70:20:10 for trainers

Learning & Development Professional has been running a poll on the following question:

Is the 70:20:10 model still relevant today?

And I’m shocked by the results. At the time of writing this blog, over half the respondents have chosen “No”. Assuming they are all L&D professionals, the extrapolation means most of us don’t think the 70:20:10 model is relevant to our work.

But what does this really mean?

In LDP’s article The 70:20:10 model – how fair dinkum is it in 2015? – by the way, “fair dinkum” is Australian slang for “real” or “genuine” – Emeritus Professor David Boud says he doesn’t think there is proper evidence available for the effectiveness of the model.

If this is a backlash against the numbers, I urge us all to let it go already. Others have explained umpteen times that 70:20:10 is not a formula. It just refers to the general observation that the majority of learning in the workplace is done on the job, a substantial chunk is done by interacting with others, while a much smaller proportion is done off the job (eg in a classroom).

Indeed this observation doesn’t boast a wealth of empirical evidence to support it, although there is some – see here, here and here.

Nonetheless, I wonder if the hoo-ha is really about the evidence. After all, plenty of research can be cited to support the efficacy of on-the-job learning, social learning and formal training. To quibble over their relative proportions seems a bit pointless.

Consequently, some point the finger at trainers. These people are relics of a bygone era, clinging to the old paradigm because “that’s how we’ve always done it”. And while this might sound a bit harsh, it may contain a seed of truth. Change is hard, and no one wants their livelihood threatened.

If you feel deep down that you are one of the folks who views 70:20:10 as an “us vs them” proposition, I have two important messages that I wish to convey to you…

1. Training will never die.

While I believe the overall amount of formal training in the workplace will continue to decrease, it will never disappear altogether – principally for the reasons I’ve outlined in Let’s get rid of the instructors!.

Ergo, trainers will remain necessary for the foreseeable future.

2. The 70:20:10 model will improve your effectiveness.

As the forgetting curve illustrates, no matter how brilliant your workshops are, they are likely to be ineffective on their own.

Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve showing exponentially decreasing retention over time

To overcome this problem, I suggest using the 70:20:10 model as a lens through which you view your instructional design.

For example, suppose you are charged with training the sales team on a new product. As a trainer, you will smash the “10” with an informative and engaging workshop filled with handouts, scenarios, role plays, activities etc.

Then your trainees return to their desks, put the handouts in a drawer, and try to remember all the important information for as long as humanly possible.

To help your audience remember, why not provide them with reference content in a central location, such as on the corporate intranet or in a wiki. Then they can look it up just in time when they need it; for example, in the waiting room while visiting a client.

Job aids would also be useful, especially for skills-based information; for example, the sequence of key messages to convey in a client conversation.

To improve the effectiveness of your workshop even further, consider doing the following:

  • Engage 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.

  • Encourage the manager to engineer opportunities for the trainee to put their learning into practice. These can form part of the assessment.

  • Set up a community of practice forum in which the trainee can ask questions in the moment. This fosters collaboration among the team and reduces the burden on the L&D department to respond to each and every request.

  • Partner each trainee with a buddy to accompany them on their sales calls. The buddy can act as a role model and provide feedback to the trainee.

In my humble opinion, it is counter-productive to rail against 70:20:10.

As an L&D professional, it is in your interest to embrace it.

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21 Comments on “70:20:10 for trainers”

  1. pauldrasmussen Says:

    Ryan, I both agree and disagree with what you are saying. I think my biggest problem with the theory is in fact the numbers. Not whether the numbers are right or wrong, but just that there are numbers and that they are always the first thing that you see and hear about the model. The numbers themselves are irrelevant but having numbers in the title of the framework, despite claim by Charles and others that they simply serve as a reminder, are the problem for a lot of people, overtime I have seen so many people get the concept so wrong simply because their are number.

    One of the other problems I have always had with it is that to some extent I have always felt like it was simply trying to tell me how to suck eggs. For me the things that you mention in terms of of using it as a lens are just things the I have always thought should be part of good learning and training experiences with or without the lens of 70:20:10. It is just would good L&D people should do.

    I have never understood the evangelicalism around 70:20:10, it is simply common sense to me and nothing more, I don’t think it is any less irrelevant today than it ever has been. I can see its value for people or organisations starting in the L&D game and as a way to explain the concept of workplace learning, but apart from that I am less than sure.

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Indeed, Paul, the use of the numbers as the name of the model is problematic. I wonder if we can think of a better name?

    I agree that it is just what good L&D people should do, and I suppose that’s what I’m trying to say in this post. I don’t really understand its evangelism either, but I’m much more concerned by its rejection.

