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Ten 70:20:10 FAQs

A listing of ten common 70:20:10 framework frequently asked questions.

1. How can I describe the 70:20:10 framework?

70:20:10 is a way of explaining how learning occurs in organisations.  It is a reference model for structuring development opportunities.  It is not a new concept. It is used to re-focus learning strategy in organisations to exploit workplace learning, informal learning, and structured learning to achieve optimal results.

70:20:10 is often best described in the following way:  'It is A MODEL FOR EXTENDING LEARNING AND IMPROVING PERFORMANCE'

2. Why is it called a ‘framework’ rather than something else?

It’s a reference model that can be used as an approach to improving the way organisations build and support a culture of continuous learning and improvement.  ‘Framework’ is a good way of describing it. Frameworks provide guiding principles. They also support structures and act as 'scaffolding'.  The way each organisation uses the 70:20:10 framework will vary depending on their nature and their needs. Some use it strategically, others tactically. It is important to explain that there is no 'best' way to use 70:20:10.  How it is used in organisations will depend on a number of factors - in other words, 70:20:10 is contextual.  

3. What do the numbers mean?

One of the first things to understand is that the numbers are really just an aide memoire to help those developing strategies for learning and development to focus across all learning opportunities rather than only on formal learning.   70:20:10 is not a recipe and the numbers are not important. It’s probably better to think of 70:20:10 as describing three different but often overlapping ways high performers learn and develop: through EXPERIENCE (the 70), EXPOSURE (the 20)  and EDUCATION (the 10).

4. What is the Origin of the ‘70:20:10’ Numbers?

The numbers have their origin in research carried out through the 1980s at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina by Morgan McCall and his colleagues. Two of McCall’s co-researchers, Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger, published data from one study in their 1996 book ‘The Career Architect® Development Planner’ .  McCall and his colleagues’ surveyed a small sample of successful and effective managers. They reported:

“Lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly:

70% from tough jobs

20% from people (mostly the boss)

10% from courses and reading”

Career Architect® Development Planner. Lombardo and Eichinger (1996) ISBN-13: 978-09655712-1-1

5. Is that all? Is there any other evidence to support the 70:20:10 model?

There’s plenty of other evidence. Empirical (observational) studies and surveys stretching back to the late 1960s have shown that working adults acquire most of the knowledge and skills they need to become high performers in the workplace and through others. Of course not all arrive at an exact 70:20:10 split, but they consistently find a breakdown of roughly 70% learning through experience and practice; 20% through coaching and networks; and 10% through formal learning and structured development.  A few studies are listed below:

  • Professor Allen Tough’s work on adult learning projects in the 1960s and 1970s. In researching adult learning and intentional change, Tough reported that ‘about 70% of all learning projects are planned by the learner himself’.  Although at the time Tough didn’t refer to a 70:20:10 split he later acknowledged that is what he found.

  • A comprehensive study carried out by Loewenstein and Spletzer and published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (1998) referencing research from 1993 and 1994 suggested that people learn about 70% of their jobs informally, although they found significant variation between both structured learning (13%-46%) and informal (workplace) learning  (9%-96%).

  • In 1997, the Education Development Center, Inc., a Newton, Massachusetts-based research organisation, released findings from a two-year study of corporate cultures.  Funded by U.S. Department of Labor, state governments, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the study included the Boeing Commercial Airplane Group, Siemens Power Transmission and Distribution, LLC, Reflexite North America, Data Instruments, Merry Mechanization, Inc., Ford Electronics, and Motorola. One of the findings of the study was support for estimates from previous studies that “attempted to quantify formal training’s contribution to overall job knowledge: 70% of what people know about their jobs, they learn informally from the people they work with.” (Dobbs, 2000, pp. 52, 54)

  • Raybould (2000) reported “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.

  • Research by CapitalWorks LLC, a human capital management service in Williamstown, Mass. Found that “not only do employee learning programs based on informal methods and self-study increase employee knowledge and productivity far more than more formalised methods, they also cost less”. Preliminary studies showed that approximately 75% of the skills employees use on the job were learned informally, through discussions with co-workers, asynchronous self-study (such as email-based coursework), mentoring by managers and supervisors and similar methods. Only 25% were gained from formal training methods such as workshops, seminars and synchronous classes.” (Lloyd, 2000)

2 Dobbs, K. "Simple Moments of Learning." Training 35, no. 1 (January 2000): 52-58.

6. What types of organisation are currently using 70:20:10?

70:20:10 isn’t limited to specific industries, organisation size or geography.  Large multinationals use it. Government agencies use it. Small and medium-sized companies use it.   Well-known companies using 70:20:10 include Shell, Wallmart, Nike, Nokia, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, American Express, National Australia Bank, Rabobank, Coca-Cola, Best Buy, Eli Lilly, KPMG, Oracle, LEGO and many others.

7. Why are organisations adopting 70:20:10?

Many are using 70:20:10 as a change agent to help them extend learning provision beyond formal training and development.  However, some are using the framework to improve and link their structured learning with the workplace and others.

8. Can it be used for all roles or is it just for leaders and managers?

Although early adopters such as Goldman Sachs focused their 70:20:10 use on managers and leaders, it can be used as a general strategy across the organisation.  The variation in the dependency on experiential, social and structured learning is actually influenced more by the length of time someone has been in a role or organisation than by level in the hierarchy.

9. Can you give some examples of how 70:20:10 is being used?

Some organisations are using 70:20:10 as the strategy underpinning all employee development activities. Others are using it for specific solutions/activities such as guiding development conversations, or for presenting the range of development opportunities. Others are using the ‘70’ to reinforce the apprenticeship model or in their on-boarding.

10. Where’s the best place to start?

First you need to develop a plan.   Are you going to pilot the 70:20:10 approach in one part of your organisation or are you thinking of revising your entire learning strategy?   If you choose the former, then identify the ‘low-hanging fruit’ (the quick wins) and get underway. If the latter, you’ll need to engage senior stakeholders and get board level support. In this case, the best place to start is by developing a business case and a communications plan before you start the journey.

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Really useful to link 70:20:10 to the workplace, and help address those who complain about the 'accuracy' of the numbers, thanks!

Thanks, Clark.  It's important to remember that 'the numbers' are not some target to be aimed at.  That's why I often recommend people develop their own terminology, or use the 3Es - Experience; Exposure; Education.

Does anyone know of other terminology being used?