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7 Lessons from the 70:20:10 training model

70:20:10 continues to be a popular option increasing the pressure on learning and development teams to make use of alternatives to classroom learning. The good news is that 90 percent of learning is not classroom based.The 70:20.10 model for learning and development, credited to work carried out by Morgan McCall and colleagues at the Center for Creative Leadership, highlights the importance of informal and formal learning at work. The majority of learning, 70 per cent, is gained from on the job experience, 20 per cent from learning from others and 10 per cent from formal training.

We regularly talk to clients who have adopted the 70:20:10 model, here are the lessons we’ve learnt:

label the programmes clearly so people can make informed choices about what they need 

Paul Matthews and Ray Pendleton in their article “70:20:10 – a model approach for learning”, in Personnel Today, suggest that training needs to become more learner- centred. To meet the needs of learners, L&D functions need to shift from offering a predetermined course structure to being more like hosts at a banquet, letting individuals choose learning options that are relevant to them. Breaking down leadership and interpersonal skills programmes into smaller targeted chunks, fits well with a more self-directed approach.

Use language and scenarios relevant to the participants

Perhaps more crucially, we need to consider why such a small proportion of learning (the 10%) was reported as coming from formal, classroom based training (though given that most managers spend less than 1% of their time in a classroom, it’s not such a bad result!). It may be that training does not hook in to our conscious thoughts, as effectively as our personal mistakes and successes do, when we are faced with a live issue.  The use of language and scenarios that are fully relevant to the participant and incorporate story-telling, have been proven to aid understanding and recall.

Design narrow and deep

For many organisations, short courses are about “providing a flavour” or an “overview”.  While overviews have their place, to really support the 70:20:10 philosophy and maximise learning transfer, we have learned that when designing short courses, it is better to go narrow and deep than wide and shallow. This provides the opportunity to share ideas and experiences and to think their way through to the application of learning.

After all, if organisations do think that 70:20:10 is about time rather than learning, and therefore less classroom training, then what there is needs to be worthwhile!

Link the 10 to the 20 and the 70

The greatest return on investment from training courses is reaped where it is closely linked to other interventions.  Plans should be put in place to incorporate the learning into work-based activities (the 70%) and provide opportunities to practice.  Some examples of how this may work include:

  • Deliver a presentation even if just to your manager or immediate team, shortly after attending a Presentation Skills course
  • Lead the client meeting following Negotiating Skills training
  • Write a proposal within a couple of days of the Effective Business Writing webinar
  • Brief your colleagues on your return from the conference
  • Book some time with your manager for a debrief and feedback session (the 20%) following the activities listed above

Share experiences

When delivered in house, the social aspects of classroom training can be continued through networking and peer-to-peer support once the course has finished.  Much experience is made up of observations, of success and failures.  If eleven people learn just one thing from each of the other participants, that is countless failures to be avoided as well as all success to be replicated.

Make sure you are compliant

The rise in regulation means there is a need to have documented evidence of learning.  Naturally this is harder to do with the 70:20:10 model when the bulk of the learning is informal and unstructured. Business can benefit from sectors such as the building trade that are accustomed to recording experiential learning outcomes.  It needn’t be onerous and can be set up with a regular, weekly diary reminder to record informal learning.

Don’t get hung up on the numbers

70:20:10 doesn’t have to be prescriptive or used to justify cuts to training budgets. It is simply a rule of thumb to help L&D functions deliver appropriate resources for improved learning experiences. An article by Peter Cush in People Management cites research that suggests the model is predictive of organisational success. I suspect that these findings reflect a correlational rather than causal relationship. Organisations that take a structured and thoughtful approach to learning and development will have more robust L&D. They probably take this approach in all aspects of the business, and as a result, are simply more successful.




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