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Module 5: The Cone of Experience

Allotted Time:

Aurelio F. Polonio
Second Year College

After a discussion on the systems' approach to instruction, let us tackle Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience to
get acquainted with various instructional media which form part of the system's approach to instruction.
If you remember the 8 M's of instruction, one element is media. Another is material. These 2 M's (media,
material) are actually the elements of this Cone of Experience to be discussed in this Lesson.

1. Discuss the Cone of Experience

2. Analyze how the elements are arranged from the bottom upward or from top down of the Cone of
3. Identify the sensory aids in the Cone of Experience
4. Describe the implication of Cone of Experience to Teaching

Study the Cone of Experience given
below. Analyze how the elements are arranged
from the bottom upward or from top down.

Discussion Questions:

How are the experiences of reality arranged in the Cone of Experience?

Which way of is closest to the real world?

Which way is farthest from the real world, in this sense most abstract?
Is the basis of the arrangement of experiences difficulty of experience or degree of abstraction (the amount
of immediate sensory participation involved)?
Do the bands of experience (e.g. direct experiences, contrived experience, etc.) follow a rigid, inflexible
pattern? Or is it more correct to think that the bands of experience in the Cone overlap and blend into one
Does the Cone of Experience device mean that all teaching and learning must move systematically from
base to pinnacle?
Is one kind of sensory experience more useful educationally than another?
Can we overemphasize the amount of direct experience that is required to learn a new concept?
Are the upper levels of the Cone for the older student and the lower ones for the child?
What is the Cone of Experience?
What are the learning aids found in the Cone of Experience?

Learning Focus
The Cone of Experience is a visual model; a pictorial device that presents bands of experience arranged
according to degree of abstraction and not degree of difficulty. The farther you go from the bottom of the cone, the
more abstract the experience becomes.
Dale (1969) asserts that:
the pattern of arrangement of the bands of experience is not difficulty but degree of abstraction - the amount of
immediate sensory participation that is involved. A still photograph of a tree is not more difficult to understand
than a dramatization of Hamlet. It is simply in itself a less concrete teaching material than the dramatization.
(Dale, 1969)
Dale further explains that "the individual bands of the Cone of Experience stand for experiences that are fluid,
extensive, and continually interact." (Dale, 1969) It should not be taken literally in its simplified form. The different
kinds of sensory aid often overlap and sometimes blend into one another. Motion pictures can be silent or they can
combine sight and sound. Students may merely view a demonstration or they may view it then participate in it.
Does the Cone of Experience mean that all teaching and learning must move systematically from base to
pinnacle, from direct purposeful experiences to verbal symbols? Dale (1969) categorically says:
... No. We continually shuttle back and forth among various kinds of experiences. Every day each of us
acquires new concrete experiences - through walking on
the street, gardening, dramatics, and endless other means. Such learning by doing, such pleasurable return
to the concrete is natural throughout our lives - and at every age level. On the other hand, both the older child and
the young pupil make abstractions every day and may need help in doing this well.
In our teaching, then, we do not always begin with direct experience at the base of the Cone. Rather, we begin with the kind of experience that is most appropriate to the needs and abilities of particular learner in a particular
learning situation. Then, of course, we vary this experience with many other types of learning activities. (Dale, 1969)
One kind of sensory experience is not necessarily more educationally useful than another. Sensory
experiences are mixed and interrelated. When students listen to you as you give your lecturette, they do not just
have an auditory experience. They also have visual experience in the sense that they are "reading" your facial
expressions and bodily gestures.
We face some risk when we overemphasize the amount of direct experience to learn a concept. Too much
reliance on concrete experience may actually obstruct the process of meaningful generalization. The best will be
striking a balance between concrete and abstract, direct participation and symbolic expression for the learning that
will continue throughout life.
It is true that the older a person is, the more abstract his concepts ire likely to be. This can be attributed to

