The 70:20:10 learning model
The 70:20:10 learning model was first proposed in 1996 and has gained traction in corporate learning and development departments. These notes survey several high-level and practical articles about the model.
Biech, E. (2016) ‘The 90% Solution’, TD magazine, December, pp. 58-63 [Online]. Available for ATD members at https://www.td.org/magazines/td-magazine/the-90-percent-solution.
Hoyle, R. (2012) ‘A new blend’, Training Journal, January, pp. 13-15.
Lombardo, M., and Eichinger, R. (1996) The Career Architect Development Planner, Minneapolis, Lominger Limited.
O’Driscoll, T. (2015) ‘Getting Training in Gear’, Training Magazine, January/February, p. 138. Available at https://trainingmag.com/trgmag-article/getting-training-gear.
Paine, N. (2014) ‘Chapter 4, What 70:20:10 is and why it is important’, The Learning Challenge: Dealing with technology, innovation, and change in learning and development, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Kogan Page.
Petterd, R. (2016) ’70:20:10 Based Learning Ecosystems’, Training & Development, August, pp. 10-11 [Online].
This concept was published by Eichinger and Lombardo in their 1996 book titled The Career Architect Development Planner. ‘Development generally begins with a realization of current or future need and the motivation to do something about it. This might come from feedback, a mistake, watching other people’s reactions, failing or not being up to a task – in other words, from experience. The odds are that development will be about 70% from on-the-job experiences, working on tasks and problems; about 20% from feedback and working around good and bad examples of the need, and 10% from courses and reading’ (Lombardo and Eichinger, 1996, p. 4).
That is, our learning is:
- 70% workplace learning (experience, practice, work assignments)
- 20% social learning (coaching and mentoring, learning from peers)
- 10% formal instruction
I think it is a mistake to interpret these numbers as empirically proven in serious research. Instead, it is best to view them as a general guide of proportions.
Biech: Learning activities for each component
Biech cites several previous studies that found roughly the same ratio as the 70:20:10 model.
- Provide courses and workshops, e-learning, universities, MOOCs and SPOCs, reading books and articles
- Allow time for practice and reflection
- Encourage conversation and building of relationships between participants
- Have realistic hands-on activities
- Provide and demonstrate feedback
- Encouragement, feedback, and conversations with mentors, coaches, managers, professional communities, and blogs; sharing work; building internal and external networks; 360 feedback; seeking advice of others; teaching others
- Apps and mobile learning can encourage group conversations, for example by texting a challenge to a group, making use of discussion boards, or encouraging the sharing of ideas and content on social media
- A matching of challenging experiences with developmental need is important
- Problem-solving, cross-functional activities and rotational assignments, taking on new responsibilities and stretch assignments, championing a new initiative, managing change, increasing interactions with managers
- Help managers and mentors ask the learner questions that encourage reflection
Some activities can cross over two or three of the components: Social learning activities like blogging paired with formal learning; on-demand webinars or job aids that can be used as-needed to support on-the-job performance and which can be made more social with a follow-up discussion with a manager.
Two concerns when implementing a 70:20:10 model: Do managers agree to their role in developing people? And, does the learning and development team know what it needs to do to foster and support the managers? I think learners would also have concerns, about how to be more self-directed in their learning, and about having understanding and agreement on the roles and model.
Hoyle: An example
The 70:20:10 model does not mean that formal training is unimportant. The model requires greater planning and management of learning and development.
In Hoyle’s (2012) example:
- The learner starts by identifying their performance gap, the gap between where they are and where they want to be. This can be done during the review process, especially if it offers feedback or conversations with multiple people in different roles relative to the learner. The learner then identifies the work projects and tasks they need to participate in, in order to gain the experiences and skills identified in their gap analysis. All of this is part of the 70%.
- The learner might then participate in in a formal e-learning course that provides baseline, prerequisite understanding of concepts, and then following that with participation in an activities-based workshop. (Similar to a flipped classroom.) This is the 10%.
- Throughout the process of self-analysis, engagement in challenging work projects and tasks, and participation in formal learning events, the learner has conversations and supportive activities with experts, mentors, managers, and peers. These people provide feedback and new information when needed, and help the learner reflect on the process. This is the 20%.
One challenge in implementing the 70:20:10 model is to make sure you have support of the organization, and that they understand that this does not replace formal training with unplanned on-the-job experiences. The work experiences are carefully planned, and the formal training courses are designed to complement them. The social learning involves experts, managers, and others who may need help in their roles as coach and mentor, and that help may also be part of a 70:20:10 model for them (to help them learn mentoring, for example).
Hoyle ends by remarking that the 70:20:10 model works in a complementary fashion with Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. Kolb’s cycle has 4 parts:
- Having a concrete experience
- Observing and reflecting on the experience
- Forming abstract concepts based on the reflection
- Testing the new concepts.
O’Driscoll: Components work together
O’Driscoll offers a drawing that illustrates how the three components of the model work together, and thus should be planned instead of left to chance.
(O’Driscoll, 2015, p. 138)
Paine: More examples, and how to adopt the model
Paine’s book chapter that relies heavily on the writings (and perhaps an interview with) Charles Jennings. He was the global learning leader at Reuters, and now has his own company which promotes the 70:20:10 model. The 70:20:10 model acknowledges something that is easily witnessed. As an example, Paine relays an interaction that occurred during a conference: ‘[S]omeone from the stage asked the audience how they go about learning something new. Google and YouTube were the most popular answers. If the problem was work-based, the response was to ask a colleague Far down the list came ‘enrol on a course” (Paine, 2014, p.65).
Case study: BP replaced their new-employee onboarding class with an online set of resources and links to people you can contact. This is interesting, but not discussed in detail.
L&D department: The 70:20:10 model requires L&D departments to help create a corporate culture that blends work with learning. Their goals should be to affect the corporate culture moreso than to create training courses. They need to facilitate and organize courses, but also facilitate and organize people’s access to the people and resources they need for social learning. They need to create what Jennings calls “workscapes”, the work-learning environment.
- Offer stretch assignments widely, and aim to give employees at least one per year or more. Don’t keep them just for previously-identified leaders.
- Give opportunities to work in small teams.
- Give chances to reflect on what’s learned from projects.
- Understand that performance will be less during the early stages of a stretch assignment; encourage reflection during these early days.
- Create opportunities for people to use and explore performance supports.
- Encourage coaching and asking for advice, and formal and informal mentoring.
- Support active membership in professional organizations and other opportunities for external networking.
- Establish communities of practice
- Encourage managers and experts to share knowledge as part of their typical week or month
To adopt the 70:20:10 model:
- Find out barriers to access and learning, and find out attitudes within the corporation about developing new skills. Barriers might be support or follow-up given to a person’s learning, or the ease with which the learner can access mentors and mentee opportunities. Attitudes include the learners’ understanding of their opportunities for development and advancement.
- Provide tools. Make resources available, to encourage independent learning. Establish the best learners in the company as role models.
- Make sure personal development is discussed in performance review meetings.
- Build a corporate culture that supports social learning, including support from the senior executive level and involvement with the line managers (who must cooperate).
Petterd: Adopting this model affects managers, employees, and L&D professionals
When an organization adopts a 70:20:10 model, this requires changes from:
- Managers, because they need to lead learning by providing feedback about performance, and by leading conversations to encourage reflective thinking and continuous learning.
- Employees, because they need to be self-directed.
- Learning and development staff, because they need to the components needed to support the new learning system including providing experiential activities and access to a broad range of aids and resources.