This past week there was an impromptu Twitter discussion about the “70:20:10” notion of learning in the workplace, where about 70 percent of workplace learning is experiential (basically doing the work), about 20 percent is learning from others, and just 10 percent is from training or other formal learning intervention. It’s always a challenge to fully convey or interpret meaning in 140 characters on Twitter, even more so when three or four Twitter handles in a post reduce the characters available to about 100, so it’s tough to gauge every participant’s intent and position. Still, there were a few questions and statements that surprised me. While I don’t consider myself an 70:20:10 “expert,” I do consider the concept fundamental to the work of a modern workplace learning professional or performance catalyst, and I’ve written a few articles on the subject. I’m going to address a few of the statements here.
Is 70:20:10 a fad?
I wrote before how I don’t see Charles Jennings promoting a 70:20:10 framework as a recipe to follow as much as he offers it for guidance for how learning in the workplace actually happens. It was developed by Morgan McCall, Robert W. Eichinger, and Michael M. Lombardo at the Center for Creative Leadership and formally described in Lombardo and Eichinger’s book, The Career Architect Development Planner, published in 1996. With more than twenty years behind it, that alone makes it not a fad.
Even more to the point, however, is that 70:20:10 is not prescriptive, but instead descriptive. It describes what has evolved over decades of learning in the workplace, and it’s backed by a number of studies, as Jay Cross documented.
Is 70:20:10 a brand?
In E-learning: The Brand, I used five elements of what comprises a brand: its promise, how it’s perceived, what’s expected from it, its persona, and its elements. On all counts, 70:20:10 fails as a brand. There is no inherent promise, and there are essentially no expectations. Instead it describes, loosely, what is. Perceptions are therefore largely irrelevant: one may reject it, but they are essentially rejecting fact.
As for brand persona and elements, 70:20:10 does have some of these, largely in acknowledging that informal learning comprises the preponderance of learning in the workplace. That said, the numbers are not meant to be exact. As Harold Jarche points out in Informal Rule of Thumb, studies indicate the formal learning component in many workplaces may be well above 95%. How workplace learning breaks down is so strongly dependent on the characteristics of each workplace and the nature of individual jobs and responsibilities, calling the concept a brand is preposterous.
Is 70:20:10 a model or a framework?
It actually is both, depending on how you use it. Mathematical models are used to describe how things work. Meteorologists use models to predict the weather. Geophysicists use the geopotential model to describe Earth’s gravitational field. 70:20:10 serves as a very simple model describing how learning takes place in the workplace, even if the numbers are not exact and the lines between experiential, social, and formal learning are often blurred.
70:20:10 is also a framework that Charles Jennings calls an agent of change. I often hear from people that “L&D” too often serves as an order-taker, delivering courses on demand. Others claim that L&D too often responds to performance needs with courses of one form or another. If nothing else, 70:20:10 serves as to reminder us that formal learning interventions comprise a relatively small portion of workplace learning. Using 70:20:10, armed with the aforementioned compilation of studies by Jay Cross, is also an invaluable framework to remind others how learning really takes place and might help deflect unnecessary calls for courses.
Does 70:20:10 mean anything in the business/enterprise outside of L&D?
Implicit within this question is the notion that 70:20:10 is somehow a concept owned by Learning and Development organizations, which it is not. As mentioned earlier, the concept comes out of the Center for Creative Leadership. While they may be a formal training organization, they work with leaders from organizations around the world of wide variety of types. Clearly the concept itself is not rooted within L&D but in the business itself.
So why the emphasis on learning? Much as we hear how L&D staff need to be more a part of the business, the fact remains that learning itself–with or without L&D–is a core business function. It’s the arrogance of some L&D organizations that we alone are the focus of learning that’s misplaced. 70:20:10 serves as a strong reminder that we work within the business as an integral part of it, filling a relatively small but important role in the workplace.
70:20:10 may mean nothing to the uninitiated, but no more so than any of the other buzz phrases some of us use when communicating with others. It’s always our responsibility to communicate effectively across the workplace. Perhaps the best thing about 70:20:10, whether concept, model, or framework, is that it’s extraordinarily simple to describe and explain.
As I said, it’s often difficult to understand meaning or intent from Twitter conversations, but these were questions I felt might have been misunderstood. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading!
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Based on a work at tom.spiglanin.com.