The Learning Pyramid

From previous posts you may have noticed that I’m pretty keen on getting students to work collaboratively. My experience of working with students in the classroom has born out that, for me at least, this is the most effective way to get the tykes to learn the complex stuff they need to know to pass exams as well as having an incidental but nonetheless powerful impact on their ability to be decent human beings. I’m a believer, a convert; I don’t need much convincing.

Now, I had some professional development on Friday which I had been eagerly anticipating for some time. I had an expectation of being forced to reflect on my current practice and see how much more I could be doing. I was looking forward to being pushed out of my comfort zone and trying something new.

What I got was this:

It looks plausible and it fits with my ideological stance on how I think students learn best, but one of the things I have learnt recently is to have a healthy scepticism towards this kind of neat dovetailing of what I think and the evidence base to support it. Let’s face it, I’m not the only one who been caught out by the nonsense we know as learning styles. My new found scepticism says it all looks a bit too good to be true. I mean, c’mon: all the percentages are multiples of 5. I’m no statistician, but what’s the likelihood of that?

My first port of call was the marvellous James Atherton’s Learning & Teaching website.

And guess what? It is too good to be true. The National Training Laboratories based in Bethel Maine who are cited as having conducted the research apparently have no real idea of its provenance despite having claimed to have done it sometime in the 1960s. “NTL believes it to be accurate but says that it can no longer trace the original research that supports the numbers.” Magennis and Farrell

Does this matter? Has it changed how I think I should teach or how I think students learn? No, it hasn’t. But I do wish that people responsible for training teachers were more considered about what they tout as fact. This whiffed of snake oil and I resent having the stuff palmed off on me because really, there’s no need.

If I needed it, Hattie provides plenty of evidence that we shouldn’t just talk at kids and I know from my own experience that this is not only this gruel to feed the children in my classes if I want to fatten them up with knowledge but is also an extremely effective way to turn a lively classroom into a battleground with the teacher forlornly attempting to make themselves heard against a backdrop of boredom and bad behaviour. I don’t need to be pedalled any so-called scientific research. All this does is undermine the efforts of teachers trying to drag education kicking and screaming out of the darkness and into the light.

It’s not that I think the Learning Pyramid does any harm, it just feels a bit desperate and, as Will Thalheimer says

People do NOT remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they see, 30% of what they hear, etc. That information, and similar pronouncements are fraudulent. Moreover, general statements on the effectiveness of learning methods are not credible—learning results depend on too many variables to enable such precision. Unfortunately, this bogus information has been floating around our field for decades, crafted by many different authors and presented in many different configurations

This kind of oversimplification is dangerous and stupid. There are times when it may be right to convey information in each of the ways mentioned in the pyramid and their efficacy will depend on the skill of the teacher and the receptiveness of the students, the time of day, the weather and loads of other imponderables. There’s a time and a place for everything.

Interestingly, people who deliver CPD seem quite happy to expect teachers to sit and listen for long periods. Why would they do it if they believed we would only retain 5% of what they say?

17 Responses to The Learning Pyramid

  1. […] The Learning Spy – The Learning Pyramid RT @surreallyno: The same skepticism I have in what regards Bloom's Taxonomy: Learning Pyramid http://t.co/4F7p9dAq by @LearningSpy #edchat #elemchat… Source: learningspy.edublogs.org […]

  2. Julia says:

    Great post again David. I wonder how the message can get out there that talking (lecturing) children does not bring about efficient learning? This diagram does hit the spot & if it gets some to think about their approach maybe it isn’t all bad!

    • learningspy says:

      I think the problem is that this message is pretty well out there. There can’t be many teachers who don’t know that their lessons will be judged as unsatisfactory if they spend an hour talking. This being the case, if we use shoddy research to try prove the point with the remaining hardcore then they are going have an excuse our arguments (rightly) as quackery. It is really important to be able to back up your methodology with some sort of trustworthy research. And as busy teachers we should, at the very least, be able to trust those paid to train us.

  3. oldandrew says:

    For pity’s sake, why do you keep attacking the straw man of lecturing? Has anyone ever advocated simply lecturing children in lessons with no interaction or activity?

    Hattie shows that direct instruction is effective. Your approach seems to be cooperative learning and problem based learning which Hattie says are ineffective. I realise that this is inconvenient for you, but pretending that those who oppose your ineffective methods are actually endorsing lecturing is no argument and is becoming tiring.

