29 MARCH, 2016


Think back for a moment through your career history, no matter how brief or long it may be – is there something that you learned that really sticks out in your mind? How did you learn something so memorable? Chances are, there are actually many little aspects of work that will pop to mind, and everything that you’ve experienced in the workforce has led you to this moment; a cumulation of everything you’ve learned about yourself, your job, and your future in the workforce. It can all be illustrated by the way that you pick up new skills and engage further learning.

A model was developed to answer the very question of which platforms and formats posed the greatest success to learning and knowledge retention in the workforce. Despite its potential flaws in the modern academic arena, the 70:20:10 Model for Learning may be most notable for the question that it poses to businesses, aspiring managers, and leaders in the corporate world—what is the best way to learn, develop, and grow, and how can it be harnessed?

The basis of 70:20:10

The answer is not so simple. This is because for each individual employee, acquiring and perfecting new and old skills is a completely different experience, and how we learn will vary from person to person. The 70:20:10 model itself takes credit from Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger’s findings from a survey that queried successful managers on which aspects of their learning process gave them access to the most knowledge. What was it about their lifestyles, professions, and careers that composed the lessons learned that ultimately led them to an aspiring career?

The survey uncovered that 70 per cent of the 200 participants surveyed suggested that they had learned the most from tough jobs, and employment contracts that forced them to adapt in busy environments, while 20 per cent claimed they gained most of their knowledge by following the prescriptions of work given to them by their superiors or bosses, and 10 per cent reported that academics, courses, classrooms, books, and research helped them learn what they know today. Thus, the 70:20:10 model is based off the actual quantitative numbers derived from the study, and the findings were eventually published in the book The Career Architect Development Planner.

Does it still apply today?

That was back in 1996—does the concept still apply today? Businesses and enterprises don’t run the way that they used to; many have swelled in the rapids of a river of internal and external growth and development. Just as those manning the helms of their corporate ships have adapted to these marketing shifts, executives must do this by embracing many outlets of developments beyond those previously stated, from social media and networking to word of mouth and negotiations. If today’s corporate leaders aren’t looking for new ways to betterment, then they run the risk of being swept away in fast tides.

That being said, this model is still applicable today—the basis of this premise hasn’t changed. What businesses need to do to harness this model effectively is to include the newer aspects of the corporate infrastructure within the 70:20:10 model.

The limitations of 70:20:10

This is the age of growth, and to narrow success down to three options is simply not reasonable nor particularly helpful by today’s standards. Andrew Jefferson, CEO of the 6DS Company and co-author of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning and Getting Your Money’s Worth From Training and Development, writes: “The hypothesis about how much learning occurred and where is impossible to test. So what are we to make of 70:20:10? It’s a useful reminder that employees are learning all the time – by observing, by making mistakes, through interactions with others, and sometimes through formal course work”.

Jefferson states: “The right training at the right time can have a significant impact, but whether that’s two per cent or 22 per cent is impossible to say – and neither scientific nor terribly useful. As learning professionals we should remember what Gilbert’s Behavioural Engineering Model taught us: Worthy performance is always the interaction of individual capability and environment. Optimising performance requires attention to both”.

Breaking down the model into bits and pieces has revealed that many of the details from years ago are probably still true today, and will be for years to come. Experience and on-the-job training is a highly applicable way to tell if a candidate is going to be successful and evolve into someone who takes initiative, particularly in fast-paced or potentially intense working environments where adaptability and quick thinking are key for an employee to work their way up. In any sense, the more practice an individual gets in their job, the better at it they will come. And from that perspective, the model shows a high lean towards this summary, as most executives learned through their personal experiences encountered while working on the job. That makes logical sense. This method can apply to time management, when CEOs and staff should fit in research to increase productivity and efficiency in output. Google CEO Eric Schmidt explains in a CNN interview:

“The test that I apply – and we do this everyday, 70/20/10 – is to ask how a feature will extend the core, the adjacent, or the innovative stuff to fulfill our mission. That’s the sort of drug we all take, and it works really quite well”.

And for organisations in a widespread sense, it has provided what researchers Kelly Kajewski and Valerie Madsen described as “a common language” throughout many different enterprises, and seeks to motivate both employees and managers to not only increase performance but to become more aware of the influences of their experiences in career development. This can help to instigate a clearer picture and overall comprehension of what’s desired from a productive manager or executive, as it provides, at a minimum, a framework and working model to gather qualitative data.