Active Learning Theory

We can learn by reading, listening and having experiences. The best way for most people is often a combination, but with a strong active component, as the tables below show. Note also how the second table indicates how a strong follow-up with practice, feedback and coaching strengthens learning even more.

Learning Recall Related to Type of Presentation

Adapted from: Dale 1969.

Table 2. Transfer of Learning

Adapted from: Joyce and Showers 1981.


“What I hear, I forget;

What I see, I remember;

What I do, I understand.”

– Old Chinese proverb, sometimes attributed to Confucius

Active learning engages the whole person, not just the intellectual mind. When people try to do things and fail or succeed, emotions are triggered, and these have a significant effect on how we remember. 

So when you are teaching or persuading someone, and particularly if you want them to remember things, get them actively involved. 

So what?

When you are developing training, ensure there are plenty of practical activities alongside just enough theory for them to integrate the learning with their existing schema.

Also give strong and honest feedback that is given in a way that the person is able to accept and use to improve.

See also

Dale E. 1969. Cone of experience, in Educational Media: Theory into Practice. Wiman RV (ed). Charles Merrill: Columbus, Ohio

Joyce B and B Showers. 1981. Transfer of training: the contributions of coaching. Journal of Education 163(2): 163–172.