    Your idea of using the model to explain workplace learning to novices makes sense to me. Notwithstanding that, I’m sure we’ve both seen too many cases when experienced L&D pro’s haven’t addressed what 70:20:10 represents, to the detriment of the learning experience.

  3. Don Presant Says:

    Hi Ryan:
    I like Deakin Prime’s ramped diagram for 70:20:10:

    As a ConEd deliverer, they don’t spend a lot of time in the classroom..at least to hear them tell it. If it’s true I think it’s awesome.

  4. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thanks for sharing that, Don. I think it’s great!

  5. Mark Britz Says:

    Ryan, as you may or may not have seen I recently posted “What’s the Problem with 70:20:10?” (http://markbritz.com/whats-the-problem-with-702010/) recently and had vigorous discussion in comments and on Twitter. Yes, 70:20:10 has an identity crisis beyond the numbers issue. For example look at Paul Rasmussen’s comment (and this is NO criticism of Paul as I see it everywhere), in the first paragraph he refers to “it” as a theory, a model, and a framework. I see it as none of the above. To me it’s a principle, like that of it’s close relation “Wirearchy” and that leads to the next aspect of the identity crisis – it’s wrongly attributed to L&D when really it is organizational. However is it an Organizing Principle? I’m not sure really and I’m pondering that some. But one thing I will add is when L&D is polled on the genuineness of the 70:20:10 model, I think it’s not even a valid question.

  6. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Of course I read your blog, Mark :) FYI, I wanted to write this post to get my thinking straight before commenting – which I will do.

    I re-read your post just now and you’ve reminded me of the alternative name “Education, Experience, Exposure”. I really like this as I think it gets to the heart of the matter without (as you say) nitpicking about the percentages. You note that this still simplifies it, perhaps overly so, but I suggest we need it to remain simple for it to be widely used.

    Whether 70:20:10 is a a theory, model, framework or whatever, depends on how you look at it. If you see it as a representation of how learning happens in the workplace, then I’d argue it is indeed a model. Holding that model to be true is a theory. If you see it as a recipe for driving learning in your organisation, then it’s a framework. If you see it as a lens to inform your ID, again it’s a framework.

    In any case I’m not convinced the semantics matter so much as the principle, which I agree it ultimately is, and which I believe the respondents really had in mind.


  7. Great piece Ryan – it complements Mark’s very well. I think the “problem” with 70:20:10 is it’s not really an L&D solution. It’s a new way of operating for entire organizations. L&D isn’t going to make a dent in a legacy org doing things old ways. In fact, it’s more going likely going to mirror the culture.

    The real people who need to “get” more progressive ways of organizing, collaborating and sharing is the business. If they don’t, no-one cares. L&D can continue to make courses, check boxes etc. There’s no impetus for change. It’s why I changed out of L&D to see if I could affect the business from another angle. It turns our in legacy orgs, the same roadblocks appear from whichever angle you approach it.


  8. Whilst I am not a fan of 70-20-10 (as a number) I have found “Pervasive Learning” or “3-33” a more applicable model. http://www.danpontefract.com/pervasive-learning-graphic-from-flat-army/.

    I may be biased, though. ;-)

  9. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Indeed, James. I like how Mark put it: 70:20:10 is no more about L&D than social media is about Marketing. Having said that, the L&D pro who dismisses 70:20:10 will be as limited as the marketer who dismisses social media. The impetus for change comes from those who care about performance, and that should be everyone in the organisation!

    Cheers Dan, I’ve heard “Flat Army” is a good read ;)

    In all seriousness, I’m a fan of your Pervasive Learning model. In a way, 70:20:10 and 3-33 do the same thing: they shine a light on the ways we really learn in the workplace.

  10. Cathy Moore Says:

    I agree that the name of the model/principle/whatever is still an issue, given the growing (and I think justified) skepticism in our industry about science-y numbers. We can’t criticize statements like “We remember only 10% of what we hear” without also squinting skeptically at “People learn only 10% of what they need from formal training.” So it’s possible that survey respondents are reacting to the unfortunate numbers, or to the evangelism, which can sound like “You’re doing everything wrong!” and therefore invite a backlash.

    However, I also suspect that there’s still some misunderstanding of the basic idea. For example, the author of the “fair dinkum” article says this: “Its relevance has been called into question as a practical model today, particularly since it was created decades ago before the internet and mobile technology were widespread. This is especially the case given millennials have grown up with these technologies and are consequently very good at accessing information to assist their own learning and development.”

    I might be misunderstanding, but this seems to suggest that now that we have the internet, it’s no longer necessary to consider how people learn outside of formal training. This suggests that the author thinks that 70:20:10 means, “We must design and control the 70 and the 20 and the 10,” which isn’t the idea as I’ve understood it. The type of technology available doesn’t change the fundamental, common-sense notion that to improve performance, we need to consider everything that affects that performance and look for all ways to improve it, not just throw a course at it.

