70-20-10: Is it a Viable Learning Model?
The 70-20-10 process is a learning and development model developed by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger (2000) that uses a three blend approach to provide a development platform for senior managers and leaders:
- About 70% of learning is provided through the use of challenging assignments and on-the-job experiences.
- About 20% of learning is developed through relationships, networks, and feedback.
- About 10% of the learning is delivered via formal training processes.
As Jay Cross (2011) wrote the model is a prescriptive method for developing leaders :
“The 70-20-10 model is more prescriptive. It builds upon how people internalize and apply what they learn based on how they acquire the knowledge.”
The Center for Creative Leadership (2011), where 70-20-10 was developed, also writes that the model is indeed prescriptive:
“A research-based, time-tested guideline for developing managers says that you need to have three types of experience, using a 70-20-10 ratio: challenging assignments (70 percent), developmental relationships (20 percent) and coursework and training (10 percent).”
Some have been calling for 70-20-10 to be the new learning model for across the organization, however, since is a prescriptive remedy for developing managers to senior and executive positions, it does not mean that it is a useful model for developing skills in the daily learning and work flows that takes place within organizations because it is being applied in an entirely different context than what it was designed for.
Parts or perhaps all of 70-20-10 may be useful for developing professionals other than senior managers, but since the learning ratios vary greatly between various groups of learners (and even individual learners within a group), one has to be very careful about taking this approach.
Using the Ratios
The reason the 70-20-10 model is not easily transferable to the typical learning and daily work flows that occur in organizations is because the ratio of informal to formal learning varies with context. For example, the Informal Learning Blog lists some resources on the ratios of of informal learning verses formal learning and the numbers vary greatly. The best researched numbers show an average of 70% informal learning and 30% formal learning. For example:
1. The largest and most comprehensive study is by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor (1996). Their research found that an average of 30% of the learning needs come from formal learning, while informal learning averages about 70%, thus it differs greatly from the ratios that the 70-20-10 model prescribe.
2. These numbers are averages, thus the ratios depend greatly on context, such as the learners' type of job, skill level, organization changes, etc. For example, Loewenstein and Spletzer (1998) who performed another comprehensive study for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor discovered that learning varies from about 13% to 46% for formal learning and 9% to 96% for informal learning (p.40, table2).
3. When one looks at the ratios that show lower levels for formal learning, there is no or very little research. For example, the second one on the list is Raybould (2000), who writes that, “many organizations report that 85-90% of a person’s job knowledge is learned on the job, and only 10-15% is learned in formal training events” (p.8). However, the author does not reference any research to back up his claims.
The 10% Amplifier Effect
Although training is seen as contributing just 10 percent (actually 9-15%) of a leader's development in the 70-20-10 model, it has what is known as the “amplifier effect”—formal training courses clarify, support, and boost the other 90 percent of the leaders' learning (The Center for Creative Leadership, 2011). That is, training gives the learners the basic building blocks on which the other forms of learning can be built.
This amplifier effect works because each hour of formal learning spills over to four-hours of informal learning for a 4:1 ratio (Cofer, 2000). Bell (1977) used the metaphor of brick and mortar to describe this relationship of formal and informal learning—formal learning acts as bricks fused into the emerging bridge of personal growth, while informal learning acts as the mortar, facilitating the acceptance and development of the formal learning.
Bell also noted that informal learning should NOT replace formal learning activities as it is this synergy that produces effective growth (those calling for lower levels of formal learning are going in the wrong direction).
Thus trainers and instructional designers help to develop the organization by establishing a shared knowledge base on which to build the organization's leadership vision. And as noted in the previous section, while some learners may only need 10% of their learning to come from formal methods, others may need the vast majority of their learning to be more on the formal side.
The 20% Social Effect
Social learning is a process of learning caused or favored by people being situated in a common environment and observing one another (Conte, Paolucci, 2001). This allows the learners to not only perceive each other for comparison and self-evaluation, but also see others as a neutral source of information, which may help or speed several forms of instrumental learning.
