13 AUGUST, 2018


What is the 70:20:10 learning model? Benefits, challenges and tips for getting started

In recent years, the 70:20:10 model for learning and development has been adopted by organisations all over the world. What started out as a simple concept has become a trend, with organisations recognising that the traditional approach to structured learning and development no longer supports their strategic goals. In addition, they’re also recognising that significant development happens outside of formal learning opportunities.

So what is the 70:20:10 model, why are organisations adopting it and how can it help high-performance employees?

Defining the 70:20:10 model of learning

Organisations describe the 70:20:10 model in a variety of ways. Essentially, it’s a strategic workplace learning framework that can be used to boost staff effectiveness by supporting the three types of learning: experiential (comprising 70% of the learning), social (20% of the learning), and formal (10% of the learning). The 70:20:10 model is also known as performance-oriented learning that happens on the job. While traditional models of learning through formal programs might be most-effective in cases of skills deficits, performance problems or retraining, the 70:20:10 model focuses on learning in the context of the workplace. Ultimately, it aims to make good employees even better.

The ratios within the 70:20:10 model are not set in stone. Rather, they act as a general guide for each type of learning, and these numbers can vary significantly from enterprise to enterprise. Indeed, some organisations have experienced the ratio as closer to 40% on the job, 30% coaching and mentoring, and 30% formal training, and others have observed it as 50%, 30%, and 20%.

70% – Experiential learning

Experiential learning can be described as informal, on-the-job learning. Employees are learning and practising while doing the job, in the absence of a formal program.

20% – Social learning

Social learning involves coaching, mentoring, and developing through others. You learn with and through others, by drawing on your personal network and by taking advantage of cooperative opportunities.

10% – Formal learning

The third type of learning is what we commonly understand as traditional training and development at work. In this type of learning, staff members are learning through formal courses.

Benefits of the 70:20:10 model

In addition to allowing your organisation to take advantage of every learning opportunity, the 70:20:10 model offers benefits like flexibility, learning synergies, and engagement. These benefits are essential elements for creating high-performance employees.

Diverse learning and problem solving strategies

Numerous experts suggest that the problems in organisations are often best solved with a 70:20:10 approach rather than traditional learning models. The easily-integratable nature of the 70:20:10 rule of learning makes it an ideal choice for organisations seeking practical ways to support internal learning and support their employees’ problem solving skills.  A 70:20:10 model allows organisations to more effectively address their unique problems, regardless of whether it’s through communities, collaboration, sharing, increased access, and greater motivation.

Flexibility in implementing learning strategies

Since 70:20:10 is a reference model and not a formula, it is flexible enough for businesses to utilise it in a variety of ways. Some organisations use the 70:20:10 model to target specific performance development outcomes, while others use it strategically to assist with wider learning philosophies.

Increased employee engagement

Organisations that implement the 70:20:10 model have observed enhanced staff engagement. Staff are realising learning and development happens all the time within their roles, which subsequently drives higher engagement. The blended learning approach of the 70:20:10 model also enables staff to better retain new information.

Increased management involvement

Organisations using the 70:20:10 approach see increased involvement of supervisors and managers in employee development.

Integrated learning strategies

While each learning type in the 70:20:10 model occurs separately, they can support each other. For organisations looking for learning synergies, 70:20:10 can be particularly beneficial because the 20 informs the 70 while improving the 10. For example, you can use social learning to guide the design of effective informal (experiential) and formal training programs.

Challenges with implementing the 70:20:10 model

While there are a diverse range of benefits that organisations typically experience when implementing the 70:20:10 model, that doesn’t mean there aren’t associated complexities or challenges.

Lack of empirical evidence

The 70:20:10 model developed from a study that was carried out by researchers McCall, Lombardo and Morrison in the 1980s. In the study, 200 executives were asked to answer surveys that required them to identify three events in their careers that influenced their management methods and what they learnt from them. There have been criticisms regarding the validity of the study as the managers that were selected to participate had already experienced success in their careers.

Additionally, there is no scientific evidence to support the 70:20:10 model – it is purely theoretical.

Not enough formal training

As the 70:20:10 model dedicates only 10% of its approach to formal training, some L&D professionals argue that this amount is not enough.

Of course, it’s important to note that the 70:20:10 is not a strict mandate. Organisations can tailor the percentages within their 70:20:10 program to ensure that it better reflects their employee’s needs.

Managers might have unclear roles

In order to ensure meaningful success, management has to take concerted action to observe and reflect on the experiential learning process. Experiential learning relies on the employee being able to ask their senior management questions and receive feedback.

