from a research perspective alone, it should be clear that we cannot accept the Learning Pyramid as a “proven/robust/reliable” tool or model for evaluating different teaching and learning activities – it is not backed up by research and data.

Interrogating the findings

But just to be sure, should we not take a closer look at the claims inherent in the model and see if it does not perhaps provide useful insights after all? We could, but unfortunately closer scrutiny just confirms our doubts about the value of the model. For instance – the neat, rounded numbers (5%, 10%, 20%…, etc) attributed to each level is clearly NOT the result of a rigorous research project. Real data is messy and simply does not provide or lead to such neat divisions. Other fundamental problems, specifically related to the practicalities of the model are:

Let’s stop using the model

Maybe some of the answers to the above questions are simple and even self-evident, but because we do not have access to any report of the original research we simply do not know, we have to make assumptions. Unfortunately that is not good enough – which is why we cannot keep using, quoting or referring to the Learning Pyramid when we are talking about efficient teaching and learning practices. Instead, we should be looking at practices that are supported by research and where we are able to interrogate the research findings by looking at the data – should we wish to do so. It is quite ironic that one is able to learn – and remember for quite a long time – that the Learning Pyramid is a myth – simply by “Reading” what research says about the matter…

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