Over the past half century or so, educators have worked with a learning pyramid to aid in understanding learner retention. At the top of the pyramid are techniques with the least retention while the techniques at the base of the pyramid provide the greatest amount of retention. Over the years this pyramid has evolved as new techniques develop through evolving technologies.
This Learning Pyramid is my design for techniques in the living history environment. As with the traditional pyramids, at the top are the techniques with the least personal connectivity with visitors/learners. At the bottom are those techniques providing the best connections with visitors/learners. The strata of the pyramid do not represent good to bad. They represent the varying ways to connect with visitors at different depths. The top of the pyramid can give a good over view of a subject, while the base of the pyramid can provide visitors with an in-depth, personal experience and ingrained understanding. By utilizing a combination of the techniques the full height of the pyramid, visitors are offered a complete experience, which through their choice meets their particular needs.
Let us examine the pyramid from the top down.
Lecture Style Presentations can include most presentations where a single or small group of interpreters talks to a group of visitors in a stagnant setting such as a classroom, gallery or auditorium, or in a mobile setting such as in guided or even self led tours. (In self led tours, the presenter and setting changes while the presentation style remains the same.) One can also include introductory videos in the category as well. In this technique, the visitor is primarily a listener and observer with the occasional opportunity to ask questions. (I will say in hind-sight of the visual presentation of this pyramid, I would like to have made the top level longer as there are so many formats which fall under the lecture style presentation.)
Self-led Inquiry includes examining original artifacts (or in some cases reproductions), reading original documents such as diaries, letters and ledgers, and looking at original images such as photographs or genre paintings. Self-led inquiry does not include significant guidance from a knowledgeable person or source. Instead, it is entirely learner/visitor led.
Interactive Exhibits are guided inquiry. These exhibits use instruction, often through text and visual panels or other media, combined with hands-on examination. They are organized to lead the learning and exploration process.
Demonstrations and First Person Presentations are live-action multi-sensory learning experiences allowing visitors/learners to see, hear and smell how something works or is done. These are meant to be interactive (If they are not interactive, they belong further up they pyramid.) where visitors can ask questions, feel samples, examine tools, etc.. These techniques use multiple senses in connection with a live, interactive education source.
Hands-On Activities and Play to Learn opportunities go one more step beyond the above techniques. The focus transitions from the demonstrator showing how to the learner/visitor learning how. In this technique the learning process is guided according to the project or activity.
Role Playing and Experimental Archeology because wholly learner centered. Here, the learning process becomes learner lead. Granted, event or site staff are present for consultation and to ensure the safety of participants and the site.