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Optimising the 70:20:10 model for learning and development

SW
Sophia Wichtowska
Nov 5, 2019

On a daily basis, both employees and leaders need to develop expertise or learn new skills to ensure they make meaningful contributions to society. They can do this by asking each other questions about how to complete new tasks, or by researching the best approach. Whichever methods they use, lifelong learning is a human pursuit, and those who engage with learning regularly are proven to be happier.

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When you are at work and you need to complete an unfamiliar activity, what do you do? While there are steps you can take independently, if your organisation has a developed learning culture and openness to ongoing training, you are far more likely to be confident with the learning process and understand how to get started.  

Over time, the 70:20:10 model for learning and development has become increasingly popular with organisations. As leaders started to recognise that the traditional, structured approach to learning no longer supported strategic goals, they started to seek out an alternative approach. The 70:20:10 model is simple, and recognises that the majority of learning opportunities occur outside of formal lessons. 

In this article, we are going to explain the model and share some advice on how to put theory into practice in workplace learning. 

Understanding the 70:20:10 model 

The 70:20:10 model can be described in different ways, but is essentially a framework for workplace learning. It offers guidance as to which types of learning have most impact on employee development, and the balance learning and development professionals should aim to strike. The different types of learning referred to in the framework are:

  • Experiential learning (70)  

This is learning through practice and experience, followed by reflection, critical analysis and application.

  • Social learning (20)

This involves learning through speaking and interacting with others.

  • Formal learning (10)

This learning takes place on formalised courses, both face-to-face and online.

The model is also known as performance-oriented learning, which mostly happens as an employee goes about their work day. While traditional, formal modes of learning are undoubtedly useful when there are specific skills employees need to develop, the theory outlines that the majority of learning takes place through practical activities. 

However, the ratios are not fixed. They are suggested as a guide to ensure learning and development strategy remains balanced. How the ratio is implemented will depend on the organisation and skill types employees need to develop. Invariably though, the weighting towards each type of learning remains constant, with experiential learning being the most important. 

Putting theory into practice

The application of the 70:20:10 model gives those responsible for learning and development a clear structure for both creating and reviewing strategy. The following points summarise the ways in which the theory can be put into practice: 

1. Build in opportunities for experiential learning

Experiential Learning methodology encourages critical thinking, problem solving and decision making, and this accelerates learning. It also creates stronger memories through employing multiple senses and emotional connections.

Learning in this way bridges the gap between theory and practice, and gives employees an opportunity first-hand to apply what has been taught. This improves retention of concepts and new ideas. 

While they are similar, experiential learning is not as simple as employees learning on the job by osmosis. Thinking critically is an important part of the process, as well as reflecting on how to improve upon current practice. This isn’t necessarily a focus during the average work day. 

In order to create opportunities for experiential learning, the process needs to be made explicit, either by providing employees with resources, or by training them in how to engage in experiential learning techniques. Once employees have been shown how to learn through experience, they can take ownership of the process. The only need for guidance would be for learning and development professionals to review the process, and look at how the learning aligns with an employee’s performance review.  

2. Encourage discussion amongst colleagues

According to the 70:20:10 model, social interactions account for approximately 20% of learning in the workplace. Much of this learning will in fact happen organically, but leaders can facilitate it and ensure that it is learning focused at opportune times.  

A focus on learning through discussion can be achieved by setting up a formal opportunity to discuss learning throughout the week, perhaps as part of the agenda at team meetings. Sharing resources with staff can also help to generate discussion, and help to guide learning conversations.

Leaders can also model discussion about learning at appropriate times.  Perhaps somebody in leadership recently learnt something new. They could share that experience with staff when giving a presentation, or if they have questions, they could ask a relevant team member for help using learning-appropriate language. 

3. Use online courses as a foundation

When approximately 10% of time for workplace learning should be allocated to formal learning, investing large sums of money in face-to-face training might not be the most effective use of a training budget. Online courses are a more cost-effective way to offer employees opportunities for formal learning. 

Online courses can serve as a foundation for both experiential and social learning opportunities. Those responsible for learning and development might set employees an additional experiential learning task based on the knowledge they acquire in an online course, or set up a reflective discussion relating to a course next time team members come together for a meeting. The content found in online courses can feed into other types of learning. 

4. Review with staff and ask for feedback

Most importantly, employees should take ownership of their learning and feel that it is a two-way process. If leaders invite employees to give feedback on the learning and development processes in their organisation, they will feel both invested and involved in the process. 

Their feedback will be the best guide as to whether learning and development strategy is in balance, as they are personally experiencing the learning. Assessing an individual’s learning experience without asking for their opinion is challenging for obvious reasons!

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