Learning professionals can use 70:20:10 to expand their range of services, create a positive business case and gain an automatic place at the management table. It sounds too good to be true but if you implement 70:20:10 correctly it’s possible.
Don’t confuse training with learning in organisations
Organisations thrive or fail depending on their ability to adapt to constant internal and external change. Market forces require them to continually learn how to meet their customers’ needs and anticipate trends based on new technologies, changing customer behaviour, and economic and demographic variables. This often means changing, improving or updating products and services very quickly, a pressure that leads them to be inventive and co-create new products and services as a learning organisation.
One important characteristic of such an organisation is that it does not outsource learning. The most important drivers of improvement, renewal and knowledge lie within the business itself – but learning by working should not be confused with attending courses.
The shift from explicit to implicit knowledge
Making sustainable change on the ‘shop floor’ requires a dynamic process using smart combinations of working and learning to help people acquire knowledge about performing better. This concerns the how – how things really work in practice – and is the implicit, tacit know-how available in large quantities within organisations. It helps experts perform better than colleagues with the same qualifications.
The learning function in organisations specialises in the efficient distribution of theoretical or explicit knowledge about the what, an important characteristic of formal learning interventions. In other words, what you need to do in order to be able to do something. Organisations are realising that theoretical knowledge does not necessarily win battles. Leadbeater (below) has a point. If we are to improve organisational performance, we need to unlock implicit knowledge.
“Knowledge that is visible tends to be explicit, teachable, independent, detachable, and is also easy for competitors to imitate. Knowledge that is intangible, tacit, less teachable, less observable, is more complex but more difficult to detach from the person who created it or the context in which it is embedded. Knowledge carried by an individual only realizes its commercial potential when it is replicated by an organization and becomes organizational knowledge.”
Organisational learning should not be confused with formal interventions such as training or eLearning, because these transfer primarily explicit knowledge. This is important and useful, but organisations cannot survive without implicit knowledge as a driver of improvement and innovation.
On the shop floor, 70:20:10 has long been the standard methodology.
For knowledge workers, learning through working is nothing new: they have known for a long time that working is a chain reaction in which things get better, smarter or simply different. This is a form of continuous improvement, from which we learn and thus avoid making the same mistakes again. In practice, knowledge workers regard it as normal to learn in this way:
- 70: learning by working, using implicit knowledge
- 20: online and offline co-operation to create and share knowledge
- 10: formal sources of knowledge such as the internet, training and eLearning to keep knowledge up-to-date
Interestingly, the 70:20:10 ratio can be different for knowledge workers. Research by CBS shows that the average worker spends 72 hours a year on formal learning, about 4% of their total working hours. It is therefore often impossible for 70:20:10 to provide 10 percent formal learning interventions. On the shop floor, learning must to take place during work, because 4 percent formal learning interventions do not provide sufficient support for a learning organisation. The question is therefore why does the learning function not provide closer alignment to the core business, which has effectively been using the 70:20:10 model for a long time? Of course the 70:20:10 ratio is not a recipe, but a principle or guideline.
Opportunities for the learning function
Like the organisations in which it operates, the learning function must adapt to changing times by improving and updating the service it provides on a continuous basis. In this way it can move away from a menu consisting primarily of explicit knowledge (the 10) and become a service provider operating throughout the 70:20:10 spectrum, one that facilitates learning more proactively and unlocks tacit knowledge via the 70 and 20. This demonstrates that 70:20:10 can be more than the sum of its parts.
By offering formal interventions, the learning function is not providing enough of a fit with the natural process of working and learning within the business. This is why training or eLlearning feels unnatural for many people no matter how effectively it is provided. It often lacks a connection with the participants’ context so they are being given the wrong information and have problems absorbing it. Many employees associate it with training and, to put it simply rather than in HRD jargon, it often does not work.
By expanding the service to include the 70, 20 and 10, it is possible to
- Provide resources to everyone in the organisation, 24/7
- Use performance support to facilitate competent and compliant behaviour on the shop floor at the moment of need
- Place the emphasis on supporting working = learning with implicit knowledge
- Remove the confusion between training and organisational results by making a measurable contribution to the business and moving from the learning to the performance paradigm.
The positive business case based on 70:20:10 with performance support
Research and practical experience have shown that 70:20:10 supports and reinforces formal learning interventions in a very different way. Performance support is suitable for this since it supports critical tasks with all the knowledge required to carry them out in accordance with the relevant standards.
Smart performance support offers precisely the knowledge professionals need in order to work better: providing knowledge at their fingertips at the moment of need. It is also possible to reinforce the effectiveness of formal training by providing 24/7/365 support and substantially less formal training on condition that all the resources required to work better are available online.
The business case for 70:20:10 with performance support consists of two components:
- 40-60% less formal training, significantly reducing the out-of-pocket costs of courses, absences and travelA measurable impact on the business as a result of reduced mistakes and reworkings and increased productivity.
- Depending on the question and context it is important to find the right relationship between formal learning interventions and supporting performance in social learning.
There is clearly a positive business case for learning in organisations. A measurable business impact fundamentally alters the role of the learning function, changing it from a cost item to a return, and from a solution seller to business partner. What’s not to like?