  11. Ryan Tracey Says:

    I didn’t quite grasp the author’s point about the Internet and mobile technology, and what the so-called Millenials do with them. If they quickly look up a YouTube video on how to do something they’re currently working on, isn’t that the 70? If they use their smartphone to post a question to a social network, isn’t that the 20?

    Or maybe that is his point: with all this empowering technology at our disposal, we no longer bother with the 10. Yet we have MOOCs, webinars, blogs, e-books…?

    Alas, the article does not allow comments. In any case, I agree with you Cathy. The types of technology we use to do the 70, the 20 and the 10 doesn’t change the philosophy of 70:20:10.


  12. Good conversation happening around 702010 and an excellent article, Ryan. Despite Cathy’s points above, my use of it is usually to dissuade production of courses when they’re not warranted. Assuming the ratio ever really was 70:20:10 (which is clearly dependent on the nature of a given workplace, the type of employee working within it, the size and geographic diversity of an organization, among others), the relative size of the formal component is clearly not growing. So as long as you can get beyond the numbers, it becomes a useful tool talking with others about the need for formal learning interventions.

  13. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Cheers Tom. One of the better conference sessions I have attended was presented by Tanya Lau, in which she explained how she uses 70:20:10 as a framework to “flip the conversation”. It’s well worth watching: https://youtu.be/hSryFJF03hQ

  14. libbyfordham596 Says:

    The irony is that while people stay caught on the numbers, your people are using things like Google to learn. Until we can accept and harness the immense change already hitting us (and going to continue to grow) through the next generation of digital natives, the discussion on learning will continue to go in circles, while talent moves in a rate of knots and new companies emerge with their own systems, rules and ways of creating success, leaving the old world companies at the back of the field.

  15. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Indeed Libby, the 70:20:10 model reflects what *is* (more or less), not what should, could, or would be. Regardless of the academic argy-bargy, OTJ and social learning continue to happen around us – supercharged by modern technology. I see our role as recognising it and working with it, supporting it and facilitating it when doing so adds value.


  16. Sorry, but I disagree about this numbers, I think we cannot say that is a rule. Depend of what kind of training we are talking about. Depend how do you plan your training you can have a better percentage of training.

  17. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Yes, ES, that’s my point. We shouldn’t use the numbers as a formula to produce output in proportion to those percentages. Instead, let’s recognise that learning happens in those different ways, and see opportunities to support it.

  18. Laura Says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for your observations. I’m amazed at how so many L&D professionals-
    a) don’t get it
    b) don’t like it
    c) don’t agree with it
    d) don’t know about it

    I agree, the numbers are misleading – people get hung up on them too much. To me, it’s easy! The numbers make up 100. If we only recognise that formal (training courses) is the only real way of learning we are basically dismissing the importance of experience. How else do we get better at our jobs; how else do we decide, when something didn’t quite go right, what went wrong and how to improve; how else do we grow?. If we analyse everything we do in our day to day jobs, how much of it is as a result of formal training? Very little. That’s not to say that the formal training we receive isn’t important. Novices have to start somewhere.

    If people didn’t think experience was important, why do they insist on candidates having experience in a particular job when recruiting? Surely they would only want to count how many training courses they’ve been on!

    It is disheartening when I hear how organisations have misused this ‘model’ as an excuse to cut L&D budgets. I wonder how much of the criticism from L&D is fear. Fear that L&D professionals will soon be out of a job. This shouldn’t be the case as the L&D professional plays an important part of this ‘100 model’ (perhaps that should be the name) by helping people learn how to learn; by becoming more learning consultants and curators than trainers.

    After all, there has been a change in name – we are no longer known as the ‘Training Department’ but ‘Learning and Development’. What is learning and development if it isn’t about supporting ALL the ways in which we learn and helping people to continually develop themselves.

    Finally, it is heartening when I hear that organisations are recognising that performance in the workplace relies on continued learning (not just training), application, exploration and sharing of expertise.

    Stepping off my soapbox.

  19. Srinivas Says:

    Where’s the human factor in this discussion? 70:20:10 is a rather broad classification to categorize human behavior. I think benefits from training truly happen when each involved “mind” realizes the importance. And that can happen when the trainees are handpicked based on their aspirations.

  20. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Thank you for stepping onto your soapbox, Laura. I agree with every word!

    Indeed Srinivas, while my post was written from the trainer’s POV, there is no substitute for mindful, motivated learners. As they say, you can lead a horse to water…

  21. ideaoninc Says:

    Now day’s internet and mobile technology is the core need of education industry. With all this authorizing and advanced technologies, we can achieve any type of learning through pdf, e-book etc.


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