Cracking the code: 10+ or 70:20:10?

By March 24, 2017Blogs

Jos Arets

70:20:10 appears to be the new gold standard for HR and L&D . It is creating its own jargon in which services are referred to as numbers: is this a 70 activity, a 20 or a 10+? It looks suspiciously like a code – so the key question is what is the code of 70:20:10? Is it a new service with business impact, or are we still stuck with the old 10+? It’s time to crack the code…

The original code of the 70:20:10 reference model

The fact that people learn the most by working has been translated into a useful metaphor, 70:20:10. These numbers have not been chosen arbitrarily. They show us that informal social learning, the 70 and 20, is more important to the development of people in organisations than formal learning solutions. This also bears out the findings of De Grip (2015), whose research gives a ratio of 96:4 of informal to formal learning.

This is not to detract from the importance of formal learning, the 10. Of course it is necessary, and in a smart system the two can complement each other. As a ratio, the 70:20:10 model suggests that formal learning accounts for 10 percent of working time – this gives a much higher number than the average of twenty to forty hours a year that organisations devote to formal learning.

Arets et al. (2015) contend that the original code of the 70:20:10 reference model is as follows:

Learning by working, to continuously improve your performance and develop yourself.

Learning from and with others to increase knowledge sharing and productivity, by working more smartly to create development opportunities for online and offline teams and individuals.

Learning by taking part in formal learning solutions to gain the knowledge required to work better and develop yourself.

This is a combination of learning by working (70) and learning from one another (20). The distinction between the 70 and the 20 is not always meaningful.

The whole is more than the sum of the parts: this also applies to 70:20:10. Reasoning and action always begin with the 100 in order to identify and act upon connections and synergies at the system level, and then to design and implement partial solutions from the 70, 20 and 10, in that order. These are mutually reinforcing, so the 100 is more than the sum of the parts.

Additional 70:20:10 code

This is not the end of the code. As a counterpart to the numbers and ratios, some people have gone to the effort of recoding the original philosophy in a language they believe to be less confusing or less laden with emotional connotations. They have not always been successful. For example:

The 90:10 reference model:
This is the same as the 70:20:10 model, except that the 70 and 20 form the 90. It is not always meaningful to make a distinction between the 70 and 20, in which learning occurs by working alone or networking with others to achieve better performance.

The hyphens take away the suggestion of a ratio. This works well for some people, but others still see the numbers as a ratio.

The dots do not suggest a ratio, but many people see this as meaning “multiplied by”, so it is not clear.

Experience, exposure and education

Replacing numbers with words is another way of avoiding confusion about the ratio, but the drawback is that the underlying principle (formal learning is not the only kind) is unclear.

70:20:10: old wine in new bottles with 10+

Many specialist HR and L&D providers are jumping on the 70:20:10 bandwagon without changing the nature of the core service they provide. Likewise, many self-appointed 70:20:10 experts simply offer rebranded versions of formal learning, which in practice takes place in the workplace, in the form of tasks, coaching, reflection and challenges. Alternatively, social learning may be developed on the basis of the formal variety.

These are 10+ approaches, which focus not on the original 70:20:10 philosophy but on formal learning as the basis of all thought, development and action: the 10+. The service of formal learning is expanded to include learning from one another (20) and workplace learning (70). From our perspective, this type can therefore be coded as follows:

Add formal learning to work via tasks, reflections, observations, eLearning etc.

Add social learning, or base it on formal learning solutions. These may include sharing knowledge about the content of formal learning solutions to support formal learning in the workplace. They are not to be confused with knowledge sharing and production of the 20 in the original reference model.

Formal (10) and social (20) learning based on formal learning.

Formal learning added to work, often also known as workplace learning. This includes workplace coaching, intervision, coaching, short forms of training, eLearning, and creating a positive climate offering the right conditions for workplace learning support. This formally organised workplace learning is not to be confused with informal learning by working as designated by the original 70.

This is formal learning complemented by formal workplace learning (70+) and formal ways of learning from one another (20+).

The key question for HR and L&D departments is simple and conclusive: How much of our budget is devoted to formal versus informal learning? In practice, most devote 80 percent or more to formal learning solutions, and only 20 percent to informal ones. Cross (2006) describes this as the spending/outcomes paradox.

This 80:20 ratio demonstrates the irony of 10+ thinking. If the service has changed, and a spend analysis shows that the lion’s share consists of in-house or bought-in formal learning, the 10+ approach causes unnecessary confusion and the 70:20:10 code has not been deciphered.

Cracking the code

The core of the 70:20:10 philosophy as we see it is not about numbers or ratios. The code can be cracked only by:

  • Shifting the focus from learning to The priority is not learning, but the desired organisational performance: goal versus intention. Formal organisational learning is not an end in itself, but a way of helping everyone to work better, learn from this, and develop themselves. It is the intention. In this sense, organisational learning is a byproduct of smarter working, improvement, renewal and learning from these – and not vice versa.
  • The expansion and change of the service with the 70 and 20.

70:20:10 enables HR and L&D to offer more than the 10. Expanding the service to include the 70 and 20 helps to create a direct connection with the organisation’s core activities. It is about working together and learning smartly from this to realise the desired performance for the organisation. It is not just about classroom learning, eLearning, or coaching. In 70:20:10, people learn by working together to solve problems. and exploit opportunities to perform better and learn from this, as organisations sometimes do.

  • The changing roles of HR and L&D

The focus is not on education, but on the organisational performance to be delivered. As the service changes, new roles apply. The five new roles of the 70:20:10 expert use systematic analysis to generate action and measurable business impact.

  • Emphasising business value rather than learning value.
  • Everything that is valuable is also fragile. Sadly, this is particularly true of learning value, in which HR and L&D departments place the main emphasis on cost effectiveness rather than business cases, while management thinks in terms of positive business cases ensuring that every department, including learning, makes a measurable contribution to a quantifiable business impact. This is possible, but we must no longer limit ourselves to providing formal learning and measuring its impact.


Something is happening in the world of training. People everywhere are embracing 70:20:10, saying things like: “Of course our training is based on 70:20:10,” or “We’re starting to use 70:20:10,” or “Our workplace learning is 70:20:10 proof.”

This blog post decodes 70:20:10 not by focusing on numbers and ratios, but by emphasising the underlying principle. The job of HR and L&D is not simply to offer formal learning, but to expand the service it provides, using 70:20:10 to make the transition from learning to business value. And that’s what HR and L&D exists to do.


Arets, J., Heijnen, V., Jennings, C. (2015). 70:20:10 towards 100% performance. Maastricht: Sutler Media.

Cross, J. (2006). Informal learning. Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Grip, A. (2015). The importance of informal learning at work. IZA World of Labor 2015: 162. Consulted May 2017.

Author Jos Arets

More posts by Jos Arets

Leave a Reply