Don’t Bother to Read the Documentation

Don’t Bother to Read the Documentation

When you need to know about something, studies show that simply reading about the subject is not the best method of acquiring knowledge. Beyond the quality of the documentation, or the level of a person’s reading ability, reading about something is one of the least efficient methods of learning what you need to know.

Alternatively, you could talk to a friend or co-worker, but listening to someone is even a worse way of getting the information you need. When people speak, as opposed to when people write, the information they communicate is not well structured (unless what you are hearing comes from a prepared, rehearsed speech),  information is often missing and conveyed inconsistently, and there are issues around audibly hearing what the person said.

So what’s the best way to learn about something? What activity allows us to retain the most amount of information…. how do we learn best?

I refer you to Edgar Dale, the American educationalist who developed the ‘Cone of Experience’ latter to be re-branded as the ‘Cone of Learning’.

Edgar Dale discovered:


As you can see from Edgar’s research, the worst way to learn about something is to hear or read about it, and the best way to learn about something is to teach it. Consequently, if you want to learn about something, watch a video demonstration, practice it, then teach others about it.

By the way, these numbers are completely bogus, and they didn’t come from Dale. Further, studies demonstrate that most people won’t bother to read this far into this article; they’ll stop at the graphic. This makes sense because people learn better by looking at visuals (such as the graphic) than they do by reading text.

However, the Learning Pyramid does accurately demonstrate that there is a hierarchy in terms of the things we can do to acquire and retain knowledge. Principally, the more active a learner is in the learning, the stronger the experience, the more knowledge the learner acquires and retains.

While you won’t recall as much information by reading, it’s important to note that well structured written documentation is the foundation for developing every other activity. When preparing audiovisual (video) presentations, performing an effective demonstration, or teaching others; success depends on a well written plan. To create an audiovisual project, you need a script and a storyboard.  Every  teacher knows that a well written lesson plan is the basis of good instruction. Before you can practice doing something, you need to acquire sufficient knowledge from a lower retention-level Learning Pyramid activity that relied on well-written documentation to create it.

Reading and writing is still the core of learning and learning development, but activities higher on the Learning Pyramid are more able to assist you in acquiring and retaining knowledge.


Allen Ehlert

Allen Ehlert is a project/program manager, technical business analyst, and information developer with over 20 years experience delivering IT consulting services to corporations and government. Mr. Ehlert possesses 4 university degrees (2 Masters degrees) and certifications in project management, technology, ITSM-ITIL, financial securities, accounting, real estate, and education.
Allen Ehlert

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