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Overview of the learning pyramid for training providers

What is The Learning Pyramid?

The Learning Pyramid was first created by education specialist Edgar Dale in the 1940s. In his book “Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching”, Dale referred to it as the “Cone of Experience”. It was later further developed and re-named “The Learning Pyramid” by National Training Laboratories Institute.

The learning pyramid is an illustration that identifies the seven methods of learning, and the effectiveness of each method in terms of knowledge retention. These percentages were borne from extensive research by the National Training Laboratories Institute. 

The pyramid is split into two parts; active and passive. The active learning methods have a higher percentage of learning retention, compared to the passive. Let’s take a look at each of them now:

The Learning Pyramid methods

Passive learning methods

  • Lecture
  • Reading
  • Audio visual
  • Demonstration

Active learning methods

  • Group discussion
  • Practised by doing
  • Teaching others

How to improve “passive learning” in ILT

We can see that the more “active” the learning experience, the better the knowledge retention and ultimately the learning outcome. However, the pyramid is not suggesting that we rule out “passive” learning methods altogether.

But there are always ways to do it better.

With “lecture” and “demonstration” being the main methods of instructor led training, it’s clear that ILT sits firmly in the “passive learning methods” section of the pyramid. Traditionally, a lecture has been based on students listening to a trainer for a lengthy period of time, with little to no interaction between learners themselves. And this is where ILT can really step up its game – by incorporating more active learning methods into lecture sessions. Particularly through the methods of “group discussion” and “teaching others”.

The good news is there’s a wide range of tools available to support this way of learning – in live ILT sessions think of using collaboration tools like Zoom breakout rooms, Zoom and Miro whiteboards. For pre-course and post-course think of ways you can connect learners via forums, Facebook and LinkedIn groups where they can collaborate, support and continue to teach each other.

8 tools to encourage collaboration

  1. Breakout rooms
  2. Online whiteboard 
  3. Polls
  4. Online chat
  5. Surveys
  6. Activities
  7. Forums
  8. Social Media

While demonstration still sits in the “passive” part of the pyramid, it does have the highest percentage of knowledge retention when compared to other passive forms of learning. Typically, an instructor demonstrates how something is done in a practical step-by-step manner. This type of learning is common and an important aspect in many courses. For example, in First Aid, where an instructor may demonstrate CPR on a dummy.

Passive methods still have an important role to play in training delivery, particularly in delivering a large amount of theory and for practical demonstrations. “Audio visual”, while passive, can also be used effectively during lectures to increase engagement. And with the rise of online learning, they’re becoming popular methods in themselves to deliver key information outside of lectures. 

And while there are plenty of ways to improve passive learning experiences, the real key message here is the power of learning via a mixture of delivery methods. By incorporating the whole learning pyramid into your training program you cater to all styles of learning, giving each individual learner a higher chance of retaining knowledge.

This mixed method style of learning lends itself well to the blended learning approach. But how do you design a blended learning course that incorporates all areas of the learning pyramid? 

Blended learning

Blended learning means providing course content in a variety of delivery formats; including face-to-face, live online webinar, quizzes, video, podcasts and surveys. Not only does it provide a richer learning experience than any one format on its own, it creates flexibility and the ability to cater to various learning styles – covering off all of those methods in the learning pyramid. 

Let’s look at an example of how a blended learning course might be structured. A blended course made up of individual elements that utilize different methods of learning.

  • 30-minute class introduction video. Once learners have registered for a course, they are automatically given access to an eLearning portal. There they watch a 30-minute video that introduces the key learning concepts of the course. 
  • Short survey or quiz. Learners complete a short quiz or survey that tests their existing knowledge. This is helpful for both learners and trainers. Trainers can use the information to cater the course accordingly.
  • Half-day classroom or live online course. Learners participate with the option of a live online webinar or classroom delivery. Typically made up of lecture and demonstration elements, there should also be lots of breakout rooms, group discussions and activities incorporated here. By following a demonstration with an activity, learners are required to put that knowledge into practice.
  • eLearning Modules. Complete eLearning modules online in the LMS. Consider giving your learners the choice of listening to a podcast, watching an on-demand video, or reading the content. They can choose the method they prefer, depending on what best suits their learning style.​
  • Quizzes. Each of the eLearning modules have an accompanying quiz designed to test knowledge retention. 
  • Online forum. Learners connect with fellow students, and even past students, to continue discussions and lean on each other for peer support. Consider even a peer tutoring system between past and present students. 
  • Follow-up survey. Learners complete a follow-up survey several weeks or months after the course to re-iterate key learnings and test knowledge retention. One requirement could be for learners to provide feedback on how they have put their course learnings into practice.

The elements you include, and how much they make up of a blended learning course, will depend entirely on the type of course you offer. Some courses may have more face-to-face elements, while others have more eLearning modules. 

But the key to successful blended learning is to provide variety in learning methods. Blended learning is an easy way to include all elements of the learning pyramid; helping to keep learners engaged and increase knowledge retention. 


What is the learning pyramid?

The learning pyramid is an illustration that identifies the seven methods of learning, and the effectiveness of each method in terms of knowledge retention. These percentages were borne from extensive research by the National Training Laboratories Institute. 

What are the seven learning pyramid methods? 

Audio visual.
Group discussion.
Practiced by doing.
Teaching others.

What are active learning methods?

Group discussion, Practiced by doing and Teaching others.

What are passive learning methods?

Lecture, Reading, Audio visual, and demonstration.

What is the most effective learning method?

The most effective learning method is learning via a mixture of delivery methods. In other words, blended learning.

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