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Is it time for L&D to move on from the 70:20:10 model?

10 Jul 2018 By Alison Maitland

Alison Maitland explains why the traditional learning model may have had its day

There’s no shortage of discussions about the fast-paced, ever-changing world we live in, but many organisations are still grappling with exactly how they are going to keep up. New skills requirements are surfacing all the time, and those businesses that can identify what those requirements are stand a good chance of not only keeping up, but establishing a sustainable competitive advantage.

But how do you recognise these requirements and – more importantly – ensure that your training and development programme delivers the talent and skills required for business success both now and in the future?  

Many organisations are attempting to do this by taking a ‘traditional’ approach to learning and development, which often uses the 70:20:10 model as a basis. This model estimates that roughly 70 per cent of learning comes from on-the-job experience, 20 per cent socially from others and 10 per cent formally from courses and reading. In reality, learning doesn’t happen in these three neat boxes and thinking of it in this way can do more harm than good. In order to encourage a behavioural shift, organisations need to think beyond this approach.

Engage people in their own learning

No matter how much work has gone into embedding the 70:20:10 model in your organisation, without engaging employees with their learning, this approach will fall short. Unlike children, adults need to not only be engaged with the reasons why they’re learning something but also be involved in the planning. From a business perspective, this means it’s important to clearly communicate why employees are learning something and the specific benefits it will bring to them. 

Customised learning is an increasingly popular way to better engage employees. It allows people to adapt their learning in a way which is bespoke to their knowledge level, and that really focuses on supporting their individual goals. Constructing a learning journey tailored to the needs of an individual employee with timings, subjects and made-to-measure content is one way to implement this approach. It’s easier for learners to be motivated when their training is tailored to their specific needs, interests and career goals. 

Don’t be rigid

Effectively engaging employees isn’t the only way to think beyond the 70:20:10 approach. As it stands, if you apply it too rigidly, there’s a chance you’ll start treating formal and informal (or social) learning as mutually exclusive, because the model itself sees the two ways of learning as completely separate. That’s an issue because in reality, on the job experiences, getting feedback, learning from other people, and formal programmes go hand-in-hand. Ultimately, you should create a learning journey with different points of engagement that create the right opportunities for more formal, social and on-the-job learning.

Many organisations haven’t really understood the on-the-job learning part of the puzzle, with some using this interchangeably with experiential learning, and others thinking it is as easy as letting people ‘get on with it’ in their job. But on-the-job learning needs to be more structured than this, and training should be purposefully targeted towards the behaviours the organisation wants to change. After a formal learning session, on-the-job training should be used to support those learning objectives. This could involve breaking down the particular skill being learned into some of its elements and providing opportunities for deliberate practice of those elements, ensuring there is plenty of opportunity for regular feedback from a coach or someone more experienced.

Rather than separating social and formal learning, together they should be viewed as a continuous, blended cycle of learning from others and with others. They should not be characterised by being formal or informal, technology-based or face-to-face, they should transcend all these distinctions. 

To remain competitive in the modern business world, organisations need to move beyond this framework if they want to create the ideal workplace learning environment. Modern learning is about growing the organisation’s capability, making sure everyone learns from others, with others and shares that knowledge back into the organisation. It requires co-creation and the evolution of community knowledge, wherever, whenever, however and beyond the 70:20:10 model.

Alison Maitland is director of research and product at Lane4

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