Blog

What is 70:20:10 Learning and Why Should I Care?

70-20-10 Learning70:20:10 was first presented as a learning framework by Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and Robert Eichinger in the work they did for the Center for Creative Leadership in 1996. It was based on studies by the authors and by Allen Tough (University of Toronto) regarding how managers and leaders actually learn in the workplace. They found that workplace learning activities were unexpectedly tilted towards informal events and that formal training only comprised a small part of workplace learning:

  • 70% from experiential, on-the-job, problem solving during the course of work,
  • 20% from social interaction and collaboration,
  • and 10% from formal courses.

While the actual percentages are only meant as rough guidelines, this groundbreaking finding has since been validated by a 2000 U.S. Department of Labor study which found that approximately 70% of workplace learning was informal in nature. Charles Jennings has done much to popularize the concept of 70:20:10 Learning, and his 70:20:10 Forum should be the first stop for those who want to pursue implementing it in their organizations.

Looking back on my employment with a learning management system vendor, virtually none of the workplace learning I accomplished was through formal means (I remember one two-day course). I learned through trial and error, and interacting with peers, mentors, managers, and company experts. I read product specifications and manuals, played with software, watched online demos, and researched information on the internet. The crux of 70:20:10, that people learn in the workplace primarily through informal and social channels, rings true for me and for many L&D professionals I have spoken to.

Implications of 70:20:10

The precise ratios aren’t important (and I would think, extremely hard to actually pin down), but the general thrust of 70:20:10 has some extremely important implications for workplace learning and performance:

  1. The majority of workplace learning occurs outside of the formal, structured training channels companies establish to develop their employees. This means it is typically not coordinated with formal interventions and is mostly invisible and unacknowledged by the organization.
  2. Unless your work systems include social learning/collaboration and knowledge management/performance support capabilities, informal learning is largely untracked and unmanaged.
  3. Formal learning is typically, though not always, prescribed. Informal learning is largely self-service and self-directed. It is up to the employee to search for appropriate content related to their jobs – whether that be a knowledgeable co-worker or existing documentation.
  4. The quality of what you learn informally often depends on whom you know in the organization, especially when it comes to accessing best practices or organizational expertise. You can meet, email, or call an expert to ask a question – but only if you know who they are and if it’s OK to contact them. Unlike in formal training, serendipity plays a role – expertise and experience remains localized unless there are concerted efforts to capture it and make it widely available. Knowing an obliging elite performer who can share war stories and advice is singularly valuable. Extending that value to those outside of a local circle of acquaintance is the only way to leverage that value across the enterprise.
  5. Informal learning is mostly driven by job-specific requirements, often at the point of need: “I wonder what’s the best way to pitch this for type of client” or “How do I perform this one, job-specific task on this application?” While formal learning content may be based on general job requirements, informal learning is in and of the job flow.
  6. Formal learning happens as a result of an organizational directive. Informal learning happens by itself. People have always learned by asking other questions or reading workplace documentation – there’s nothing new in that.  But with the advent of online technology, and the ability to share best practices, knowledge, documents, videos, and live meetings at the click of a button, the importance and impact of informal learning has expanded immensely.
  7. Formal learning tends to be static once the development has been completed. Informal learning is continuous and ongoing – in fact every interaction with a colleague, manager, or customer; every new problem solved; or every best practice captured and shared – can be seen as adding to an ever expanding body of informal learning content.
  8. The challenge of L&D and HR professionals is to enable informal learning as well as formal learning opportunities. This shifts the role from one of training development and management to “learning ecosystem impresario.” In informal learning, people seek and supply much of the content themselves. The question is how to harness and direct this activity so that it is effective, easy to use, and job performance-enhancing? How to coordinate this type of living, breathing, ever-changing content with formal training interventions? This is a core capability of a Performance Enablement Solution (PES).

70:20:10 and Performance Enablement Solutions

If you’ve followed this blog in the past, you’ll know that a performance enablement solution provides everything an individual needs to perform their job well. The 70:20:10 learning framework is an important consideration in designing this type of solution as it is critical to take into account how people actually learn in the workplace in order to provide what is needed to support individual performance. The full panoply of learning capabilities and opportunities needs to be made available – both formal and informal. These include:

  • Access to job-relevant formal training and associated learning management capabilities.
  • Access to just-in-time performance support, reference content, job aids, tools, procedures, links, research material, etc., organized so as to allow intuitive access and easy “findability.”
  • Capturing and sharing the expertise of experienced and elite performers in written and video formats in Best Practice Forums/Communities of Practice, Ask-the-Expert Forums, and “Best of” Repositories.
  • Providing technology-based avenues for managerial feedback, mentoring and coaching.

Being able to learn new skills and knowledge quickly is an integral part of today’s workplace – understanding how people learn and enabling it in all its forms is an essential part of any performance enablement solution, and the 70:20:10 learning framework is at the heart of it.

To learn more about how to improve performance in the workplace, and our 70:20:10 Performance Center™, contact us at info@Work-Smart.eu and request our free whitepaper, “Enabling Performance in a 70:20:10 World”, or contact us to request attendance at our upcoming January 23rd webinar (15:00 – 16:00 CET), “Supporting 70:20:10 with Technology.”

Note: This blog is written by Ken Joseph and was originally published on www.K16online.com.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments (11)

  • Jay Cross

    |

    Bravo.