physical maturation, more vivid experiences and sometimes greater motivation for learning. But an older student
does not live purely in his world of abstract ideas just as a child does not live only in the world of sensory experience.
Both old and young shuttle in a world of the concrete and the abstract.
What are these bands of experience in Dale's Cone of Experience? It is best to look back at the Cone itself.
But let us expound on each of them starting with the most direct.
Direct purposeful experiences- These are first hand experiences which serve as the foundation of our
learning. We build up our reservoir of meaningful information and ideas though seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and
smelling. In the context of the teaching-learning process, it is learning by doing. If I want my student to learn how to
focus a compound light microscope, I will let him focus one, of course, after I showed him how.
Contrived experiences - In here, we make use of a representative models or mock ups of reality fqr practical
reasons and so that we can make the real-life accessible to the students' perceptions and understanding. For
instance a mock up of Apollo, the capsule for the exploration of the moon, enabled the North American Aviation Co.
to study the problem of lunar flight.
Remember how you were taught to tell time? Your teacher may have used a mock up ; a clock, whose hands
you could turn to set the time you were instructed to set.
Dramatized experiences - By dramatization, we can participate in a reconstructed experience, even though
the original event is far removed from us in time. We relive the outbreak of the Philippine revolution by acting out the
role of characters in a drama.
Demonstrations - It is a visualized explanation of an important fact, idea or process by the use- of
photographs, drawings, films, displays, or guided motions. It is showing how things are done. A teacher in Physical
Education shows the class how to dance tango.
Study trips - These are excursions and visits conducted to observe an event that is unavailable within the
Exhibits - These are displays to be seen by spectators. They may consist of working models arranged
meaningfully or photographs with models, charts, and posters. Sometimes exhibits are "for your eyes only". There
are some exhibits, however, that include sensory experiences where spectators are allowed to touch or manipulate
models displayed.
Television and motion pictures - Television and motion pictures can reconstruct the reality of the past so
effectively that we are made to feel we are there. The unique value of the messages communicated by film and
television lies in their feeling of realism, their emphasis on persons and personality, their organized presentation, and
their ability to select, dramatize, highlight, and clarify.
Still pictures, Recordings, Radio - These are visual and auditory devices may be used by. an individual or a

group, Still pictures lack the sound and motion of a sound film. The radio broadcast of ai actual event may often be
likened to a televise ? broadcast minus its visual dimension.
Visual symbols - These are no longer realistic reproduction of physical things for these are highly abstract
representations. Examples are charts, graphs, maps, and diagrams.
Verbal symbols - They are not like the objects or ideas for which they stand They usually do not contain visual
clues to their meaning. Written words fall under this category. It may be a word for a concrete-object (book), an idea
(freedom of speech), a scientific principle (the principle of balance), a formula (e=mc2)

What are the implications of the Cone of Experience in the teaching-learning process?

We do not use only one medium of communication in isolation. Rather we use many instructional materials
to help the student conceptualize his experience.
We avoid teaching directly at Hie symbolic level of thought without "adequate foundation of the concrete.
Students' concepts will lack deep roots in direct experience. Dale cautions us when he said: "These rootless
experiences will not have the generative power to produce additional concepts and will, not enable the
learner to deal with the new situations that he faces." (Dale, 1969)
When teaching, we don't get stuck in the concrete. Let us strive to bring our students to the symbolic or
abstract level to develop their higher order thinking skills.

Learning Activities
Activity 1: Harvard psychologist, Jerome S. Bruner, presents a three-tiered model of learning where he points out
that every area of knowledge can be presented and learned in three distinct steps. Study his model of learning
given below:




It is highly recommended that a learner proceed from the ENACTIVE to the ICONIC and only after to
the SYMBOLIC. The mind is often shocked into immediate abstraction at the highest level without the
benefit of a gradual unfolding.
Question: Are the implications of the Cone of Experience in the teaching-learning process the same
things that are recommended by Bruner's three-tiered model of learning?

Activity 2: Which learning aids in Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience correspond/s to each tier or level in Bruner's
model? Write your answers on the spaces provided.

Summing up:
Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience is a visual representation of learning resources arranged according to degree
of abstractness. The farther you move away from the base of the cone, the more abstract the learning resource
becomes. Arranged from the least to the most abstract the learning resources presented in the Cone of Experience
direct purposeful experiences
contrived experiences
dramatized experiences
study trips
educational television
motion pictures

recordings, radio, still pictures

visual symbols
verbal symbols
The lines that separate the learning experience should not be taken to mean that the learning experiences are
strictly delineated. The Cone of Experience should not be taken literally. Come to think of it. Even from the base of
the Cone, which is direct purposeful experiences, we already use words - verbal symbols - which are the most
abstract. In fact, we use words which are verbal symbols, the pinnacle of the cone, across the cone from top to
bottom. Or many times our verbal symbols are accompanied by visual symbols, still pictures.
Three pitfalls that we, teachers, should avoid with regard to the use of the Cone of Experience are:
using one medium in isolation.
moving to the abstract without an adequate foundation of concrete experience.
getting stuck in the concrete without moving to the abstract hampering the development of our students'
higher thinking skills.

1. After a lesson on the Cone of Experience, can you now explain why our teachers in Literature discourage
us from reading only comics or illustrated comic version of novels which can be read in pocketbooks?

2. How does the dictum in philosophy "there is nothing in the mind that was not first in the senses" relate to
what you learned from the Cone of Experience?

3. Alfred North Whitehead said: "In the Garden of Eden, Adam saw the animals before he named them. In the
traditional system, children name the animals before they see them." How would you relate this remark to
the Cone of Experience?

4. When Dale formulated the Cone of Experience, computers were not yet a part educational or home settings
so they are not part of the original Cone. The computer technology actively engages the learner, who uses
seeing, hearing and physical activity at the keyboard as well as range of mental skills. Where will the
computer be on the Cone?