70:20:10 Learning for Medium Sized Companies

This paper came about as a result of a conversation between colleagues that ultimately led to the creation of a new learning process. The conversation centred around the 70:20:10 model for organisational learning and how it can be applied to medium-sized companies.

What is the 70:20:10 Model?

The 70:20:10 Model is a learning development model; it states that 'Lessons learned by successful and effective managers' will be learned:

  • 70% - through working in their profession
    (either through learning from their mistakes or taking on challenging work assignments)
  • 20% - through developmental relationships
    (either formal or informal coaching relationships or inspirational managers and colleagues)
  • 10% - through formal learning
    (courses, qualifications, workshops and other training)

This model was created by Morgan McCall and his colleagues from the Centre for Creative Leadership and published in 1996. The data came from a survey of 200 executives on how they learned at work. 

Is it a scientific fact?

Not really, it was only ever a hypothesis as it has never been scientifically proven, however in recent years more and more scientists have criticised the hypothesis for the fact that it:

  • Has a lack of supporting empirical data
  • Is comprised of perfectly even numbers 
  • Only asked a certain group of people with common traits

So why is it important?

Whilst the scientific validity of the model has been questioned, a huge amount of Learning and Development professionals (most that we know) still buy-into it and apply it in their companies wherever possible.

So why would intelligent and creative professionals utilise a model that is widely criticised? The answer to this is that whilst it may not be an exact science the 70:20:10 model does force us to think outside of the traditional school of thought: that we only develop our skills through being trained to be better.

It encourages us to use a blended approach to learning and understand that other factors are important in the development of our people. It means that training is not the only thing to look at from a learning and development perspective.

So how are companies using this model to become more effective?

There are lots of different and innovative ways that people have and are implementing 70:20:10 in their companies, here is a really simple example of how some development can be improved using the model:

Let's use the example of a company requiring some of its managers to become skilled in basic project management (this is to say they will not be career project managers, but rather taking the lead on projects within their team at some point over the next year):

What might the traditional approach look like?

Probably a 3-day intensive course on project management skills – some of which would have been retained and used in the future, but much of which would be forgotten or lost due to lack of follow-up, relevance or memory retention.

What might a 70:20:10 approach look like?

Well, we would certainly advise an approach like this:

Perhaps a 1-2 day training course to give the tools, knowledge and some of the skills development required to successfully manage projects

A work-based project that is almost immediately ready to begin following the training so that the learning can immediately be put into practice and so that the practical elements can be matched with theory for full understanding

A more experienced project manager to meet with the delegate and supervise the first project as well as provide ongoing advice on how to manage the project. This acts as a double safeguard for both the development of the individual and the success of the project. Alternatively one of our own coaches could be selected to support participants as they put their learning into practice.

So what is the difference?

With the traditional approach, your people have an opportunity to learn in the space of 3 days from an external professional only, and at the end of those 3 days people would hope that you have the requisite skills to manage certain projects.

With the 70:20:10 approach your people have been given the skills without going into unnecessary amounts of detail in the training room, then they have been given a project to manage so that they can immediately put their new skills into practise and amalgamate the theory and the practical elements in their minds. Following this, they have the chance to try out their new skills in a low risk environment with coaching support from a colleague that is far more skilled in the discipline than they are.

So the benefits could be summarised as:

  • Lower external training costs
  • Well-rounded approach to learning
  • Theory and practical approach to learning
  • Ability to test skills and learn more in a low risk environment

This example is a great illustration of how 70:20:10 learning differs from the more traditional approach and how it strengthens the learning process. It is also worth noting that people and companies are not entirely beholden to those numbers and some implementations feature 60:20:20 models, again showing that Learning and Development professionals use the model as a guide as opposed to a rule.

If you would like to learn more about 70:20:210 learning and how to implement in your organisation:

Click here to download the full 70:20:10 Implementation Whitepaper


Or if you would prefer to learn about how we solve this problem:

Click here to read about The Nine Dots Process