Discussions about 70:20:10
Internationally there are all kinds of discussions about the sense and nonsense of 70:20:10. The number of links is almost infinite and, in almost every language, there is something to be found. Typical patterns of these discussions again and again refer to the same 70:20:10 myths, such as:
- 70:20:10 is a learning model or a theory of learning;
- The ratio of 70:20:10 is fixed;
- It is not based on solid research because … and then, again, The Centre for Creative Leadership’s research from 1996 was with a small group of US executives;
- 70:20:10 is an intervention matrix, where all learning activities have to be put in the three categories;
- 70:20:10 is applicable in regular education and in the world of corporate learning (L&D).
How informed is this discussion?
All of the above thoughts about 70:20:10 can be all rejected in a definitive book about 70:20:10. This book was written based on Tulser’s experience and practice in the Netherlands, and on experiences gathered across the world. This book is now available in Dutch, English and Korean and has been bought globally.
This ’70:20:10 Towards 100% Performance’ book describes the 70:20:10 methodology as a contribution to enhancing L&D practices in the world of organisational learning by expanding, renewing, and consistently connecting to the core business of organisations. It is at the core of a performance-oriented approach, which will lead to a measurable business impact for L&D.
Of course, neither the book nor the 70:20:10 Institute, are against formal learning, the 10. In our view, formal and informal learning in the world of corporate and organisational learning reinforce each other. But it is important to design any formal learning that is necessary as part of a business solution on rigorous evidence-based principles. In our practice, we see that this is often not the case. This is reinforced in this book by Clark Quinn.
The field of informal learning is still an open one, because there has not been enough research in the field that is evidence-based. The exceptions are the domains of performance support and the demonstration of correlation between experience and deliverables. For instance, the many studies in medicine repeatedly show that experience leads to less complications, rework and mortality. This link provides a meta-analysis of that evidence.
There has also been significant (international) research on the time that people in organisations spend on formal and informal learning. This insight into the economic approach to learning in organisations is extremely informative with clear lessons for our profession. Andries de Grip offers an excellent overview of the power of informal learning.
More recent studies show a shift in percentages of time people spend in formal and informal learning. This is completely in line with the baseline of the 70:20:10 reference model. Not in exact percentages, of course, but in underlying principles. Everyone understands that Pareto’s 80:20 ratios is a principle that remains unchanged if the percentages do not exactly match 80:20. The same is true of 70:20:10. Even the initial Centre for Creative Leadership studies showed different rations with different groups.
Many people in the world of L&D realise that it is more effective if their solutions include more than offering formal learning interventions. With 70:20:10, we have developed a reference model with a concrete methodology and a multitude of solutions. Our goal is to strengthen L&D structurally and to further develop the 70:20:10 playing field with anyone who wants to join. Of course, we are open to work with a variety of researchers to develop evidence-based solutions.
Myth 1: Every professional learns according to 70:20:10
See the book in which 70:20:10 is described as a reference model aimed at strengthening L&D in the world of organisational learning and expanding services with measurable business impact. So, for us, 70:20:10 is not an intervention matrix, and the ratio is not prescriptive. Nor is it our idea that 70:20:10 should form the basis for the formal education system.
Confusion often occurs regarding whether 70:20:10 should also provide guidance for formal training. A good example of this is, for instance, the fact that, during his/her initial development, a surgeon will follow a formal education programme rather than gaining professional knowledge in the 70 through experimenting and learning from experience. Of course, the 70 includes a wide range of activities to work better (learning) and it is not the intention of the 70:20:10 reference model that surgeons should only learn through experience or experiment. This example is unfortunate when arguing against informal learning. Medical specialist training includes a strong and comprehensive practical component (70 and 20) to improve working, see Chapters 7 and 8 in Duvivier’s dissertation (2012): Or, said differently, it has been found effective that a significant part of formal education for doctors and medical specialists takes place in practice.
Myth 2: 70:20:10 as an ideal label
Of course, 70:20:10 may not be an ideal label. However, the principle is too important to ignore in the world of organisational learning.
From a variety of sources, L&D’s focus is around 80-100% on formal learning (learning apart from work), see ATD State and Industry Reports and or Towards Maturity benchmark studies. For L&D then, it’s a challenging task to also make a relevant contribution to informal learning (learning during work). We know that learning in organisations extends beyond the offer of formal learning and, specifically, onto the playing field of informal learning and work, where new opportunities for L&D arise. Who can resist that challenge?
Myth 3: Formal learning and training is only 10% and therefore useless
There is often a suggestion that a 10% spend on formal learning is too little. As explained earlier, the numbers are not meant to be taken literally. However a Dutch study showed that workers spend more than 1800 hours per year working in a full-time employment and a 36-hour working week. If the 70:20:10 ratio were to be taken literally, and assuming that all work provides a learning experience, it would mean that workers need to spend about 180 hours per year on formal learning. However, the CBS believes in practice that employees spend 35 hours a year on formal learning activities.
The suggestion that the 70:20:10 reference model works against formal learning is simply incorrect. There is certainly a shift of learning and a greater focus during and around work, but that is not at the expense of formal learning.
As demonstrated by De Grip’s research, formal learning reinforces informal learning. Therefore, it is certainly useful to design and execute formal learning interventions effectively – and (in the world of corporate and organisational learning) to connect all learning with the core business of the organisation.
Myth 4: There are 3 types of professional learning (70, 20 and 10)
For us, 70:20:10 is not an end in itself. At the 70:20:10 Institute we see it as a movement that is open to other approaches and (theory) formation. 70:20:10 is described in our book as the Droste effect: during 70 activities and learning you can also do 10 and 20 activities and vice versa. Of course, people might work and, at the same time, follow a MOOC, watch an instructional video, carry out e-learning or read a work-related article. All of these activities might be considered in the 10. The same principle applies to co-operation (20) or practical simulations (often part of 70) within the 10.
Myth 5: 70:20:10 highlights an L&D problem
As mentioned in the myth 2 response, L&D’s offerings in the corporate world are dominated by 10 solutions. However, with this approach, L&D leaders often face a problem, or challenge, because it is very important to be connected with the core business and to play an active role in supporting better performance. In the corporate world, L&D often finds it difficult to demonstrate business impact with 10 solutions. That’s why it’s up to us as a profession to tackle the challenge. The 70:20:10 methodology makes this possible.
What does the model deliver?
The benefits of the 70:20:10 reference model include
- Better connection of L&D services with core business objectives;
- Opportunities to extend and renew L&D services;
- Improved ability to demonstrate measurable business impact.
Often, Self Directed Learning (SDL) is mentioned as a benefit for L&D. However, this is not always an advantage and also not in line with reality. An excellent blog by Mirjam Neelen and Paul Kirschner (2017) provides a good overview of the SDL concept, along with the possibilities and limitations of application of this concept in organisations.
And last but not least
We invite everyone from the world of HRD, L&D, HR business partners, managers and other interested parties to work with us and explore more deeply the possibilities and limitations of the application of 70:20:10.
For us, 70:20:10 is not the ideal label, but it is the logical basis for re-structuring L&D and aligning with the core business of organisations. The importance of this will only increase in the present knowledge economy, where knowledge is no longer limited to following formal training and e-learning. So let’s move forward together, instead of conducting insufficiently informed discussions about a label named 70:20:10. The underlying principles – the extension of services, the connection with the core business, and the improved business impact – are too important for our professions to leave ignore.