Is the 70:20:10 model a training fad or something more?

by L&D22 Aug 2016
For the uninitiated, the 70:20:10 model argues that 70% of learning and development should occur on the job, 20% from interactions with others, and 10% from formal education.

The model was produced in the 1980s after three researchers (Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo and Robert A. Eichinger) investigated the main developmental experiences of successful managers.

Since then, many organisations around the word have used the model as a guide to delivering comprehensive and effective learning and development.

So are they on the right track?

A study by Towards Maturity of the experiences of 1,600 learners across the globe earlier this year found that learners who keep to the 70:20:10 ratio are “much better equipped” than those that don’t.

It discovered that staff following the 70:20:10 model were four times more likely to demonstrate a faster response to business change (30% compared to 7%).

It also found that staff were three times more motivated (27% compared to 8%) and were twice as likely to report improvements in customer satisfaction scores.

Towards Maturity claimed better learning outcomes are gained from 70:20:10 because the ratio acts “as a good rule of thumb that then enables a culture of continuous learning to flow”.

It found organisations who follow 70:20:10 will naturally be four times more likely to provide staff with access to job aids; four times more likely to encourage managers to support learning, and eleven times more likely to help staff find what they want through content curation.

Laura Overton, founder of Towards Maturity, said: “What is clear from our analysis of the 70:20:10 methodology is that organisations active in these areas are delivering better benefits than those who are not.”

Claudio Erba, CEO of learning management service provider Docedo, added that they’ve “long believed that people learn and retain more through informal channels than they do through formal means”.

“This study presents a clear case for not only adopting the 70:20:10 framework, but for establishing a deeper-level workplace culture that’s powered by social and informal learning,” Erba said.

However, the study also found that lots of L&D heads are sceptical of 70:20:10 because it “implies formal learning doesn’t work and that the model was simply a way to justify cutting training budgets”.

Even though the formal education part of the model only represents 10%, it should not be underestimated, said Stephen Billett, Professor of Adult and Vocational Education in the School of Education and Professional Studies at Griffith University.
Billett told L&D Professional that he is not sure about the accuracy of the actual three percentages of the 70:20:10 model because it probably depends on what job you do.

“However, I think that the 10% can be very important,” he said.
“For example, in the case of a pilot, the 10% might involve how to land the plane, or how the plane takes off.

“It’s helpful to appreciate the fact that a lot of our learning comes through practice. It might be 70% or more than 70%, but the 10% is also really significant,” he said.

Workplace learning expert Professor Michele Simons of The University of Western Sydney, previously told L&D Professional that it’s often very hard to answer the question of how you learnt something on the job.

“You might have experimented, worked alongside somebody else, read the manual and done other things as well,” Simons said.

“I think it’s very difficult for people to portion out this much for this type of learning and this much for this type.”

Simons also added that it’s incorrect to think on-the-job learning is always superior to formal education.

“Employees might learn these things in one workplace and then move to another workplace and find out that that’s not the way things are done,” she said.

“I think that people need to think carefully about what can be learnt and how it can be learnt in workplace. They are sometimes not the ideal places for learning.”


  • by Denis Hitchens 22/08/2016 4:14:07 PM

    Learning in the workplace happens whether we like it or not. Back in 1982 When HP was growing from $1B to $2B worldwide there was only a rudimentary Induction program

    When I took over the training of Sales Reps in Australia I insisted that we created an Induction program that started on their first morning; because after even one day on the job they picked up both desirable and undesirable traits from their new set of colleagues

    Recall what those first couple of lunches might be like. HP had its own very strong culture; well studied and documented, known as the HP Way. So the innocent mind was full of curiosity. Just imagine how many times they had the opportunity to be told: "They tell you this, but it's all BS" from the remaining cynical ones

    But if we got to them first, we could get a framework in place well before the coffee machine culture got a chance

    And never forget that the very best way to learn is to get the trainee to teach -- so far out on the learning pendulum that it defies comparison

    So to me, while it is a nice convenient expression it does not reflect any sort of reality, statistics not withstanding, taking place in that informal learning community

  • by Michael 22/08/2016 4:23:57 PM

    Well put Professor Simon. There is no quick fix. There is no magical 70/30/10 that is applicable across the board.

  • by Charles Jennings 23/08/2016 12:18:27 AM

    This link may help to clarify for anyone who may think the 'numbers' are at the centre of the 70:20:10 model.

    All learning is contextual. There's plenty of research that indicates most adult learning occurs in the workplace and not in the classroom. Of course that doesn't mean formal learning is not important. It can be vital. However unless we can help people learn effectively from their experiences and their networks/connections we are missing a huge opportunity.

    Vast amounts of time, effort and money is wasted every year by taking people away from the context of their workplace, training them, and hoping that their new learning transfers into improved performance. Much of it doesn't. In his recent 'Leadership BS' book, Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, quotes a Corporate Leadership Council study that found that "people management training improved productivity by only 2%". To be honest, it's surprising it was as much as that.