Most of us in the training & development profession will be familiar with the 70:20:10 ratio.
Borne out of qualitative research undertaken by the Center for Creative Leadership in the 1990’s, it models how most people learn in the workplace. Essentially…
- 70% of learning occurs “on the job”
- 20% of learning occurs via interacting with others
- 10% of learning occurs “off the job” (eg attending classes, reading)
This breakdown has since been supported by subsequent research, though sometimes it is represented as 80:20 to reflect informal learning and formal training respectively. Nonetheless, the numbers remain a sore point among many of our peers who complain that there still isn’t enough evidence to support the model’s claim. But which claim?
Frequently I see 70:20:10 misrepresented as a formula or a goal. I suppose that’s understandable because it looks like a cocktail recipe. However, it’s not a model of what “should be”. For example, we needn’t necessarily assign 70% of our time, effort and money on on-the-job interventions, 20% on social learning, and 10% on formal training. Similarly, we shouldn’t mandate that our target audience aligns its learning activity according to these proportions. Both approaches miss the point.
The point is that 70:20:10 is a model of what “is”. Our target audience does undertake 70% of its learning on the job, 20% via interacting with others, and 10% off the job (or thereabouts). It doesn’t judge what is right and wrong. It simply states what it is happening.
Implications for training
If we can agree that the 70:20:10 model is descriptive rather than prescriptive, that begs the question: What use is it to trainers?
As the forgetting curve illustrates, retention decreases exponentially over time. So no matter how brilliant our workshops are, they are unlikely to be effective on their own.
To overcome this problem, I suggest using the 70:20:10 model as a lens through which we view our instructional design. By this I mean using it as a framework to structure our thinking and prompt us on what to consider. So, less a recipe citing specific ingredients and amounts, more a shopping basket containing various ingredients that we can use in different combinations depending on the meal.
For this purpose I have created the following diagram. To avoid the formula trap, I have decided against labelling each segment 70, 20 and 10, and instead chose their 3E equivalents of Experience, Exposure and Education. For the same reason, I have sized each segment evenly rather than to scale.
Using this framework at face value is fairly straight-forward. Given a learning objective, we might consider whether a reading may be suitable (Education); whether a social forum might be of use (Exposure); and whether participation in a project would be worthwhile (Experience).
For example, suppose you are charged with training the sales team on a new product. As the trainer, you will address the Education component with an informative and engaging workshop filled with handouts, scenarios, role plays, activities etc. Then your trainees will return to their desks, put the handouts in a drawer, and try to remember all the important information for as long as humanly possible.
When we use 70:20:10 as a lens, we see alternatives and complements beyond our event-based intervention.
To help your audience remember, you could host the reference content on the corporate intranet. Then they can look it up just in time when they need it; for example, via their iPad in the waiting room while visiting a client. A job aid might also be useful, especially for skills-based information such as the sequence of key messages to convey in a client conversation.
To improve the effectiveness of your workshop even further, you might also consider the following:
- Engaging each trainee’s manager to act as their coach or mentor. Not only does this extend the learning experience, but it also bakes in accountability for the learning.
- Encouraging the manager to engineer opportunities for the trainee to put their learning into practice. These can form part of the assessment.
- Setting up a community of practice on the Enterprise Social Network to which the trainee can ask questions in the moment. This fosters collaboration among your audience and reduces the burden on yourself to respond to each and every request.
- Partnering each trainee with a buddy to accompany them on their sales calls. The buddy can act as a role model and provide immediate feedback.
When we use 70:20:10 as a lens, we see alternatives and complements beyond our event-based intervention. Regardless of the numbers, plenty of research can be cited to support the efficacy of on-the-job learning, social learning and formal training. So rather than quibble over the minutiae of the model, it is in our interests to embrace its holistic view of instruction.
This article originally appeared in Training & Development magazine June 2016 Vol 43 No 3, published by the Australian Institute of Training and Development.
About Ryan Tracey
Ryan Tracey is an E‑Learning Manager in the Australian financial services industry. He has worked in corporate e-learning for over 14 years, following several years in the higher education market.
He is a Divisional Council Member of the Australian Institute of Training and Development, and a former Editorial Board Member for eLearn Magazine.
Ryan holds a Master’s degree in Learning Sciences and Technology from the University of Sydney, and he blogs as the E-Learning Provocateur.