Resistance to change from HR and stakeholders

Without a healthy learning culture in place, it can be difficult to assure HR that implementing the 70:20:10 model is worthwhile. Before meaningful change can occur, an organisation must first be willing to adapt to change and experiment with new learning models.

The 70:20:10 is not a strict formula that can be applied to any organisation without amendments. This can create hesitance amongst organisations unfamiliar with the benefits of learning and development.

Difficult to evaluate performance of model

Each segment of the 70:20:10 model will require different evaluation methods. In terms of the experiential and social learning components, it can be particularly complex to quantify the success of informal learning experiences. An organisation will have to factor in numerous outcomes including:

  • Whether the desired outcomes have been achieved
  • How skills learnt within the model are being implemented outside the context of training
  • How overall employee performance has changed consequently

How to implement the 70:20:10 model in your organisation

Deciding how to apply the 70:20:10 model requires an examination of what’s happening in your organisation and what you want to achieve. It might also require a close inspection of your staff and what they need to become high-performers. Since it’s a general principle, not a prescriptive formula, how you carry it out can vary significantly between organisations. However, you’ll want to appoint champions and embed the principles into your practices and processes as much as possible.

Experts suggest a good place to start is to look at existing practices. What does learning and development look like in your organisation? Where is it happening? What can you do to make this more effective?

Implementing the 70% – experiential learning

Experiential learning is also described as on-the-job learning. This is where the majority of an employee’s learning will be completed, as it provides a timely space for them to develop relevant skills.

The structure of experiential learning programs will differ from organisation to organisation and role to role. No matter whether an employee’s experiential learning involves a specific project or day-to-day tasks, there are certain measures an organisation can take to ensure the process is as streamlined as possible. This includes:

  • Providing employees with new management opportunities and projects that will broaden their experience
  • Offering on-the-job mentoring or coaching
  • Encouraging employee self-management and increasing autonomy
Implementing the 20% – social learning

Social learning involves employees learning through their interactions with colleagues and/ or managers. It extends beyond organising presentations or one-off staff meetings. Social learning must be integrated into the day-to-day practices of the employee as it is a more proactive and spontaneous style of learning. It is a form of teamwork in the workplace, designed specifically for personal development.

When growing internal social learning opportunities, it is recommended to focus on conversations rather than presentations. Effective learning happens through engagement and genuine social interactions. In your learning interventions — both formal and informal — see your staff members as peers and professionals, rather than passive subordinates. They will be more responsive if they feel valued as active participants in their own learning journey.

The success of social learning will also depend on the cultural environment within an organisation. Employees will discuss their work and share knowledge amongst themselves without guidance from management. However, an organisation cannot rely solely on organic social interactions to account for the ‘20’ component of the 70:20:10 model. To ensure productive and fully-fledged information sharing, an organisation must actively organise social learning opportunities that will provide employees with a more streamlined learning experience. This is particularly important for those new to an organisation.

Implementing the 10% – formal learning

It would be incorrect to assume that the 70:20:10 learning model is anti-formal learning. Despite only constituting 10% of the 70:20:10 model, formal learning is an integral part of a learning and development program. Formal learning provides foundational knowledge for the experiential and social learning experiences. It is crucial for organisations to properly invest in formal learning to ensure that this foundation actively encourages employees to fully capitalise on their experiential and social learning opportunities.

Formal learning in the context of the 70:20:10 model can include:

  • Webinars, lectures and readable content
  • Seminars and discussion panels
  • Courses, certifications and skill development classes
  • Organised in-person or digital learning opportunities

Leverage the 70:20:10 model to suit different learning approaches as required.

Generally, the more junior your employee, the higher the ratio of formal training to informal learning. Meanwhile, experienced Practitioners often benefit from less formal training in their learning and will generally find informal interventions more rewarding.

Integrate world-class workplace training into your learning strategy

Your organisation and its needs will continuously change, so be prepared to review how the 70:20:10 model is being used. In addition, continue communicating the importance of the model to ensure that every staff member understands the role it plays in enhancing your organisation’s learning and development..

The 70:20:10 model is gathering momentum across the world. Your organisation could be the next to apply its insights and principles. The model can be defined and executed in different ways that will vary within different organisations. Despite the fact that no 70:20:10 model will look the same, they are all tied together by their consistent ability to cater to the different ways that employees learn. By successfully applying the 70:20:10 learning model, organisations can better develop their high-performance employees that make them more competitive.

DeakinCo. provides learning and development solutions that measurably enhance the performance of individuals and organisations. With our workforce solutions that range from micro-credentialing to bespoke programs, we can support your organisation achieve your organisational objectives. Contact us today for an obligation-free discussion.