70-20-10 Theory in Learning & Development – Proven Success

Learning and development is important not only for organisational success, but also for long term organisational sustainability. A key responsibility of top management personnel is to groom current middle level managers into senior and executive positions. Appropriate learning and development strategies are required to create managers who can effortlessly take on the responsibility of senior management.

Another aim of learning and development in organisations is to enhance competencies of employees across all levels and make them more fit for their roles. This is essential to ensure the organisation is able to meet its growth objectives.

Though learning and development is a continuous process, often certain external factors such as changes in the regulatory environment or market conditions create a visible gap in the learning need of employees and there is a sense of urgency to plug that gap.

The question is how do organisations create learning systems which ensure that the necessary learning is transmitted to the employees at the right time and in the right manner.

The 70-20-10 Learning and Development Model

Developed by the Centre for Creative Leadership, the 70-20-10 theory of learning and development is considered by several experts as one of the best systems to impart learning.

The premise of this theory is that for best learning to occur

  • 70% of learning must come from job assignments and challenges.
  • This is informal learning (learning which does not occur formally in classrooms or in training sessions)

  • 20% of learning should be delivered socially
  • This refers to the learning employees glean from social interactions with their peers in the company and within the industry. It also refers to communication and/or feedback the employees have with their managers as well as subordinates.

  • 10% of learning comes from formal learning systems
  • These of course refer to formal learning systems such as classroom training and other training methods, which involve face to face interactions.

Some of the world’s leading organisations such as Microsoft, SAP and Nike to name a few, use this system to meet the learning and development needs of their employees.

70-20-10 Learning Theory Vs Traditional Learning Systems

Traditionally, most organisations rely on training sessions to impart learning to their employees. The focus is invariably on formal learning systems including classroom training, seminars, learning workshops and so on. In fact, with advancements in technology, the scope of formal learning systems had further widened to include various e-learning modules and other forms of virtual training sessions.
The training department within the organisation has the responsibility of creating exhaustive training modules and courses for employees at various levels.

However as per the 70-20-10 learning model, a large chunk of the learning needs to come from on-the-job assignments and activities. Cross functional or interdepartmental learning will also account for satisfying a significant bulk of the learning needs. But the contribution of formal learning systems, which currently forms the crux of learning in many organisations, is very limited.

The point being made here is that if your organisation is still relying on formal training as the primary means to create learning, it may not produce the desired results.

You have to move to a 70-20-10 learning approach.

Why the 70-20-10 Approach Works – Proven Successes

According to Charles Jennings, global Learning Expert and founder of the 70-20-10 Forum, current changes in the workplace, organisational systems as well as technological advancements are responsible for the effectiveness of learning delivered by the 70-20-10 system.

According to Charles, the formal learning approach goes well with the traditional concept of autocratic hierarchical organisations, where employees were expected to do what their bosses said to them. Today’s organisations are flatter, encourage employee participation and employee profiles are more role based than task based. Besides, in the quickly changing external conditions, organisations have to be agile and respond quickly. There simply isn’t time for elaborate training sessions.

Besides, work at all levels within the organisation today is more transactional in nature and involves a certain level of decision making while dealing with ambiguity. In such a scenario, the highest level of learning comes informally from ‘doing it’ on the job, which also brings to the learner a wealth of knowledge and experience. Classroom learning sessions simply cannot hope to match all these benefits.

Also aiding learning of employees today are the conversations and ideas exchanged with peers and/or mentors who have experience in the field. This is the area of social learning (the 20% bit), which again is more effective than formal training sessions.

It is a simple fact that people learn more from doing than reading. The age old example that one does not learn swimming by merely reading about swimming and watching countless videos, but by actually jumping into the water and well, swimming is very apt here.

Implementing the 70-20-10 Learning Theory in Your Organisation

70% Learning on the Job
To maximize learning from on-job experiences, managers need to support employees by offering feedback on their performance, which gives employees the opportunities to improve and learn further.
Employees need to be given chances to undertake challenging assignments and/or new projects in their areas of core competency. Another option is to enhance the scope of a particular role and increase the associated responsibilities.

There should be a system in place for documenting the experience and performance so that the impact of the learning thus attained can be quantified to a certain extent.

20% Social Learning
The organisation should encourage networking and exchange of ideas between peers to facilitate social learning. Today, there are several tools available, which automatically enable greater interaction amongst employees. These predominantly include tools such as social media as well the local intranet within the organisation.

LinkedIn is a powerful social media platform that connects professionals across industries helping them exchange notes and ideas. Other social media platforms too have their own value.

The intranet on the other hand, offers a platform for the company employees to come together and collaborate both personally and professionally.

To further promote social learning, you can resort to practices such as mentoring, employee pairing and similar other innovative strategies.

10% Formal Training
Experts state that there in an inherent ‘amplifier effect’ in the training sessions, which brings great value to the learning process. In other words, course based training which employees undergo, further supports and reinforces what they learn while on the job and from their peers.

70-20-10 learning theory states clearly that informal learning systems cannot (and are not meant to) replace formal training. There exists a synergy between the formal and informal systems, which increases the overall learning.

The 70-20-10 model is not against formal training. The aim of this system is to only highlight the relevant significance and contribution of each learning methodology to the overall learning and development process.

Have you used the 70-20-10 learning model for your employees? What have been the results? Do share with us.

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