Recently, social learning has been extended through the use of Social media—communication tools that allows users to create, modify, and/or distribute content (Clark, 2010). Social media includes such tools as blogs, microblogs (e.g., Twitter & Yammer), file sharing (e.g., Flickr & SlideShare), Virtual Meeting Places, (e.g., Adobe Connect & Elluminate), social sites (e.g. Facebook & MySpace), and wikis. For more information see Social Learning and Social Media.
Thus social learning may be done face-to-face or through the use of social media tools. Some of the methods used include:
- Shadowing a skilled performer
- Sounding out ideas that promote discussions and constructive feedback
- Seeking advice and asking opinions
The 70% Job Experience Effect
The five most important experiences that leaders and managers obtain to gain skills are (Wilson, Velsor, Chandrasekar, Criswell, 2011):
- Feedback from their managers and superiors
- Job turnarounds
- Increasing their job scopes
- Horizontal moves
- New initiatives
These experiences allow the leaders and managers to learn three important leadership lessons skills:
- Manage direct reports
- Become self-aware
- Execute effectively
While some of the above job experiences may provide new skills and knowledge for job-holders other than leaders, some are difficult to provide. For example, while managers and leaders can normally use their skills across different department levels, shuffling an entire organization through various departments proves quite difficult as many skills are not relevant in other departments and the rotation schedule can prove difficult to manage. Thus other forms of experience must be provided, such as:
- Providing new challenges or projects
- Representing a team at a cross-functional meeting in order to learn about other functions within the organization
- Training new team members or teaching and coaching skills to other team members
- Providing increased decision making authority
- Action Learning
Negative experiences can also be used for promoting learning, such as learning from mistakes, however since personal reflection often occurs some time after the experience, it is mostly retrospective (McCauley, Brutus, 1988). Reflection can often be hard to accomplish, thus new leaders and managers often need coaching or mentoring to help them through the process.
Bell, J., Dale, M. (1999) Informal Learning in the Workplace. Department for Education and Employment Research Report No. 134. London, England: Department for Education and Employment, August 1999.
Center for Creative Leadership. (2011). The 70-20-10 Rule. Leading Effectively e-Newsletter. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011 from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/enewsletter/2011/NOVrule.aspx
Cofer, D. (2000). Informal Workplace Learning. Practice Application Brief. NO 10. U.S. Department of Education: Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education.
Conte, R., Paolucci, M. (2001). Intelligent Social Learning. Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, vol. 4, no. 1.
Cross, J. (2011). A model of workplace learning. Internet Time Blog. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011 from http://www.internettime.com/2011/03/a-model-of-workplace-learning/
Clark, D. (2010). Instructional Design: Social Learning and Social Media. Media, Strategies, & Methods. Retrieved Dec 18, 2011 from http://nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/media/social_learning.html
Leading Effectively e-Newsletter (Nov 2011). The 70-20-10 Rule. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Creative Leadership. Retrieved Dec 1, 2011 from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/enewsletter/2011/NOVrule.aspx
Loewenstein, M. A. and Spletzer, J. R. (1998). Formal and Informal Training: Evidence from the NLSY. Washington D. C: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved January 3, 2011 from http://www.bls.gov/ore/abstract/ec/ec940090.htm
Lombardo, M. M., Eichinger, R. W. (2000). The Career Architect Development Planner. 3rd Ed. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.
McCauley, C. D., Brutus, S. (1988). Management Development Through Job Experiences: An Annotated Bibliography. Retrieved Dec 1, 2011 from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/MgmtDevelopmentBib.pdf
Raybould, R. (1995). Performance Support Engineering: An Emerging Development Methodology for Enabling Organizational Learning. Performance Improvement Quarterly, vol 8(1) pp. 7-2. Available at: http://www.imamu.edu.sa/Scientific_selections/Documents/IT/Raybould.pdf
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor (1996). BLS Reports on the Amount of Formal and Informal Training Received by Employees. Retrieved January 3, 2011 from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/history/sept_042897.txt
Wilson, S. M., Velsor, E .V., Chandrasekar, A., Criswell, C. (2011). Grooming Top Leaders: Cultural Perspectives from China, India, Singapore and the United States. Center for Creative Leadership. Retrieved Dec 11, 2011 from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/GroomingTopLeaders.pdf