The Other 90% (Jay Cross) - Guest Blog

Most learning occurs in the workplace and through social networks. Yet we’re still spending most of our budgets on training.

Work life was much simpler in the last century. Information work entailed following instructions, logical analysis and left-brained procedures. Today’s concept work is largely based on improvisation. Learning leaders must deal with situations that aren’t in any rule book. Concept work relies on pattern recognition, tacit knowledge and the wisdom born of experience. You can’t pick this up in a workshop.

The workplace has changed, and business has become unpredictable. Results are asymmetric. Everyone’s connected. Value has migrated to intangibles. Organizations are becoming organic. Talented individuals choose where to work. Power is shifting from suppliers to customers. Learning and work are converging, and time has sped up.

The 21st century workplace is so different from its predecessor that managers and professionals must follow new practices to succeed. I’m consumed with identifying and documenting those practices.

Knowledge workers learn three to four times more from experience than interaction with bosses, coaches and mentors. And they learn about twice as much from those conversations compared to structured courses and programs.

The shorthand label for this viewpoint is 70:20:10 - 70 percent experiential, 20 percent coaching and 10 percent formal. It’s a handy framework to keep in mind, particularly when someone mistakenly thinks all learning is formal.

Like Moore’s Law that describes the growth in the performance of microchips, the 70:20:10 framework for learning is the result of observation, not something scientifically proven. Like Moore’s Law, it’s also an approximation - give or take a little depending on the context.

My partners and I at the Internet Time Alliance have talked with hundreds, if not thousands, of managers about workplace learning in general and 70:20:10 in particular. It resonates with them. They nod their heads in agreement that the numbers square with their experience.

Why do Learning Professionals Focus on the ‘10’?

This raises a question: Why do learning departments and CLOs spend so much time and resources on the 10 percent when there is plenty to do for the other 90 percent? It’s a legacy from an earlier time.

Training was simpler when the world was predictable, progress was slow and the task was teaching people how to do their jobs. Today’s world is a kaleidoscope; information is a tsunami and workers face novel, complex situations every day. The only way to keep up is to work and learn with others.

Learning is no longer separable from work. People need to learn on the job, not apart from it, and they need to learn in real time, not a month before. What’s important is tacit knowledge — the know-how that’s taught by experience as opposed to the know-what that is written in books or a syllabus.

Training used to be for novices, aspiring managers, leaders and technicians; certification was for compliance. Today the rate of change makes us all novices at something. People whom we’ve habitually overlooked, workers with know-how and experience, have to learn every day, too. We cannot continue to neglect them. From a talent management perspective, it’s no longer acceptable to overlook pre-hires and alumni, either.

Applying 70:20:10

Learning leaders should increase the effectiveness of experiential learning - the 70 percent - by packing more varied experience into the workflow. Encourage experimentation, delegate stretch assignments, provide opportunities to apply new skills in real situations and involve people in challenging projects and rotate assignments.

Increase the effectiveness of coaching – part of the 20 percent - by recognizing the vital role of managers and supervisors. They need to provide informal feedback and work debriefs. Encourage them to help people learn through team memberships. Facilitate group discussions. Make them take responsibility for helping their people grow.

Increase the effectiveness of formal learning - the 10 percent - with immersive, interactive learning that applies directly to the job, provide simulations and game-based learning, and offer learning in digestible chunks via multiple convenient formats. Focus on improving the overall learning ecosystem. Support learning experiences in the workplace, and concentrate on what it takes to meet organizational objectives rather than running workshops.

Learning is social. Improve the ease of free-flowing conversation and you improve the quality of learning across the 70, 20 and 10.

Also, remember social software facilitates conversation. Chatter, Jive, Socialcast, Yammer, Podio and other social networking systems simplify listening in and joining purposeful conversations. This is not traditional training. It’s not solely HR. It’s about making the business better. It’s no longer just for our employees.

Successful corporations are becoming extended enterprises. The quality of what we deliver to customers depends on our entire business ecosystem, from resource extraction at the beginning of the supply chain to our ongoing relationships with customers. Given that learning is the key to improving productivity, it’s in our interest to help suppliers, partners, distributors and customers learn in optimal fashion, too. We must invite them to learn with us, benefit from our guidance and share in what we know.


Jay Cross - Chief Unlearning Officer at Internet Time Alliance
Jay has challenged conventional wisdom about how adults learn since designing the first business degree program offered by the University of Phoenix. A champion of informal learning and systems thinking, Jay’s calling is to create happier, more productive workplaces. He was the first person to use the term eLearning on the web. He literally wrote the book on Informal Learning. Jay works from the Internet Time Lab in Berkeley, high in the hills a dozen miles east of the Golden Gate Bridge and a mile and a half from the University. People visit the Lab to spark innovation and think fresh thoughts. Berkeley is the birthplace of the cyclotron, California cuisine, and custom coffee roasting in the United States.