Thursday, May 10, 2012

Moving beyond 70:20:10 - Reflections on the LSG Webinar

What is 70:20:10?
Following my recent webinar on ‘Moving beyond 70:20:10’ for the Learning and Skills Group, I wanted to delve a bit deeper into this high profile model.
Some L&D professionals build impassioned cases around it, in a desire to support informal and social learning, whilst others view it as a dangerous over simplification.
So I wanted to reflect on its usefulness in more detail.
I’m sure if you’re reading this that you’re familiar with the concept of the 70:20:10 model but just in case, Charles Jennings provides us with a great explanation:
“About 70 per cent of organisational learning takes place on the job, through solving problems and through special assignments and other day-to-day activities. Another 20 per cent occurs through drawing on the knowledge of others in the workplace, from informal learning, from coaching and mentoring, and from support and direction from managers and colleagues. Only 10 per cent occurs through formal learning, whether classroom, workshop or, more recently, e-learning.”
Charles also provides a spectacularly good overview of the model in this video too:

Miss-used and Abused?
Now, the model is a very useful lens to think about what Learning really means in organisations. 
But as much as the model is useful, it can be abused and it’s mis-use has a number of risks:
  1.  How much does it create the expectation that you should be doing less formal training? And is it used as an excuse to reduce training headcount?
  2. How well does it directly translate into all corporate learning contexts – all of the time
  3. Is learning on the job an option if you need people to be proficient from day one of a new process, product or systems launch?
It can be used to assume the answer before you have even asked the question!

What are the Key Factors for the Best Learning Mix?
To prescribe learning solutions without taking into account the specific context or requirements is far from ideal. So it’s at this point I like to take a step back and think about what factors drive the best mix of learning delivery?
I asked this during the webinar session and the attendees provided their insights such as:
  • The needs of the business or customer
  • Audience profile
  • Learning styles of the group
  • Learning needs, characteristics of target group, the 'logic' of the content, culture
  • Practical elements such as geographical spread, audience demographics, technological constraints
  • The immediacy of results required by the business tends to drive the mix
  • Transfer of knowledge into work
  • Knowledge transfer vs. skills.  Are you passing on information, or building skills/practices in the workplace?
This, it seems, it what really matters to learning and development professionals, more than any kind of model. It is about finding what works best for learners in a particular situation. The absolutes of 70:20:10 should never be taken as hard and fast parameters.  The combinations need to flex and potentially flex considerably if they are to fit what’s really needed.  And that’s why we need to retain the uniqueness of each project we support from organisation to organisation, between business units and, role by role.  Project by project not all of the answers are found it 70:20:10. 
CONTEXT is KING… and we surrender this to any model at our peril.   
So, why is 70:20:10 important?  

What is the Power of 70:20:10?
The power of the model is it helps remind us that learning is a process.  That is it not bound to a single channel.  It happens over time, from a variety of sources and is supported by real world experience, motivation and feedback. 
What learning and development practitioners all too often deliver is  a single event, whether that’s face to face, or online   70:20:10 enables us to lift our focus out from short term events out to how we support learning back in day to day working life. And that’s really important because this is where learning becomes performance.  And that is what we are really all about - Performance Development.
 A performance development view has to embrace a full mix of the components: workplace learning, formal learning and collaborative learning.  And using these labels are potentially much, much, much more useful that quoting 70:20:10.  
If we think about learning in those terms then we can start to picture the extent to which learning is really supported in organisations.  Not an ideal and in appropriate set of percentages.
Often the split of effort across organisational learning currently looks like this:
However, if we want learning to be really effective in improving performance, we need to be moving towards a more even split in our efforts, resources and investment to support ALL learning.

Only by investigating how we can address, formal, workplace and collaborative learning, for critical roles in our organisations, can we start to piece together how we should be investing in our learning approach to drive real impact. 
And as we start to look in detail at the opportunities to support learning and we can start to see that the learning armoury, the wealth of tools, platforms and channels can be much more complete, than formal delivery alone. 

