A new study on the diffusion of that *%*§§§ Learning Pyramid

It was part of one of the oldest – and most read – posts on this blog, and has been a chapter in our book. Kåre Letrud & Sigbjørn Hernes have now checked how this – insert adjective here – learning pyramid has been spread through Academia. Ht to Daniel William for the link!

Read and weep:

The searches revealed that the retention models have disseminated extensively. At the time of writing, searches in journal databases, Google Books and Google Scholar have produced 418 peer-reviewed articles on educational issues published between 1990 and 2013, advanc- ing some version of the learning pyramids. Of these, 350 articles were published within subject didactics, while only 68 were found in other educational studies. The searches also uncovered 11 field-specific encyclopaedia articles published during the same period.

The number of peer-reviewed articles raising points of critique or questions concerning the origin or validity of some version of the models is only 15, including one encyclopaedia article.2

The articles uncritically reiterating the learning pyramids include theoretical and conceptual discussions as well as empirical studies. The latter comprised quantitative as well as qualitative studies, featuring large-scale studies, as well as smaller case studies, pilot studies and evaluations. There were also some secondary research articles offering specific advice on teaching and presenting.

The profiles of the academic publications indicate that the models have spread widely, within several disciplines of subject didactics. There were subject didactic publications for eight different natural sciences, 17 branches of medicine and 20 areas of social sciences.

We classified the journals of 68 articles as other educational studies. More than half of these articles (36) came from the field of educational technology (40, if we include four articles on distance education).

Most findings were published in US and UK journals, which was expected given that the search strings were primarily in English. However, the nationality of the authors’ institutions, as well as the publications, shows that the models have also spread to 42 additional countries.

The number of articles citing the models increased between 1990 and 2013, which might suggest an augmented spreading, and a growing popularity and authority of the models. However, we believe that this is just as likely a reflection of the increasing digitalization and indexation of academic journals during this period.

The findings also include no less than 11 field-specific encyclopaedias featuring some version of the models.

And still: it’s totally bogus and wrong.

Abstract of the study:

This article examines the diffusion and present day status of a family of unsubstantiated learning-retention myths, some of which are referred to as ‘the learning pyramid’. We demonstrate through an extensive search in academic journals and field-specific encyclopaedias that these myths are indeed widely publicised in academia and that they have gained a considerable level of authority. We also argue that the academic publishing of these myths is potentially harmful to both professional as well as political deliberations on educational issues, and therefore should be criticized and counteracted.

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