Show and Tell

Remember when you were a snot-nosed third grader that brought in some bullshit toy that no one else cared about? And since showing it off wasn’t boring enough, you had to open your yapper and tell your classmates about it, as if your blathering would add any degree of interest. Not much has changed.

The whole appeal of show and tell is the showing, of course, not the telling. Would kids rather be shown a new video game or told about it? Would you rather be shown the Mona Lisa or told about it? Why would I tell you how much I hate you when I could just do this?

Middle Finger

Words simply don’t have the same impact as images.  Yes, there are exceptions. We will always remember ‘I have a dream…’ and ‘…one small step for man…’, and we probably won’t forget ‘I’m in love with someone else’ or ‘you’re not the father.’ But by and large, our brains don’t remember this way.

Pop Quiz: What do the following all have in common?

“Life is like a box of chocolate…”

“Do you feel lucky, punk?”

“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

“Mirror mirror on the wall…”

“Beam me up, Scotty.”

“Luke, I am your father.”

“Hello, Clarise.”

“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”

Famous movie quotes, right? Can you name the movies? You can probably picture all of them. Forrest Gump sitting at the bus stop. Dirty Harry standing in front of a mirror. Dorothy holding Toto. The only thing is, no one ever said these oft-attributed quotes. They’re all (famous) misquotes.

It’s dangerous to attach percentages to how much we learn via any particular sensory input, but research consistently shows a higher degree of retention through visual stimulus rather than aural. If you spend enough time in the field of learning and retention, you’ll eventually come upon Edgar Dale’s ‘Cone of Experience’. I could tell you about it, but you probably wouldn’t get it. Better show you instead.

Edgar Dale's Cone of Experience

The first thing to notice is that this looks a lot more like a triangle than a cone. What the fuck, Dale? The important thing is that verbal symbols (a bullshit expression that just means ‘spoken words’) occupies the least amount of learning retention. The quality of learning then grows with seeing written words, pictures and motion pictures to doing demonstrations to finally experiencing.

But don’t take my word for it. Old Ben can say it far better than I ever could.

Benjamin Franklin Quote

They wouldn’t put just anyone on the hundred dollar bill. And money talks, folks, but as we’ve just seen, people don’t learn from talking. So I don’t expect you to actually learn anything from what I’ve just told you. We both know how slow you are on the uptake to begin with.  I’m going to have to show you, aren’t I?

Leave a Reply