    You need to admit that your experience and opinion go against the research, and stop doing a Geoff Petty and reinterpreting the research to say the opposite of what it does.

  4. learningspy says:

    This is very wearisome Andrew. We all agree that lecturing is ineffective: let it go.

    We also agree that direct instruction is not lecturing. We have not had any meaningful engagement on what direct instruction is: I say it can (and should) include paired and grouped activities. You no doubt disagree.

    Here is some research which shows reciprocal teaching is effective: http://goo.gl/ccpw2 and Hattie also places it above the hinge point of effective strategies so you can in no way argue that it ‘doesn’t work’.

    The final point about my experience and opinion being meaningless is typical of you. Hattie makes it clear that ‘instructional quality’ ie. the students’ views on teaching quality count for more than anything except feedback. Students’ views of my teaching are positive; they behave well, make excellent progress and have outstanding attainment.

    I realise you’re happy to dismiss this but the fact is, you seem to teach within a dystopian nightmare where students behave appallingly and I don’t.

  5. oldandrew says:

    It’s not just the case that neither of us advocate spending a lesson lecturing, nobody does. It’s just a straw man you raise in order to obscure what the research actually shows about the methods you advocate. Even now you are trying to make out that because direct instruction isn’t a lecture it is somehow the methods you advocate when it actually involves doing the very thing you have been condemning – directly telling the students what they need to know.

    Incidentally, I never said your experience was meaningless. I am just challenging the attempts to claim that it is supported by research evidence.

    As for the effectiveness of the reciprocal instruction method, are you really advocating we judge it on the basis of a single study which doesn’t appear to have made it into a peer-reviewed journal? We can usually find single studies supporting anything.

    • learningspy says:

      Direct instruction is simply not just telling some facts. That’s lecturing. Telling me repeatedly that I’ve constructed a straw man when in fact I haven’t is very tedious.

  6. oldandrew says:

    Nobody has said direct instruction is “just telling some facts”.

    Until someone says that, it remains a straw man.

    • learningspy says:

      It looks like you’re being deliberately dense. I said, “Direct instruction is simply not just telling some facts.” In case you didn’t understand this statement, it means ‘direct instruction is much more than telling some facts’.

      You said, “Nobody has said direct instruction is “just telling some facts”.”
      Unless I’ve gone mad this is the same thing. Please stop banging on about straw men: they are of your own creation if they exist at all.

  7. oldandrew says:

    I’m not sure what isn’t clear here.

    When you said “Direct instruction is simply not just telling some facts” you appeared to be arguing against the claim that direct instruction is just telling some facts.

    Nobody has made this claim. Therefore by arguing against it you were arguing against a straw man. Is this clear?

    • learningspy says:

      How did it appear that the statement “Direct instruction is simply not just telling some facts” was in fact the opposite of itself?

      This is the least coherent you’ve ever managed to be. I’m almost impressed.

  8. stanagefish says:

    You seem to be getting lost in this, there was an important point raised by oldandrew that needs addressing;
    ‘As for the effectiveness of the reciprocal instruction method, are you really advocating we judge it on the basis of a single study which doesn’t appear to have made it into a peer-reviewed journal? We can usually find single studies supporting anything.’
    If we don’t examine the validity of claims carefully we are easily led by quackery, especially when so much money can be made by unsubstantiated claims from would be educational gurus.

    • learningspy says:

      It’s a fair point. And, incidentally, the exact same one I was making about the pyramid. Of course I’m not advocating that we take note pof a single study. That was just an example I had been reading at the time. What about the evidence collected by the Sutton Trust? Are we happy to ignore that? Or Hattie’s findings in Visible Learning that show reciprocal teaching to have an effect size of .74?

      As for quackery. If it looks like a duck…

  9. […] reductive formula, but it is unfounded. David Didau lances this particularly boil to good effect here. We must go beyond these simplifications and seek answers from more reputable research to judge […]

  10. […] Is it better to be told, or to discover a fact? On the way I encountered problems such as The Learning Pyramid but still felt the need to justify Why group work works for […]

  11. […] Is it better to be told, or to discover a fact? On the way I encountered problems such as The Learning Pyramid but still felt the need to justify Why group work works for […]

  12. […] reductive formula, but it is unfounded. David Didau lances this particularly boil to good effect here. We must go beyond these simplifications and seek answers from more reputable research to judge […]

Constructive feedback is always appreciated

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