The 70-20-10 Model Leads to More Effective Training

Are your learning initiatives getting the results you want? Chances are, if you aren’t using the 70-20-10 model as a guideline, they aren’t. The model was specifically developed to get the most out of our training programs and systems. Because, after all, the results we want are behavioral change, increasing employee productivity, and all that comes with that. What we don’t want is to waste money on things that aren’t getting the job done.

What is the 70-20-10 Model?

Allegedly the origins go back into the 1980’s at the Center for Creative Leadership, three researchers were conducting studies on successful and effective managers. Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and others spent time interviewing these managers about their success and asking for the tenets that they believe led to it. From that, they discovered that formal learning alone did not determine success. College degrees, classroom training, and certification classes weren’t enough.

Now before you start bemoaning all the student loans you are still paying back, read on. Don’t delete your eLearning programs off the server or fire all your trainers. The study didn’t say that formal learning had no impact, it simply said that it was part of a bigger picture. All that has value, but only if in concert with other influences.

What McCall and friends came up with out of their study was a theory about how a manager reaches success in their area. They determined that our learning to be effective divides up into

the 70-20-10 model shows how learning takes place
The 70-20-10 Model

70% experiential

Those times where you just have to roll up your sleeves and get dirty. You learn things as you go. Make mistakes, learn a lesson. Try not to repeat it. There are those who believe that this is the only way to really learn anything. They’re wrong, but they believe it.

20% social learning

This is where we learn from others in the field. Sometimes this is when someone else makes a mistake and we learn from that. Other times this might be an experienced colleague who shares insight. It could also be those times when a manager or a mentor gives us feedback and guidance. It’s all valuable. While it is not the largest percentage, it’s important to keep in mind that 20% is still a significant number.

10% formal learning

This is where much of our time and effort is put into training initiatives. In fact, for many organizations this is the ONLY place where they invest in learning. However the study seems to indicate that only 10% of our learning is derived from eLearning, classroom training, books, and education.

Does that mean that formal learning has little to no value? Not at all. What it does mean is that it provides a foundation to make the other learning methods more effective. It also means that it should not be the only way in which learning takes place.

Things to Keep in Mind About the 70-20-10 Model

Before you call a meeting to totally revamp all your training initiatives, let’s put all of this into perspective with a few more thoughts.

It’s a model, not a prescription

You probably don't want to learn 70% about skydiving on the job.It was never intended that this model was the be all and end all of training. No one is suggesting that if your training programs don’t follow this formula then they are ineffective. The model provides a guideline for how you develop a comprehensive training program to get the best results. There are industries where this type of formula simply would not work. Skydiving for example. Do you really want someone to learn 70% of what they need to know about skydiving AFTER they have jumped out of the plane?

The model lacks empirical data

The study on which the model is based relies primarily on anecdotal data from managers. And instinctually something feels right about saying that most of what we learn is on the job. On the other hand, there is hardly any, if any at all, real data to back that up.

It doesn’t accurately reflect the impact of technology changes on learning

The study was conducted initially back in the 1980’s and reported in the early 1990’s. What’s changed since then? Computer-based training was only about 10 years old. The Internet existed but primarily only within parts of the U.S. military, some universities, and a small handful of technology companies. Concepts like eLearning were unheard of. No cell phones or tablets.

There is a lot of learning technology that exists today that impacts learning effectiveness. The model at the time it was developed could not possibly have accounted for any of it.

The numbers are not set in stone

One point that has been brought up by other learning professionals is the roundness of the numbers. Let’s face it – how often has anything we measure actually come out into nice round numbers? Almost never.

Along the same lines, as we mentioned earlier, there are some roles and industries where you don’t want to learn the bulk of it on the job. It could be dangerous, perhaps even life threatening. For example, working on a printing press floor there are a lot of factors you need to know before you step out on the floor. Are there still things you will learn as you go? Absolutely. It is 70% of what you need to know? Probably, perhaps even hopefully, not.

Integrating Your eLearning with the 70-20-10 Model

So how do we make this work with what we currently have in place? First, a few questions to ask that will help guide you.

  • What distribution of experiential, social, and formal learning more accurately reflects your current situation? What should it be?
  • Are you relying primarily or even exclusively on eLearning to train staff?
  • What else should you add to it? Performance support? Job Aids? Discussion groups? Experiential Knowledge Base?
  • How should you adjust your eLearning in support of the social and experiential learning or vice-versa?

Be Intentional

Here’s a suggestion on how to start. Think about how you can be more intentional about the social learning and experiential learning aspects. Create social learning avenues that are readily available to the learner immediately upon completion of a course. Perhaps a coaching session with a senior associate or with their manager. Train senior associates to be “on-the-job” trainers who support and enhance the formal learning.

While it seems like you are going to be pouring out more money to make this work that’s not necessarily so. Some of this you can implement with little or no outlay of additional funds. 

Another perspective is that you are already investing money. Doesn’t it make sense to make sure that investment yields the best return? Isn’t results what you really want? Using the 70-20-10 model can help jump start you there.

Not sure of your next move? Want to see how your eLearning can be more effective? Contact the eLearning experts by emailing today!


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