Moving Beyond 70:20:10?
This is what I mean by ‘moving beyond 70:20:10’.
We’re starting to transcend any perceived boundaries of a model and broaden our thinking beyond merely splitting learning across formal instructor-led sessions, a bit of e-learning and a spot of performance support. 
We’re thinking more about the big picture for the organisation as a whole and how we can choose from different types of learning to best support an overall vision and strategy.   We start to look at our technology choices and infrastructure in a way that drives real value and makes ordinary working lives better.  Not because they were trained but because they were given the support to really learn.
As one participant in the webinar put it, we can ‘develop a pick and mix approach to suit each context as one size will not fit all’. For different learning requirements we need to ask key questions such as:
  •  What channels are appropriate in this context?
  • How do they add value?
  • What is technically feasible?
The spirit of the 70:20:10 model is incredibly useful in helping us to think about incorporating different channels in our L&D strategy. It can really help our learners by providing different learning opportunities, but ultimately it seems that context is king and we need to build some flex into how we apply 70:20:10 as we move L&D into the future.
Only by thinking about and acting to support all learning, be that workplace, formal and collaboration, will L&D really be able to really say they are driving tangible improvements in performance.   Without it L&D are just another cost.  And costs eventually get cut.


Philip said...

Hi David
Thanks for your post.

I've been thinking a bit recently about how we like models such as 70-20-10; as well as the cynical view that some people have a hidden agenda and use it to peddle a product or service, I suppose they are also popular because they provide us with the satisfying feeling of certainty and order in an ambiguous and chaotic world. In the L&D world, I suppose the 70-20-10 model also gives us comfort that learning does have a value-added role to play in the organisation, and that "training" is not doomed to be an overhead or staff benefit.

But I think the dangers of models like 70-20-10 are not only that we take the %'s literally when we are designing a learning experience. There's also the issue of consensus about what goes into what bucket. If we can't agree that, then when we talk to each other about 70-20-10 we start becoming aware that we may be like ships passing in the night.

For example, I see your model puts action learning in the 70% (or should I say workplace learning!)but it could be argued that where the objectives of the action learning are set by L&D, the roles are preordained and participants are brought into a physical environment for a set time on a set date, that smells more like formal learning to me. But agsin, that's the problem - its just my perspective that formal learning is normally predesigned by someone other than the learner.And action learning is a tool that could be designed formally or more informally - spontaneous, unstructured, objectives driven by learner and somehow taking place within the workflow.

Anyway, I do agree that your rebadging of 70-20-10 is more helpful - but just pointing out that the rebadging itself brings of a new subjectivity to bear. And that some learning tools or methods such as action learning may straddle several domains, and its not easy or helpful to force them into one domain, just like its not helpful to say that 70-20-10 is always the formual to use. Yes, its CONTEXT!

Philip said...
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Philip said...
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Philip said...
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David Perring said...

Hi Philip,

I really like you observations. And a healthy dose of cynicism is always important.

To try to quote a Zen tenant...

“Nothing is possible, without a deep root of faith, a great ball of doubt and a fierce tenacity of purpose”.

It is all too easy to forget to challenge ourselves about the models we've adopted.

In my defence of the Work-place, Formal and Collaborative diagram - the model is just an example. It’s not meant as a fixed representation. I’d like to think that organisations would create their own unique view – based on data or opinion.

So, for a given context, Action Learning could have cropped up in any segment, depending on the situation. None of the elements has to be of a particular size or position, other than you have good reasoning to put it there.
There are not absolutes - just reasoning and a reflection on what makes sense.
Subjectivity is one name for it, contextual might be another.

But, as long as we look beyond the "event" and start to think about how we support the transformation of learning to performance, I really believe that L&D are only doing half a job.

And the interesting side of a Workplace, Formal and Collaborative view is that, actually, it can start to promote a constructive discussion. One that hopefully, is much more complete and outcomes orientated. One that helps us tangibly see the end goal not as learning but tangible business impact.

I hope that makes sense... What do you think?