We've been contemplating the cost of education. And since we like to begin close to home we wondered what the numbers would have been had we as well as our son not done it the Frugal Prosumer way. In reflecting on our 50 years of working in educational institutes around the world, starting an alternative school, and John obtaining a masters degree in education and being a consultant, we thought about how important it is to understand the most efficient ways to learn.

The Frugal Prosumer way is about doing things as efficiently as possible so you have more time to invest in what is most important to you. Learning is no exception, so let's look at the most effective ways to learn and get the most bang out of your investment.

When you think of learning, what pops into your head? Classrooms, piles of expensive text books to read, listening to lectures? But of the different methods of learning, reading and lectures are the least efficient. Active learning is significantly more efficient than passive learning, which is why it’s important to combine passive methods with active ones. Remember: at times the most inefficient method might be the most efficient depending upon circumstances.

If you have had any classes in the past 40 years you will have come across "The Learning Pyramid".  This has showed up time and time again in our education.


John can’t tell you how many times he was “lectured”on this pyramid. Let’s see, where does that show up on the pyramid? Now get this. After 50 some years, they have discovered that the percentages on this pyramid are not based on scientific research and can’t be replicated. Somebody just put them in there. Though experience and evidence shows that they’re likely in the ballpark and probably in the correct order. 

Oops, I believed a myth? 

Oops again! The high institutes of learning got it wrong. Wonder what else they got wrong. In my experience, there’s more.

I agree with them that the percentages are most likely made up however they are useful guides to help you know how to choose the best learning method. So let’s look at these ideas.

Passive methods of learning

Least effective method of learning

1. Listening to lectures

If the percentages are close to correct it means a student could be wasting 95% of their time.  This method is used for a number reasons: tradition, easiest way to address a large group, just tell people what to do without worrying about “blowback”, etc.

Lecturing can be made more efficient if it is supplemented with the other learning methods and/or the listener is actively engaged with past experiences or tying it to other things they know. Be aware “PowerPoint” demonstrations very often do not follow effective presentation rules. 

2.  Reading

Is similar to lectures but has a few advantages. You can skip what’s irrelevant to you. You can go at your own pace. It’s easy to do at your own time and place. Retention can also be greatly improved by being an active reader and doing the following:

  • connecting what you’re reading with other content you’ve read and your own experiences
  • critically evaluating everything you read
  • trying out the things you read about
  • engaging your imagination and learning vocabulary

You can read thousands of books about a certain skill, yet you won’t master it.

A ton of theory cannot compare to a pinch of experience.” Old saying

3. Audio visual

You are now engaging more of your senses. One of the biggest advantages today, is so much free educational audio and video is available. It means you can turn any potentially wasted time into “school”. (waiting room, queue, drive time, etc.) Turning your drive time into a “university on wheels”!

4. Demonstration

Somebody shows you how to do something. This is why private lessons, mentoring, or coaching can be a good business.

The teaching method we have found to be most powerful is:

  • I do, you watch
  • I do, you help
  • You do, I help
  • You do, I watch

Active methods of learning

Significantly more effective than passive methods.

5. Group discussion

Especially effective where you have to shape and defend your own opinions in an intellectual discussion, or in a group that has different experiences and beliefs that challenge your point of view.

6. Real life experience

This combined with previous learning methods is usually the most powerful learning method and way to improving your competence. Our alternative school was based on  R.A.C.E. (Reality Adventure Challenge Education). Everything we did was reality-based and made into an adventure that challenged the student. 

It is difficult if not impossible to really understand the things you haven't experienced in life. 

7. Teaching others

You learn the most, especially after real life experience, when you start teaching, writing books, or maybe even starting a blog. 


  • Some of the most effective methods of learning are: field trips, internships, apprenticeships, mentoring, private tutoring, on job training, etc.
  • The most effective way to learn new things is using each method when it is most appropriate, combining methods of learning, and checking with your own experiences in reality.  
  • The closer a learning experience is to real life the more powerful it will be.
  • Each personality type and each person has a preferred learning style (visual, auditory, read-write, kinesthetic, etc.). Adjust accordingly.

Do not be confused, homeschooling is not the best form of education. The best form of education is using the best learning methods. By the very nature of homeschooling though the student tends to use more of these active learning methods.

Be aware, educational institutes often have to use the methods that are more likely to “waste your time” because of the higher costs associated with active learning methods. Compensate accordingly.

 A future article will address how John applied the Frugal Prosumer principles to “hack” his education and get the the most from his investment of time and money.

AuthorJohn Johnston

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If you’re looking for some ideas for what to do, here’s a list of One-Another activities, from the best-selling book in all of history.

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The math you didn't learn in school.

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