A closer look at the 70:20:10 learning model

 Note: Still not to scale.  :-)

Note: Still not to scale.  :-)

Last spring we took a look at the 70:20:10 model. Despite its 40+-year pedigree, this model continues to generate buzz among the learning community. To recap:

  • 70 percent of learning comes from informal learning experiences.
  • 20 percent of learning comes from people.
  • 10 percent of learning comes from formal learning events.

Scan the Internet and you’ll see all manner of graphics from pie charts to pyramids promoting the 70:20:10 model—so much so that 70:20:10 is often touted as a rule rather than a guideline or model. More than that, 70:20:10 is often defined as a goal—that method you should adopt to train your learners. But as Ryan Tracey suggests in his recent thought-provoking article The 70:20:10 lens, 70:20:10 isn’t necessarily a model of what should be; it’s a model of what is. It’s descriptive, not prescriptive.

What does this mean for learning practitioners?

Rather than looking at 70:20:10 as a rigid formula for learning components and ending up trapped by it, we should look at it flexibly. The three parts work together in an interrelated and often complex way. Think of 70:20:10 as a rough real-time framework. If your learners spend one hour doing formal training, you can expect them to spend twice that time getting feedback from supervisors, managers, co-workers, and experts, which will reinforce that formal training. And you can expect them to spend seven times as much time reinforcing that formal learning in organic ways—self-directed research, chats, wikis, on-the-job practice, and informal conversations. But those time estimates are just that—flexible estimates.

What’s important is that all three components are in place. As a learning practitioner, you furnish the 10 percent, acknowledging it may actually be 8 percent, 12 percent, or 15 percent, depending on the nature of the work and the level of learner engagement in the formal learning event. The percentage isn’t important. What matters is that the “20” and the “70” reinforce the “10.” Do your learners work in an environment where effective feedback is given by supervisors, managers and co-workers? Will they be given the latitude to dig deeper once they’ve finished their formal learning component?

In other words, the three segments of the 70:20:10 model may consume different amounts of time, which can be estimated proportionally. But they’re equally important, and they all need to be there.

 " The 3 E's " by  Ryan Tracey  is licensed under  CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 .

"The 3 E's" by Ryan Tracey is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

That’s why Ryan Tracey’s framework looks a little different from the typical 70:20:10 depiction.

If we look at all three components as being equally important, and realize that they represent not what we wish to create but what is already happening, we can better perceive how our training fits in with the other pieces, and design it accordingly.

What do you think about the 70:20:10 model? Do you take it into consideration when you’re designing and developing training, or see it as something that evolves naturally along with your training?

Drop us a line in the comments and tell us what you think!