    One minor quibble. No matter what system is in place, “informal learning is largely untracked and unmanaged.” Nonetheless, this doesn’t get in the way of it taking place.

    Reply

  • Ken

    |

    Thanks for the comment, Jay, it’s an honor to have the foremost expert on informal learning take notice! I agree that informal learning happens irregardless but I would also argue one of the primary functions of a performance enablement system is to create relevant workplace channels to encourage and direct informal learning. A PES allows informal content to be captured, tracked, and, perhaps not “managed”, but at least directed to support job performance.

    Reply

  • Charles Jennings

    |

    An excellent explanation of the fundamentals of the 70:20:10 model and of ‘why should I care’, Ken. Amongst the many good points you’ve made two jump out:

    “The crux of 70:20:10, (is) that people learn in the workplace primarily through informal and social channels”.

    “The precise ratios aren’t important (but) the general thrust of 70:20:10 has some extremely important implications for workplace learning and performance”

    70:20:10 forces a new way of thinking and a new way of acting to support learning and performance improvement. As such it’s an extremely useful framework to help exploit the whole range of opportunities, including structured, social and workplace development with a focus on performance.

    Reply

  • Harm Rozie

    |

    We in the Netherlands have discovered the nature of developing knowledge. Education and formal learning in organizations mostly have destroyed this capability we all have. Theo Lohman developed a method to rediscover and make use of our natural disposition. It’s an evidence based and scientific validated way to achieve exponential growth of knowledge and innovation in your organization.

    Reply

  • Ken

    |

    Thanks Charles, greatly appreciated!
    Harm, can you supply a link regarding Theo Lohman? I’d like to learn more.

    Reply

  • James T Pereira

    |

    If you do some introspection, you’ll soon realise that we all have learned much more since we left college than the formal education there.

    Works the same way at the workplace. Learning is a form of innovation and it has to take place outside the classroom.

    Reply

  • Beth Tope

    |

    We are currently establishing learning and development within our business using the 70/20/10 model. It aligns well not only with our thinking about where learning actually takes place, but also with our financial constraints. My challenge is how to help employees attribute the learning on the job, as real investment from the business in them. Unless people go away on a two day course, they don’t seem to connect the learning with the company’s investment . Any ideas on how to build this appreciation in our employees and perhaps capture and record the 70% so people can stand back and look at their annual growth?

    Reply

    • Ken

      |

      Hi Beth. I think there are 2 separate issues here. The first is a communication issue – how can your company make clear the level of investment devoted to developing its employees? I’ve seen some companies create entire internal marketing campaigns around branding a corporate university or development efforts. Perhaps something as simple as a series of communications from the L&D department describing the average amount spent per employee and the link between this investment and individual performance might be the best approach in a financial constrained environment.

      I think capturing and recording the 70% (on-the-job training, experiential learning) is challenging for most corporations. A platform like the 70:20:10 Performance Center can provide this type of capability provided the activities are tied to a performance scorecard or some type of self- or mentor-driven analytics. I’m not sure what you mean by “annual growth.” If you’re talking about the creation and tracking of individual development plans, again, this is something one can do with a Performance Center. Some customers also track actual performance based on assigned KPIs.

      Reply

      • Beth Tope

        |

        Thanks for your reply ken. What I’m trying to say is that on the job learning, the 70% bit, doesn’t cost the company any obvious cash because the employee is not going away on a course. They are working but perhaps on a stretch project or on something less dramatic like a stretch task. How do I help our employees view this as a legitimate investment by the company in their development. How do you account for and how do you measure that development opportunity from a company perspective. At the same time, how does the employee learn to recognise their growth from that experience. It is easy to say “I’ve gone on a presentation skills course so I’m better at presenting”. It is less obvious how they personally account for the opportunities here and there created for the employee to develop their presentation skills by practicing within the context of their role.

        Reply

        • Ken

          |

          Hi Beth, I think I’m a bit clearer now on what you are asking though I still two parts to this:

          1. Yes, OJT or a stretch assignment may not have an obvious expense, but an employee’s time is also worth something, as would be the time of a mentor or someone helping that employee as a mentor or coach. If cost is the yardstick of value in your organization, you could certainly estimate the time involved and multiply that by the fully loaded daily rate of those involved and provide that information to both employees and management. I think a better way is to have fully delineated development plans for employees which include everything – formal and informal – and present that to employees in its totality to demonstrate your organization’s investment in their careers and professional development, with or without an attendant cost estimate.

          2. “How does an employee recognize growth from that experience.” In my experience, if the experience is clearly job- or performance-relevant, employees value it without any extra effort on the part of L&D to sell it. Some organizations utilize self-reflection as a way for employees to a) internalize an OJT experience and b) more clearly grasp specific lessons learned. This can take the form of a Post-Project or Post-Activity Review (e.g.; “what went right and wrong with my job efforts this past month?”) or even a simple diary shared with a manager or mentor. For something like attending a presentation skills course, some companies utilize post-training assessments (Kirkpatrick Level 3) in which they ask course participants and their managers if they’ve noticed an improvement in the particular skill taught and to estimate a level of improvement. What I’ve seen work particularly well is the use of highly delineated performance scorecards (I’ve seen this used primarily in sales organizations) where managers grade job-specific performance. Based on performance results, specific training or specific activities (e.g.; stretch tasks) are then assigned and the results reviewed the next time. The learning and the work itself become integrated and that’s a good thing!

          Reply

Leave a comment