03 August 2016

Is the popular 70:20:10 framework relevant to today’s business environment?

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If you’re trying to figure out the best way to develop an employee learning and development program, you may not always know how to approach it.

Perhaps there are learning and development models out there to guide you, but you may not know which ones to look into.

Google seems like a logical place to start your research.

A search for “learning and development models” produces a bunch of search results relating to the 70:20:10 framework. In fact, almost all of the first page search results (seven out of 10) are about it and the next two to three pages of search results are much of the same.

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The 70:20:10 learning model seems like a clear winner then. Let’s dive a bit deeper into what it’s all about.

What is it?

The 70:20:10 learning framework was first published in 1996 by the Centre for Creative Leadership, a non-profit organisation in the United States researching the key developmental experiences of successful managers.

The model stipulates that learners get 70% of their work-related knowledge from hands-on experience, 20% from social interactions, and the remaining 10% from formal training.

Breaking this down further:

  • The 70% includes on-the-job experiences from both past and current jobs, including challenging tasks, assignments and even mistakes undertaken in those jobs
  • The 20% includes social learning, coaching, mentoring, project teamwork, performance reviews and other collaborative learning interactions
  • The 10% includes university training and courses, books, workshops, educational events and eLearning

Review

While the 70:20:10 learning framework is widely touted as the most effective learning and development model to ensure organisational success, we should question the relevance of a model that is older than some of the people you might work with. Many things have changed in 20 years, and the business environment is definitely one of them.

Recruitment landscape. Finding a job is very different now than it was two decades ago. Gone are the days when employers put up newspaper ads to find candidates to fill vacant roles, or hopeful applicants faxed or mailed in their resume to land an interview. Now, applicants can sign up for email alerts for the jobs they want, while employers and headhunters can actively seek talent online.

Nature of work. Work itself has changed significantly in the last 20 years. People no longer clock in at the office by sticking a paper time card in a machine, and then clock out after a day’s work at 5pm sharp. These days, some employees don’t even need to physically go to an office because they can work from anywhere with an Internet connection.

So, naturally, employee learning and development itself has also changed over 20 years.

Types of learning. A common critique of the 70:20:10 learning framework is that it is too rigid and doesn’t account for informal learning, which in reality runs across all three tiers of the framework.

Informal learning, which is unofficial, incidental and unscheduled learning through everyday experiences, is more prominent now than ever before due to the digitalisation and proliferation of knowledge made readily available by the Internet. Rather than visiting a library or enrolling in a course, most people would start their research by looking for answers via Google or YouTube. Anyone could virtually learn anything online outside the arena of on-the-job experience.

Interpretation. Another critique for the 70:20:10 model is its outdated interpretation of eLearning. Classifying eLearning as a part of the 10% formal training is too simplistic because it assumes that all eLearning platforms are static modules without any flexibility, which might have been the case up until recently.

Today, however, there are smart eLearning technologies like Velpic that enable training supervisors to create customised video lessons fast, and allow trainees to learn on their own time and at their own pace. Such sophisticated LMS platforms allow for effective learning without a classroom setting, or even without a computer because you can access training from anywhere using an app on your mobile phone. In this way, the nature of eLearning becomes more informal and frequent, rather than formally structured.

What next?

So, where do you go from here if you’re still looking for a sound learning and development model on which to base your employee training and development program ?

As with any framework, consider the 70:20:10 learning and development model with an open mind but by no means should it be taken as gospel, even though it is backed by research and case studies in the past. Study the model and adapt it to fit your organisational reality today. Perhaps the percentages shift and new influences are slotted in, and with analysis and testing, you can find a learning and development approach that makes sense for your organisation.

And that’s the beauty of learning and development—you never stop doing either of them.