Learning & Development

70:20:10 Model of Employee Learning & Development

In this article, we will define the 70:20:10 model and its benefits, share some examples of applying it, and advise how companies can adopt this approach. For balance, we’ll also review some of the most common critiques of this plan.

What Is the 70:20:10 Model?

The 70:20:10 rule is a popular approach to learning and development that refers to how individuals learn. The numbers break down to 70% of learning occurs via on-the-job experience, 20% of learning occurs through social interactions, and 10% of learning is achieved through formal training.

It was created in the 1980s by McCall, Lombardo, and Eichinger. The trio created the model to demonstrate how people learn and apply the knowledge they gain. This model is still used by corporate trainers and managers to develop learning plans for employees.

So what, exactly, do these breakdowns mean?

70% Experiential Learning

The vast majority of the knowledge and skills we acquire comes as a result of first-hand experience, challenges we face, and tasks we complete on a daily basis. All of these things combined are experiential learning.

Take a moment to consider the things you have truly mastered. More likely than not, you can credit that mastery to continue applying yourself through practice. Beyond that, you have probably retained those skills because you were actively involved in the learning process.

The 70 in the 70:20:10 model of learning consists of four key components. These are:

  1. Direct Experience - This is the hands-on experience that workers engage in as part of their jobs.
  2. Reflective Observation - This is when people look back on prior experiences to learn and gain insights.
  3. Abstract Conceptualization - This is the planning process for future experiences. It’s often the result of asking: If this didn’t work what will? This works but what will work better?
  4. Active Experimentation - Putting new ideas to use in the real world is a way to test their viability. This is intimidating because of the risk of failure. However, the only way to gain value from new skills or knowledge is to use them.

20% Social Learning

Our interactions and social experiences also create learning opportunities. In fact, 20% of learning is social learning. This is also defined as a type of self-directed learning because it often happens through voluntary or spontaneous interactions.

Social learning is the process of gaining information by asking questions of coworkers, engaging in conversations, and simply observing what your peers do. It’s also engaging in teams to tackle new tasks and learn the skills required to do so.

One of the more interesting things about social learning is that it can be integrated into learning management systems. For example, an LMS might contain collaborative and communication tools to facilitate learning through social interaction. A knowledge base is also a form of social learning.

10% Formal Training

When people learn that formal training accounts for only 10% of learning, they may assume that it is not very important. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Formal training is a key part of any learning initiative. In fact, there are things that people simply can’t learn effectively or safely without formal training.

For example, you wouldn’t want someone to learn to operate heavy equipment without formal instruction. Also, no matter how intuitive we try to make certain processes, there’s just no way to learn them without somebody providing clear instructions and guidance.

Formal training can help workers learn when social or experiential learning isn’t an option. It can also set the foundation for future self-directed learning. Additionally, it can serve as a way of accelerating or advancing learning that has previously been gained through social interaction and experience.

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The Benefits of Following a 70:20:10 Development Plan

The 70:20:10 model isn’t just based on arbitrary numbers. It reflects how people really learn. By using a corporate training strategy that follows this balance as closely as possible, your team can gain some significant benefits, including:

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It’s also notable that different people thrive under different learning methods. This model increases the likelihood that all employees will be able to gain new skills in a way that works for them.

How to Adopt the 70:20:10 Model with Examples

It’s possible to move closer to a 70:20:10 learning model in any organization. This can be done in part by changing the way you deliver training. You should also consider steps to adjust your current learning culture to embrace social and experiential learning.

The following tips showcase 70:20:10 examples that can help you achieve this balance or come close to it. You’ll notice that they help you to simulate the 70:20:10 balance in training delivery as well as encourage it when team members are engaged in their daily tasks.

Foster Experiential Learning

Experiential learning happens naturally in the daily work lives of team members. However, you can recreate some of the elements of experiential learning to make training more engaging and effective.

Use Scenarios and Simulations

Technology like AR and VR can be used to simulate real-life worlds in which trainees can engage in experiences to help drive training home. This is especially effective in safety or compliance training initiatives where true “real-life” experiences can’t or shouldn’t be an option. 

Additionally, scenario-based learning allows participants to consider things they have learned within the context of realistic experiences they may have. For example, curriculum creators can work with team leaders and workers to ensure that scenarios presented in training are realistic.

Encourage Connections

Simulations and scenario-based learning are valuable. However, they involve making connections for employees. It’s also important to engage trainees in discussions that challenge them to make these connections themselves. 

For example, as part of the assessment process, workers should be encouraged to articulate how they will use their training when they return to their jobs.

Encourage Social Learning

People are naturally social creatures. We enjoy sharing experiences and ideas with one another and we crave social approval. Most workers appreciate some level of social engagement as part of their working and learning experiences. 

Fortunately, eLearning technology can be used to create both environments and opportunities for this kind of interaction. For example, web conferencing, video chat, and integrations with collaborative tools like Slack can be used to create training that is centered around or includes social elements.

Facilitate Knowledge Sharing

You probably have an immeasurable amount of knowledge in your organization. The problem is that you may not have any means in place to get that information from one person or department to another. 

Informal social learning that happens in the daily work environment may not be adequate. That’s simply because some people will never cross paths, especially in a large organization.

Training teams have to find ways to facilitate this knowledge sharing. This can be done through a company-wide knowledge base, wikis, internal forums or discussion boards, and employee-led learning sessions. 

Encouraging Workers to Embrace Formal Training

There is clear value to formal learning. The organization benefits when team members are thoroughly trained in competencies that can’t be learned informally. Workers benefit when formal training aligns with their own professional development goals

Despite this, formal training is often a source of frustration. It is seen as a disruption to teams. Workers and their direct supervisors may also not see value in training if it seems arbitrary and lacking in meaningful application.

Many of these issues can be resolved by making training more engaging, relevant, and convenient. Consider adopting some of the following strategies:

By taking these steps you can improve participation and engagement in formal training.

Continu — An LMS for Every Approach to Training

The 70:20:10 model of learning defines three approaches to corporate training, and Continu has the tools and resources to help you implement each of them. Continu is a modern intuitive learning platform built to help companies take various learning approaches, and implement learning models to scale high-performing teams.

Most recently, Continu was named 'Leader' in the G2's summer reports making it the highest-rated learning platform in the Corporate Learning Management and LXP categories.

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