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Debunking the biggest myth about the 70:20:10 model

“70:20:10 is a reference model or framework that helps organisations extend their focus on learning and development beyond the classroom and course-based eLearning to build more resilient workforces and create cultures of continuous learning.”

This is probably the best explanation of the 70:20:10 model for workplace learning and it belongs to Charles Jennings, a leading thinker and practitioner in learning, development and performance. Check his blog for brilliant resources on this model of learning, as well as for other e-learning topics. If you're as interested in performance development, social learning instructional design and related subjects as I am, I guarantee you'll add Charles' blog in your favorite bookmarks folder. I sure did that.

You may already know that 70:20:10 stands for three methods of learning at work:

  • 70% - experiential learning, through on-the-job tasks,
  • 20% - social learning, through interacting with others, colleagues and managers alike, and
  • 10% - formal learning, through online courses or face to face training.

The first thing that crossed my mind after my first encounter with this model was: how could I ever present formal training in a favorable light if it only counts for just 10% of the learning process? 10% of something is barely significant!

Oh! I fell into the "if you're not with us, you're against us" trap. If formal learning counts for just 10%, while social and experiential learning together reach 90%, they are opposite things and the majority beats the hell out of the minority. So why bother with creating courses if people don't really find them useful?

How naive this judgement sounds now, when I know better.

Debunking the biggest myth about the 70:20:10 model

By looking just at the figures, the 70:20:10 model implies that formal learning doesn't work or it doesn't really matter.

But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Formal learning is not the exact opposite of social and experiential learning; it is just different. And all three together form the best learning solution. Think of it as the yin and yang: you can’t have a whole without both parts — or three, for that matter.

Perhaps there are cases in which formal courses can’t influence the learning process at all.

Most of the times, however, they have a significant impact over the other two types of learning. People find it easier to put something into practice after they know some theory about that something.

The 10% as part of your learning strategy

Although formal training doesn’t have the coolest reputation among employees, there are quite a few things to be done in order to capture their attention and achieve high engagement rates.

First, you need to focus on the issues you have to solve with your workplace learning strategy. By doing so, you can identify the most important aspects the training should cover and create the courses accordingly. A clear structure of a course should target real problems and enable learners to make connections between the information in the learning materials and how to manage their real tasks and improve their performance.

These connections will spark conversations around the topic (social learning) and will contribute to a conscious approach when actually performing those tasks (experiential learning).


Formal learning may count for just 10% of the learning that happens in the workplace, but that doesn’t mean at all that it is an insignificant part. This 10% is usually the basis of knowledge that supports conversations and social interactions, as well as the know-how of work performance.