How the Cone of Learning Applies to Your Ability to Earn Money

cone of learning active vs passive

In 1946, Edgar Dale, an expert in audiovisual education, created his infamous “Cone of Experience,” a pyramid-shaped graphic that detailed the different ways that we receive information, visually illustrated as different levels on a cone-shaped diagram.
His theory was very similar to the Chinese proverb: the majority of the things we retain in our memory are a result of action that we take on them.

“What I hear, I forget; What I see, I remember; What I do, I understand.” - Chinese Proverb

Click to Tweet

Years later, his theory was applied directly to learning, transforming it into the “Cone of Learning.” Other experts took it even further and assigned percentages on each level of the cone to give educators an even clearer idea on just how important taking action is when it comes to learning.

​Download a FREE PDF Report

If you Don't what to get Educated ​+  Inspired ​+ be Financial Free ​ 

then Don't enter your best email to get the list of 

the top 10 podcast that ​will BOOST YOUR INCOME

The “Cone of Learning” can have a lot of different applications. We want to show you just how much you can learn from it as you make the jump from just thinking about creating sources of income to actually making those dreams a reality. The best way for you to start growing your income, both online and the real world, is to start taking action immediately.


Passive Learning

In order to understand Dale’s vision, we start at the top of the pyramid. The two top portions are part of one larger section called “passive learning.” According to a business dictionary, passive learning is when we learn from someone but receive no feedback from the instructor throughout the learning process.

According to the Cone of Learning, we only have the potential to retain up to 50% of what we learn. While that might initially sound like a lot, it also obviously means that there is a lot of information that we forget almost immediately upon hearing or reading it.

There are two ways that we experience passive learning.

  1. Verbal Receiving is the process of taking in information through reading or listening. This would include things like going to a lecture or reading a textbook about a topic. According to the Cone of Learning, we only retain up to 20% of what we read and hear.
  2. Visual Receiving is the process of taking in information through what we see. This can be through things like watching a movie or a demonstration, or looking at an exhibit. We learn by just taking the time to be observant. Dale’s theory indicates that we retain up to 30% of what we see with our eyes.

So when we are passively learning, if we account for both verbal and visual receiving, we have the capability of retaining up to 50% of what we both see and hear. That’s not a bad number when you think about what retention, but when you think about what you’re missing, you’re still losing a full half of what you’re taking in. Is there a way to retain more?

Active Learning

In the middle of the pyramid, we transition to what Dale termed “active learning,” which is the act of taking in information through engagement with the material we are trying to learn. That can come in many different forms.

According to the Cone of Learning, when we are actively learning, we don’t lose what we have retained in passive learning. We build on that acquired knowledge to accumulate even more.

There are two styles of involvement with a subject that comprise the active learning component of the cone.

  1. Receiving/Participating is the processing and absorbing of information and verbalizing back to someone else what we have taken in. This would include things like participating in a discussion about the topic that you are studying or giving a talk yourself on what you are learning. Anything where you are telling someone else what you have taken in would constitute receiving/participating. According to the Cone of Learning, you retain up to 70% of the material that you engage with through receiving/participating.
  2. Doing is the process of learning information through taking action on what we have learned. This can be things like giving a presentation, where you are required to teach and engage others seeking to learn from you. It can also include actually putting into practice in the real world what you have to that point only learned about in textbooks. According to the Cone of Learning, we have the potential to retain an additional 20% beyond what we retain in receiving/participating.

So when we are actively involved with a subject, we can learn up to 90% of what we say and do with regards to it. That makes a very strong case for engaging the material that you are trying to learn and putting it into practice!

These are great statistics, and they’re powerful reminders of what we are capable of learning and retaining as human beings. But what do they mean to you as someone who is trying to grow your income? Let’s put the Cone of Learning theories into practice for you and show you why taking action is the way to achieve the best results in earning that extra income.

Our Example – and How It Can Become Your Story

Let’s say that you were very interested in investing in real estate and starting your own real estate business to create passive income through renting properties. Here is how you need to progress through the Cone of Learning in order to go from just thinking about investing to actually buying properties.

Step 1: Verbal Receiving
Read all about real estate. Become extremely knowledgeable on the subject. You also want to make sure that you are knowledgeable about the community you’re living in – which are desirable areas and which are not. So you read all the books you can about buying and selling homes, listen to best real estate investing podcasts, attend local real estate investing clubs (you can find those at, and take seminars so you can hear other experts speak about it. During this time, you might also be reading about and studying up on what it means to be a landlord, so you can understand that part of your business.

Step 2: Visual Receiving
You’re still in the information-gathering stage at this point, but it’s not enough anymore to just read about real estate or hear someone talk about it. Now you need to start to see with your eyes what you have been reading about. So go tour some homes. See what’s on the market in your area and get a sense of what might be worth investing in and what might not. Ask any friends or acquaintances who are already working in real estate if you can shadow them for a day or two. During this time, you should also be talking to people who have invested in real estate. See if you can pick the brains of people who have been there, done that, so you learn what mistakes to avoid and what things you should definitely be doing in order to succeed.

Step 3: Receiving/Participating
Now you have all the information you need, but in order to be sure you really understand what you know (and that you’re able to communicate it effectively so that you are presenting yourself as a competent businessperson), you must start to have real conversations with other people about your ideas. Talk to a real estate investor. Ask questions about his or her successes and failures. Ask for tips about what they’ve done, or see if they might come check out a property that you have your eye on. Talk to friends or acquaintances who might be interested in renting a property to see what appeals to them. By doing things like this, you’re continuing to process the information that you’ve taken in, and you’re also beginning to take action on the ideas you’re learning about, laying the groundwork for starting your business.

Step 4: Doing
You’ve talked the talk, and now you need to walk the walk. Now it’s time to actually put together all the things that you’ve been learning about and talking about, and invest. Buy your first property and get your first renters. You know enough by now to be able to make a good decision when purchasing, and you know enough about what to charge so that you aren’t just breaking even but actually bringing in some income with your rental property. By doing these things, you are taking the action you need as someone with a passion for real estate and a desire to build his income, and putting it into practice.

The biggest thing holding most of us back from taking that action is fear. Fear of failure. Fear that your effort won’t yield the results you want. Fear that others won’t understand what you’re doing. Fear that you’ll work really hard and end up right back where you are right now.

Getting over your fear is the first hurdle to making your dreams of creating your own income into a reality. But how do you get past the fear?


We retain 90% of what we both say and do, and by applying this principle to earning an income, we learn just how important it is to take ownership of your knowledge and take action to begin making a profit. There’s no doubt that it requires time, energy, and lots of effort, but progressing through the levels of learning and achieving actual action is the best way to solidify your knowledge about a subject and use that intelligence to your greatest advantage in business and in life.

When Dale introduced his Cone of Experience, he believed that it should be used as a way to understand how we learn and what the best ways are to apply that learning to our lives. The biggest thing that it helps you to do is move from merely thinking about an idea to actually taking action on it. Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” All of the great ideas in the world, no matter how well-understood they are, mean nothing if we can’t take action to make them come to life.

Now it's YOUR turn!

How do you apply the Cone of Learning in your life?
This post may contain affiliate links.

About the author


W2 employee in the hunt for #PassiveIncome ! I am covering my journey to create a Boost in my income through: A) Passive Income Online (#AffiliateMarketing, #EmailMarketing) B) Passive Income Offline (#RealEstateInvesting for positive cash flow).

Leave a comment:

Get Top 10 Must Listen to Podcasts that will BOOST your income