The Cone of Experience by Edgar Dale

The Cone of Experience by Edgar Dale

111264 views | Ruby | 08-01-2017

In 1946, Edgar Dale developed his theory on Cones of Experience. It is a visual representation of the types of experiences human beings encounter as they prepare to synthesise the knowledge and convert it to understanding. Dale mentioned that humans can encounter different types of experiences. Each level of experience results in a different level of effectiveness as it relies on the process of knowledge. He has divided his model into three major categories; most abstract to the least abstract, as it travels down from the top to bottom. According to Dale, the arrangement in the cone is based on abstraction and on the quantity of senses involved. The experiences in each stage can be mixed and are interrelated that brings up more meaningful learning.

Modes of learning

Edgar Dale introduced the Cone of Experience exhibits headway from direct, first-hand experience to graphic representation and purely abstract, symbolic expression.

The Cone of Experience corresponds with three major modes of learning

The inactive or direct experience involves practicing with objects (the student actually ties a knot to learn knot-tying). This kind of experience involves concrete, immediate action and use of the senses and body.

The iconic experience involves interpreting images and drawings (the student looks at drawings, pictures or films to learn to tie knots). Such experiences are once removed from the physical realm and limited to two or three senses.

The symbolic experience involves reading or hearing symbols (the student reads or hears the word “tie” and forms an image in the mind). Usually, in such experiences, the action is indifferent and the experience is limited to thoughts and ideas.

Experiences – Categories and Levels

The first category human beings encounter is that of symbolic learning, which includes verbal and visual symbols. This level of experience involves; reading, hearing and seeing the information.

These are the most abstract and complex levels where the learner is more passive. Usually, the visual symbolic level involves charts, maps, graphs, and diagrams for abstract representations. On the contrary, the verbal symbolic level does not involve visual demonstration or any traces to their meanings. Mostly, the things involved in this level are words, ideas, principles, formulas, and the likes.

The second category focuses on observing, activities such as seeing pictures and hearing recordings known as, iconic.

Expanding upon the components in further detail, the level of television, motion pictures and still pictures are counted in. This is considered as part of Edtech, as televisions and motion pictures entail the values through media. Besides, other hands, still pictures, recordings, and radio are visual and auditory devices that can be used by a learner/group of learners that could enhance and extend the learning experience.

All the remaining levels are part of the third and most concrete category of this model. This is known as enactive or direct experiences as it deals with immediate actions. The exhibits followed by the study/field trips are the levels that extend the understanding of experiences through trips or visits that are not just restricted to classrooms but dragged in a more complex nature. Actually if looked upon in detail, exhibits are experiences that are “for your eyes” only. But some exhibits include sensory involvements which could be related to direct purposeful experiences. In this level, meanings ideas are presented to the learners in a more abstract manner. This creates a perspective for students to understand the meaning and relevance of things based on the variety of pictures and presentations

Furthermore, the demonstrations are an important level to understand the visualised explanation of important ideas, facts, or any process through the use of images, illustrations, film and other types of media in order to facilitate clear and effective learning. At this level, things are shown exactly based on how they are done.

The next level is about the dramatised experiences, in this level the experiences are rebuilt for participants (learners) for their better understandings of a particular event or concept. Through this level, learners can be more familiar with the “as-if” situation in a proper way.

The second last level talks upon the contrived experiences, which is the representation of any experience which is close to reality. This level is practical enough to make the learning experience more accessible to the learner. Here it provides more of the concrete experiences, even if not as concrete as direct experiences, that allows visualisation for fosters a better understanding of the concept.

Direct Purposeful Experiences are major experiences that serve as the foundation of learning. At this level, more senses are used in order to shape knowledge. Also, at this level, the learners learn by doing things by themselves. Learning takes place through actual hands-on experiences. For example, he gets the task to write my paper and through mastering this skill, gets the necessary experience, this level enlightens upon and proves one of the principles in the selection and usage of teaching strategies, learning will be considered better if more sense is involved. This level also proves that educational technology is not restricted to the modern gadgets and software that are commercially available nowadays. This shows that even the simple opportunity that you give to each child could help them in nurturing.


The Cone of Experience is a visual representation of the impression that learning activities can be placed in extensive categories based on the amount to which they express the non-abstract referents of real-life experiences. It has also been understood by many as a dogmatic formulation for selecting instructional means. Dale’s own explanations are vague enough to allow a wide variation of understandings to rely upon. Nevertheless, Cone has been considered for many ways to bear witness to the vigour and attractiveness of Dale’s visual metaphor.

This Cone of Experience is one way of exploring how learners absorb and retain information. Other techniques of different learning are taught in our related CPD course on Managing Different Learning Styles in the Classroom.

TAGS: experience-cone-dale

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