It’s time to publicly vilify NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science for propagating the myth that learners remember 10% of what they read, 20% or what they see visually, etc. They continue to claim that they did this research and that it is accurate.

The research is NOT accurate, nor could it be. Even a casual observer can see that research results that end neatly in 5’s or 0’s (as in 5%, 10%, 20%, 30%) are extremely unlikely. To see a complete debunking of this hoax, click here.

Normally, I choose not to name names when it comes to the myths in our field. We all make mistakes, right? But NTL continues to harm our field by propagating this myth. Here is the document (Download NTL’s email)–the one they send to people who inquire about the percentages. At least five separate people have sent me this document after contacting NTL on their own initiative.

I have talked to NTL staff people and emailed them (over a year ago), and even with my charming personality, I have failed to persuade them of the problems they are causing.

The people who write me about this are outraged (and frankly confused) that an organization would propagate such an obvious falsehood. Are you?

Here are claims that NTL makes in its letter that are false:

NTL: We know that in 1954 a similar pyramid with slightly different numbers appeared on p. 43 of a book called Audio-Visual Methods in Teaching, published by the Edgar Dale Dryden Press in New York.

Why false? There are NO numbers on page 43 of Edgar Dale’s book.

NTL: We are happy to respond to your inquiry about The Learning Pyramid. Yes, it was developed and used by NTL Institute at our Bethel, Maine campus in the early sixties when we were still part of the National Education Association’s Adult Education Division.

Very Intriguing: How could NTL have developed the pyramid in the 1960’s, when a similar version was published by Edgar Dale in 1954? Professor Michael Molenda of Indiana University has found some evidence that the numbers first appeared in the 1940’s. Maybe NTL has a time machine.

NTL: Yet the Learning Pyramid as such seems to have been modified and always has been attributed to NTL Institute.

No. It wasn’t attributed to NTL by Dale. Dale thought it was his. And again, Dale did not use any numbers. Just a cone.

Okay, so now half of you hate NTL, and the other half of you hate me for being the “know-it-all kid” from 7th grade. Well, I’ll take the heat for that. But still, is this the kind of field you want to work in?

And what is the advantage for NTL to continue the big lie?

Here’s what NTL should write when people inquire:

Thanks for your inquiry to the NTL Institute. Yes, we once utilized the “Learning Pyramid” concept in our work, starting in the 1960’s. However, we can no longer locate the source of the original information and recent research tends to debunk those earlier recommendations. We apologize for any harm or confusion we may have caused.