What is the 70-20-10 Model?
When your employees need to complete a new task or develop a new skill, what is their preferred method of learning? Do they tend, for example, to ask for pointers from another member of their team, watch an instructor-led video, or check online? The answer will vary from employee to employee – but generally speaking, experts have a good grasp of how employees absorb new information and develop new skills. We call this the 70-20-10 model:
- 70% of learning can be classified as project-based, on-the-job development as a result of employees taking on challenging assignments that “stretch” their abilities
- 20% of learning occurs through relationship-based social and informal learning
- 10% of learning takes place through formal, top-down learning experiences such as the more traditional instructor-led training
This framework is a practical, widely used, research-based learning and development approach that came out of the Center for Creative Leadership. They realized that a one-size-fits-all approach to learning and development could fail to motivate employees.
Benefits of the 70-20-10 Learning Model
In recent years, as corporate training has become less top-down and more employee-centered, the 70-20-10 model has attracted renewed attention. With this framework, Learning & Development (L&D) specialists and managers can empower employees and accelerate their learning by matching each employee with the right mix of learning strategies. HR managers, L&D specialists, trainers, managers, and staff all have a stake in understanding and applying the 70-20-10 model – so they can optimize how training is delivered, and avoid spending time and budget on learning activities that don’t connect with their employees.
Consider some of the other benefits of 70-20-10. Companies can boost employee productivity while empowering staff to become stewards of their own learning journeys. A less-is-more, streamlined approach to L&D can lead to significant cost savings over time – a nice byproduct of investing organizationally in proven strategies that work, rather than allocating department budgets to resources that don’t actually engage employees.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the three categories and why 70-20-10 is the recommended ratio of learning types.
Taking on new projects is how most workplace learning occurs – by doing. We humans are hard-wired for intellectual and practical discovery; we are problem solvers. Being challenged is not only how we learn, it’s how we gain confidence and grow over time. When we gain feedback and knowledge, and learn from our mistakes, we engage in experiential learning. Because this area is where we have the most opportunity for growth, it is the largest percentage in the learning model.
This category speaks to collaborative learning that occurs socially, through interactions with co-workers and colleagues. Asking a question or seeking an answer is one example. However, the real power of this learning mode comes from cultivating social relationships – think allies and mentors – that over time serve as a foundation for learning and development.
Why is this category only 20 percent? Some employees may feel their company culture does not support social learning, or fear it might be mistaken for idle socializing. It’s up to upper management to set the right tone.
This category consists of formal learning that’s typically aimed at solving a shorter-term problem or developing a job-specific skill. Workshops and instructor-led presentations are examples. Old school though it may be, this category still has an important role when a company needs to communicate general information and best practices to one audience. You may think that the demand for this training has vanished with the rise of COVID-19. It hasn’t; it’s just moved online.
Developing a 70-20-10 Development Plan
Applying a 70-20-10 model to your organization’s learning and development can be a difference maker. To help optimize impact, devote sufficient resources to launch and sustain the initiative, execute it consistently, and integrate it seamlessly throughout all levels of the organization. To guide your effort, start by developing a roadmap.
What are the key elements of a 70-20-10 learning model?
- Needs Assessment
Begin by surveying your people for benchmark data. This will help paint a picture of where the organization is, in terms of 70-20-10, at the present moment. What are your employees’ training needs that aren’t currently being addressed? Based on staff input, you might, for example, determine who is currently engaged in informal learning, what form it takes, and how often it occurs. You could discover important insights – perhaps there’s less demand among younger employees for formal, teacher-centered, instruction – that will help shape development of your plan.
- Create Organizational and Employees Plans
Management should ensure that the 70-20-10 plan reinforces and is aligned with organizational goals and priorities. Based on your needs assessment, develop the guts of the plan: specific learning goals, strategies, key deliverables and deadlines, and the budget needed to execute and sustain your 70-20-10 learning model.
Once the organization-wide plan is developed, managers should meet with individual employees to develop 70-20-10 action plans that dovetail with the larger plan but are customized to the needs of each employee. For example, if one of your organizational strategies is to increase brand awareness, how can your public relations assistant use social learning to enhance his or her knowledge of the media landscape?
- Tools and Technology
Another important factor, especially in a workforce newly reliant on remote collaboration, is the role of technology in supporting your 70-20-10 campaign. If you work in human resources or as a trainer, you are probably familiar with a learning management system, or LMS. If not, you should be, for a few reasons. First, an LMS can help companies automate and streamline their training capabilities; second, a mobile-first LMS can help them smoothly transition to remote learning and development while reducing costs and increasing worker productivity. Finally, an LMS is the ideal tool for launching 70-20-10 training, because it includes innovative features – like social learning, gamification, and peer-to-peer learning – that are built into the system.
- Execution and Evaluation
Managers should meet with their team members on a regular basis to provide support and identify obstacles, document what’s working or perhaps not working as well, and to make any adjustments to your 70-20-10 development plan. Organizationally, it’s important to gather this feedback from leaders during a step back and adjust accordingly to maintain a successful learning model.