Designing a Course with Accountability and Dale’s Cone of Experience

Cartoon image of students performing different educational activities

When I began designing my course activities, I needed a model that would include all modalities of the learning processes. As my blueprint, I chose to incorporate Dale’s Cone of Experience. In the 1960s, Edgar Dale introduced the Cone of Experience, which shows the progression of experiences from the most concrete to the most abstract. This theorized that learners remember more information by what they do as opposed to what is heard, read, or observed, and because of his research, this learning by doing has become known as experiential learning or action learning.

As charted below, in my effort to increase student achievement of learning outcomes, I utilize Dale’s Cone of Experience as a tool to develop learning activities for my students.

Subsequently, the activities that I routinely incorporate into my lessons, the active participation, has developed a deeper understanding of the discipline in which the students are studying. From this, I have noticed an increase in the interaction between my students and myself. Overall, I can attest that the active participation in my classroom has played a significant role in achieving meaningful and purposeful learning.

In doing so, I have given students full authority to hold me accountable. Without hesitation, I allow my students to evaluate my instruction according to Dale’s Cone of Experience. At the beginning of each semester, I provide each student with a document that lists all of the learning modalities, and beside each modality, there is a space to provide a specific date in which a modality or modalities have been addressed in class. At the end of each semester, students have charted how engaged they were in each learning activity. This provides them with a visual of the quality, or lack thereof, instruction that was provided by me—the professor. I communicate to them that if they have only charted reading and hearing modalities of learning by the end of the semester, that should pose a red flag. In other words, my instruction has been ineffective and has not met the varied needs of my students. I have observed that students relish in the idea that accountability can be reciprocated in my classroom. Yes, I hold them accountable and they hold me accountable because my instruction should manifest that I am invested in their learning, success, and future.

As the end result, accountability requires me to be intentionally involved in the learner and the learning process. In order to increase retention, students need to experience a variety of instructional methods. As a consequence of implementing Dale’s Cone of Experience, I have noticed the more learning modalities that I incorporate into the learning process, students are more engaged and the understanding of content has become more in-depth and relevant.

Dimple J. Martin, PhD, is assistant professor of early childhood education and faculty professional development at Miles College.