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Fitting 70:20:10 into the Bigger Picture

It is often asked whether 70:20:10 is simply a different way of dividing learning modalities between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’.

The categorisation below, developed from Internet Time Alliance research and other sources, demonstrates how 70:20:10 fits into the bigger picture.

The Research

The terms ‘formal’ and ‘informal’, although widely used, are ambiguous.

‘Formal’ learning suggests highly structured activities and ‘informal’ suggests lack of structure.  However, the classification is really about who controls and ‘manages’ learning objectives (if any) and learning goals rather than the ‘formality’ of learning process in the traditional sense.

Jay Cross, author of Informal Learning, Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance defines informal learning as:

“Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way people learn to do their jobs”.

In practice, most learning is a mix of both formal and informal. We may obtain a grounding of concepts by learning about them in a classroom or by directed reading, and then learn about the application of the concepts to help us do our jobs better through practice in the workplace.

One way to view the entire spectrum of learning is shown in the diagram below.

Formal, or directed learning is dependent on some type of instruction. With this type of learning the structure or curriculum is defined by others and individuals are guided along a pre-defined path.

The ‘10’ part of the 70:20:10 framework maps to this category of learning.

Learning professionals can manage the learning processes for this type of learning.  In fact, this is what most learning departments are charged to do.

Fig. 1 (© Charles Jennings, used with permission)

Informal learning can be further categorised into self-directed and undirected components.

Self-directed learning occurs where an individual intentionally creates or uses a situation to gain learning.  These situations usually occur within the workflow. Self-directed learning can be either interdependent (social or collaborative learning) or independent (learning with the help of tools or information). An example of the former might be the use of ‘brown bag’ lunch and learn sessions. An example of the rich use of the latter might be electronic performance support systems (ePSS).

Undirected learning is that which occurs without any intention on behalf of the learner. An example may be when, by happenstance, you discovered a new or improved way of doing something.

Relevance to 70:20:10

The 70:20:10 framework maps well to this categorisation and makes it easier to explain the linkage of formal/informal to 70:20:10 to stakeholders.

The structured ‘10’ type of learning maps neatly to the ‘formal’ or ‘directed’ learning category

The ‘20’ type of learning through others maps neatly to the self-directed/interdependent category

The ‘70’ type of learning through experience and practice maps to both the self-directed/interdependent and the self-directed/independent categories

Key Take-Aways

  • L&D can’t manage informal learning (the ‘70’ and the ‘20’). However, there are many opportunities to support, encourage and facilitate it.
  • You might like to consider documenting the approaches that are already used in your organisation to support informal learning and discussing other options that are available to you.


Jay Cross Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance. Wiley. 2006. ISBN: 978-0787981693

Malcolm Knowles Informal Adult Education: A Guide for Administrators, Leaders, and Teachers. 1950. Association Press

Allen Tough Learning without a teacher: A study of tasks and assistance during adult self-teaching.  1967. Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.


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1 comment

I came across this article while struggling to find ways in which to more effectively embed 70:20:10 into our ways of working, and the take-away about the Learning and Development function not being able to manage informal learning rings very true to current challenges being faced.

Whilst our L&D Strategy has been endorsed by our executive team, the lack of any support beyond the big tick of approval sees employee development efforts at risk of swiftly returning to our former HR Team coordinated/training event model.

With knowledge and a genuine belief that 70:20:10 is a great model, and the right model for our organisation; questions remain in relation to our readiness, particularly in the readiness of our managers and team leaders. In a work environment such as ours, where technical knowledge and skill is king, softer "people” skills have, and continue to be seen as the role of the HR team and modern models of leadership, culture, organisational development and all that good stuff...... will take time to embed, perhaps even generations to embed!

For L&D professionals this reliance on leaders to build learning organisations and actively participate in and encourage leader-led learning is a risk in terms of 70:20:10 model effectiveness. Without a skilled leadership team, 70:20:10 models are simply 10 models which will no doubt be viewed by those who are not in the know, as the same old L&D story with fancy new name.  Without adequate L&D resources to actively drive, motivate and support leaders, regularly, until a level of self-mastery is attained, L&D professions are somewhat stuck between a rock and a hard place.

70:20:10 truly is a whole of organisation approach, and effectiveness of any 70:20:10 strategy is reliant on organisational readiness.