What's the 70:20:10 Rule for Learning & Development? [GUIDE]

What’s the last work-related task or concept you learned, and how did you learn it? Chances are, it was from simply doing your job—whether it was finishing a task, using a piece of software for the first time, or having a peer teach you something. It would be quite rare, however, if it was delivered via formal training. And in this post, we cover the 70:20:10 rule, how it applies to informal training, and how you can use xAPI to track these types of blended learning experiences.

What Is the 70:20:10 Rule?

The 70:20:10 rule is based on the premise that most of what we learn is through informal learning experiences—not formal training, such as instructor-led training. In other words, we gain knowledge through:

  • our workplace challenges and job experience (70%)
  • contact with other people, either face to face or online (20%)
  • formal training programs and structured content (10%)

While these percentages may vary, the point is that we learn most often by simply doing our jobs. The rest results from social interactions and formal learning. This model is relevant to informal learning because it tells us that opportunities are everywhere.

Small Study, Big Impact for Learning and Development

There’s no denying that the 70:20:10 rule has caused a stir in the L&D world, as it’s often been a popular topic at conferences. And an increasing amount of products and solutions are being implemented based around this framework.

The model's success is likely due to the way it rings true for L&D professionals' own experiences. Yet, it's based on a decades-old research project by the Center for Creative Leadership that asked a handful of managers—200 of them to be exact—to self-report on how they believed they learned.

But because the study was performed in the 1980s and only involved a small sampling of participants, there's a need for more industry research. After all, if that one survey can have such a far-reaching impact on the training and development industry, just imagine the insight we could glean from robust, ongoing data about learning across our organizations.

Without that data, we don’t even know what we don’t know.

Good or Bad—Learning Is Happening Right Now

A common misconception of the 70:20:10 framework is that it is about “forcing” social and informal workplace learning. As a result, the model has been used to justify the sale and use of social learning platforms in many organizations.

And while social learning platforms may be useful, the point of 70:20:10 is that social and workplace learning are already happening—and will continue to do so with or without the L&D function.

Keep in mind, even though social and workplace learning are already occurring, you shouldn’t just let it happen. Here’s why:

  • Workplace and social learning may not be happening in the most effective or consistent ways.

    The Fix: Identify instances of social and workplace learning so you can support and encourage it.
  • Not all learning is positive. Whether it’s through personal experience or from a coworker, people may learn how to perform tasks incorrectly or inefficiently. For example, employees may be taking risky shortcuts or simply not completing tasks in the most effective ways.

    The Fix: In order to tackle and prevent bad behaviors, you must first identify their sources.
  • Formal learning may focus on topics that are already being addressed through informal learning, which ultimately wastes learners’ time and your L&D budget. Rather, your formal learning programs should focus on areas where informal learning is weak.

    The Fix: Once you identify informal learning in your organization, you can prioritize the focus of your formal learning programs.

Remember, you don’t need to force workplace and social learning, but you should aim to support and direct them while targeting your formal training to bridge any gaps.

The 70:20:10 Rule & The Internet

If you ask employees how they think they learn, chances are most will mention the internet as a prime source for gathering information.

Search engines and websites—such as Google, Wikipedia, and YouTube—are widely and regularly used in many job roles. In fact, some people may prefer Googling to find answers rather than asking coworkers for the same information.

The vast wealth of convenient internet resources, reliable topic-specific websites, and how-to guides is turbocharging on-the-job learning in many professions. So, when considering the 70:20:10 rule, it’s important to think about how the widespread impacts of self-directed, web-based learning can impact your organization’s overall learning and development goals.

How to Track Blended Learning with xAPI

Older learning specifications, such as SCORM, focused heavily on formal training, which meant they painted limited pictures of learners. But xAPI can track and support blended learning, such as social interactions and on-the-job development. And when recorded via xAPI, these informal learning experiences offer many benefits.

For example, learners have full transcripts of their learning experiences, which they can use for future reference and recognition. This also means learners may be able to skip formal training on topics they’ve covered via informal learning.

Furthermore, as an L&D practitioner, you now have a clearer understanding of where learning is taking place and are better able to determine potential gaps in your learning programs.

This also means you can more precisely evaluate the impact of social and workplace learning as it pertains to different areas of learning. For instance, you can encourage areas of positive learning while tackling negative learning (i.e., when people are learning to do the wrong things from a peer, colleague, or coworker).

Lastly, xAPI removes the boundary between informal learning and formal training programs, giving you the opportunity to more easily blend social and work-based learning into formal training programs.

In a Nutshell: The 70:20:10 Rule

  • 70:20:10 is a learning framework that says we learn 70% through working or simply doing our jobs; 20% through conversations with peers; and 10% through formal training.
  • The model is based on survey of 200 managers in the ‘80s and has risen to global popularity.
  • During the last 20 years, the internet has become a significant resource for self-directed learning.
  • Workplace and social learning shouldn’t be forced, but you can improve how information is shared.
  • xAPI makes tracking informal learning easier, giving much-needed intelligence that can help save your organization time and money.

Up Next: What Is Microlearning?

This week concludes our discussion of the 70:20:10 learning model in our ongoing series on blended learning. Join us next time, as we cover microlearning, which targets a single learning objective in a short period of time.

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