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Is the 70:20:10 learning model right for your organization?

Learning never stops. You can never know too much of something. You start with the theory, then get directions from an instructor, and the rest is up to you to practice, observe others, ask questions and get feedback. It’s a repetitive pattern. Studies related to the learning process show a lot of patterns and models of learning. The 70:20:10 learning model is one of the most valued.

According to this model, 70% of learning at work comes from challenging assignments and on-the-job experiences; 20% comes from interacting with others (coaching, feedback, social learning); and the rest of 10% is obtained through formal learning (courses, seminars, reading).

This has proved to be quite a successful workplace learning model for many companies over the years. It can be applied just as well for intellectual work departments (design, marketing, etc.) as it does for hard work sectors (production, machine operating, etc.).

But before deciding to implement this learning model for your organization, you need to observe and analyze a few markers. This model may not suite everyone.

How are your employees learning?

Do they have to learn on a daily basis? Does your company belong to an industry branch that changes every month, or is it a less dynamic one and only updates every few years?

If they need to learn a lot of technical stuff and operate very sophisticated machinery, that requires calibration and special care. They need more formal training than the 70:20:10 implies. In this case the pervasive learning model might be a better choice. The formal, informal and social learning ratios are more balanced in this model.

What kind of employees does the 70:20:10 model work for?

If your company’s staff is 90% millennials, count your blessings. They are hardwired by default to work by the 70:20:10 model. Millennials are by far the biggest fans of learning by doing. Being involved in ten different projects at the same time is seen as an opportunity for them to get out of the comfort zone and explore new realms of knowledge. Just get them a good LMS and let the learning begin.

The reality is that there are only a few companies like this. The staff is usually more mixed. Many employees have a different view on where and how formal learning should take place: a classroom, pens and papers, an instructor in the flesh instead of some online course in a management system that can be taken during commute. Not to mention social collaboration tools that don’t sit too well with some of them. So before deciding the ratio of informal and collaborative learning, do a thorough check on who your learners are.

How will the L&D department implement this?

If you work in a learning and development department you know that you can’t just decide overnight to switch to a 10% formal learning. Most of the L&D department’s time, effort, and budget (around 80%) is devoted to enabling traditional training and only around 10% to enabling social learning, and another 10% to workplace learning. That is quite a change that needs careful planning. It might not be easy but it’s not impossible.

The L&D team needs to get used to new tools and get acquainted with the means of e-learning and collaborative learning. The resources area within the company LMS should allow you to upload a lot of formal and less formal documents, videos, tutorials and share them among your learners.

It is advised to start implementing in one department the 70:20:10 learning model and oversee the process carefully. It’s a lot easier to adjust it for a small number of people. Only when things get moving and the model starts showing the expected results, it’s time to extend it to the whole company.

How much should the management team be involved?

When implementing a learning model such as this one you need all the support from the management team. The L&D department cannot do it alone. Managers need to be present, to set a good example, to guide their employees.

The 70% of learning comes from challenging assignments and job experience. It’s up to the managers to challenge their teams the right way, so that employees can grow in knowledge and value.

Can we keep up with these numbers?

70:20:10 is a learning model, not a recipe. It’s perfectly all right if your 20 looks more like a 27. It’s actually better if you adjust those numbers according to your specific learners, the learning environment and the industry trends. For some companies 50:30:20 might get better results. These custom numbers doesn’t mean they failed to implement the 70:20:10, it means they did their homework right and found the model that meets their needs better.

Closing thoughts

The 70:20:10 model for learning is meant to improve team and individual performance and make learning with the use of technology a successful story.

A good learning model customized to the company’s needs it’s a must have. Is the 70:20:10 model the right one for your organization? Try it out small and see how it goes first.