Possible Misconceptions about Dale's Cone (from the man himself)

The following was written by Dale in 1969 in his 3rd Edition of Audiovisual Methods in Teaching as a caution against oversimplification and misinterpretation of the Cone of Experience:
Perhaps the Cone of Experience has already helped to remind you of some important ideas about communication, learning, and concept development.  But like all reminders, the Cone carries the dangers of oversimplification... [do] not mistake the Cone device for an exact rank-order of learning processes.  You will understand that the Cone classifies instructional messages only in terms of greater or lesser concreteness and abstractness. 

Q  Does the Cone device mean that all teaching and learning must move systematically from base to pinnacle? 

Emphatically no.  As we have noted, young children use many simple abstractions-verbal symbols.  Before entering school they have mastered the meanings of at least 2500 words, or verbal symbols, each one of which is an abstraction.  The fact that something is an abstraction does not necessarily make it difficult to understand.  Actually, there are wide variations in degree of difficulty. 

Can we overemphasize the amount of direct experience that is required to learn a new concept?
A  Yes, this is a danger.  Perhaps the new abstraction can be mastered with less firsthand experience than you might think necessary.  Indeed, too much reliance on concrete experience may actually obstruct the process of meaningful generalization.  Certainly a mathematician could not develop a system of higher mathematics by counting on his fingers.

Q  Are the upper levels of the Cone for the older student and the lower ones for the child?
A It is true that the older a person is, the more abstract his concepts are likely to be.  We can explain this developmental change by a greater physical maturation, greater opportunity for vivid experiences, and (in certain circumstances) greater motivation for learning.  But an older student does not live exclusively in the world of his abstract concepts, just as a child does not live only through the impressions his senses give him.  The shuttling process, in fact, continues not only through the learning of a particular concept, but throughout all life.  And this interaction is an indication of the nature and complexity of concepts themselves.  Instructional materials at all levels of the Cone can help us to extend the web of relationships that our concepts involve.  Even the most advanced student, therefore, can deepen his understanding of concepts and his enjoyment of life by participating in experiences all along our Cone. … the Cone of Experience stands for activities that are available, in varying degrees, to learners in all age groups.
We conclude, then, that the Cone of Experience is visual model, a pictorial device that may help you to think critically about the ways in which concepts are developed.  Indeed, you may now be able to apply your ideas about the relationships of interesting, meaningful experiences and abstract, highly symbolic representations.