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Creative Teaching

We learn 10 % of – is this true? Where does it all come from?

I see many graphs on the internet yet stop at times and wonder   ‘okay, interesting ideas, yet where do these come from?’

One example is:

How We Learn

We Learn

10% of what we READ

20% of what we HEAR

30% of what we SEE

50% of what we SEE and HEAR

70% of what is DISCUSSED with OTHERS


95% of what we TEACH TO SOMEONE ELSE

It is often attributed to William Glasser , is used a great deal in education and training , yet let’s look a little closer.

Where does the How We Learn theory come from?

According to Will at Work Learning   the figures were ‘first published by an employee of Mobil Oil Company in 1967, writing in the magazine Film and Audio-Visual Communications.’

The figures were not based on solid research- furthermore they have been twisted and distorted ever since.

The interesting story is detailed in the above link. And oops I have been guilty of using this graph myself.

Proves that in training we need to take things with a grain of salt – or ‘a grain of whiteboard marker’ to excuse the pun.

Here are some sobering comments from famous educators to make us think twice about our use of ideas.

There have been literally hundreds and perhaps thousands of applications of my ideas educationally, both in this country and in the world. I say that with as much mystification and embarrassment as pride, because I have had almost nothing to do with it; these are things other people have done. But one thing that struck me is how incredibly superficial most of the applications have been, and one obsessive thought that’s stimulating me through this current work in education is this: I don’t want to be part of the trivialization of education.  Howard Gardner

Gazzaniga who worked alongside alongside Roger Sperry on split-brain patients said in 1985 – “How did some laboratory finding of limited generality get so outrageously misinterpreted?” – Quoted in Guy Claxton’s ‘Hare Brain Tortoise Mind.’

Learning is a much wider, richer concept than is captured within current models of education and training. – Guy Claxton in ‘Wise Up: the Challenge of Lifelong Learning.’


About inclued

I am a teacher/trainer, writer and photographer, with teaching experience in Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Special Needs and Staff Development.


4 thoughts on “We learn 10 % of – is this true? Where does it all come from?

  1. This has been bandied around a few blogs I have been reading lately. It seems to have finally had it’s day and been shown in true light.

    Good job on the research. Someone needs to validate the new research – wherever that may be.

    Cheers, Pete

    Posted by Peter Smith | June 7, 2011, 8:10 pm
    • Thanks Pete – it is amazing how much information simply gets recycled – there are many theorists who despair at how their information has been used. I have been guilty of misuse – I think a healthy dose of scepticism goes a long way in training- and it is amazing how the fundamentals still hold up!

      Posted by inclued | June 7, 2011, 9:16 pm
  2. I have wondered the same thing about something Sousa started in How the Brain Learns. The chart with the learning cycles showing that most retention occurs at the beginning, and some at the end, of class, with the middle being a wash. So he recommends resetting that cycle periodically to get multiple best-learning-periods into each class. I was really excited the first time I saw this in a grad course and wanted to do my project on it. But when I tried to find the research the chart and advice was based on, all I could find was studies that showed people remember the first and last items on a list of words or numbers better than those in the middle of the list. He seems to have extrapolated from wordlists to generalize to all classroom learning without any research to back it up. Yet I’ve seen this cited as empirical, researched-based fact in several courses and inservices.

    Posted by Matthew Nickerson | October 23, 2011, 12:11 pm
    • I agree Matthew – so much gets bandied around and extrapolated. It was only recently that teachers, based on dubious advice, were setting up drink stations and encouraging kids to drink water. Water apparently improved thinking. This was pretty much dumped when it was debunked by the scientific community. I have my suspicions about a lot of stuff that goes on in schools e.g. charts clearly dividing left and right brain thinking. I think it is a lot of pseudo science – like attaching the word ‘science’ to ‘management’. At the end of the day (or maybe during the course of the day) I think that teachers need to look at things such as engagement and be very sceptical of ideas that get lifted from academic papers and twisted through the popular press. Often these ideas also come from very dubious sources e.g. opinion polls such as online surveys. Thanks for your contribution.

      Posted by inclued | October 25, 2011, 6:25 am

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