The 70 20 10 Model for Learning and Development: Everything You Need to Know
The 70 20 10 model of learning is a game-changer for organizations looking to drive high performance and success.
This innovative approach to employee development recognizes that most learning happens on the job through real-world experience and hands-on practice.
But does that mean all the time and budget you've invested in rigorous programs and courses is wasted? Not necessarily.
The model also acknowledges the importance of structured training and the value of coaching and mentoring in supporting employee growth and development.
Combining these three elements in a holistic approach to employee development will create a powerful framework for driving high performance and success in your organization.
Whether you want to improve employee engagement, boost productivity, or drive innovation, the 70 20 10 model can help you achieve your goals. This article will explore the model's key principles and provide practical steps for implementing it in your organization.
Get ready to take your team to the next level of success with the power of the 70 20 10 model of learning.
🌱 What is the 70/20/10 rule?
The 70 20 10 rule is a Learning and Development term that explains how people learn at work - and how they can develop towards mastery at their roles and competences.
Over 40 years ago, 200 executives participated in a research project. They answered questions about what their learning experience was like in the workplace.
Today, that study's results make up a popular model of how employees can gain knowledge in their organizations more effectively.
In most organizations, this model helps leaders to understand staff learning patterns to provide better development opportunities.
Here's a breakdown of how the 70 20 10 rule works.
The 70% - On-the-job learning
Employees gain 70% of their knowledge on the job.
So, most of what staff learns blends into their everyday experiences—for example, using office equipment and completing research projects.
These processes are not controlled by timelines or follow an order of events.
Employees do not have the pressure to digest too much information at once. Instead, they control what they learn, how they learn it, and the time spent learning it.
The 20% - Social learning
Social learning occupies 20% of employees' learning experience. It involves staff observing and imitating how their peers complete tasks.
For example, you've just hired a Sales representative. During the first few weeks of their job, they engage in job shadowing to watch how their peers work. This approach allows them to practice operating tools and learn how to manage customers.
Eventually, the new employee can make sales calls independently because they've watched the process, learned from repeated errors, received effective feedback from their co-workers, and developed relevant skills.
But it's not limited to job shadowing. Other forms of social learning include virtual or augmented reality, simulations, and interactive videos.
The 10% - Formal training
Formal training forms 10% of employee learning. These are all structured, goal-oriented events to address skill gaps, performance issues, or training needs to improve employee performance.
For example, tutorials, seminars, workshops, and group presentations, are often conducted in a classroom-like environment.
Organizations also use Learning Management Systems (LMS) to train and track the progress of remote workers easily.
🎁 What are its benefits?
Builds a culture of learning
The 70-20-10 model emphasizes that learning is an ongoing process.
By promoting a culture of continuous learning, organizations can help employees stay up-to-date with the latest trends and developments in their field, which can increase their effectiveness and productivity.
Moreover, social learning is an important component of the 70-20-10 model. By creating opportunities for employees to share knowledge and collaborate, and promoting a sense of community and teamwork.
By emphasizing on-the-job experience and social learning, the 70-20-10 model can encourage employees to take ownership of their own learning and development. This can help build a culture of accountability, where employees are responsible for their own growth and development.
32% of employees say that making training more social and updating its content frequently will increase efficiency.
The diverse nature of the 70 20 10 model makes it possible for employees to learn independently and from their peers. The result? Better interactions and healthy work relationships.
Formal training can also complement this process to help employees reach the best of their abilities. This well-rounded approach to training will, in turn, lead to employee engagement.
Maximizes training ROI
Traditional training costs, like instructional materials, facilities fees, travel, and accommodation, can break the bank. On the other hand, a 70 20 10 strategy reduces those expenses by splitting your resources between different knowledge sources.
The 70-20-10 model emphasizes that the majority of learning comes from on-the-job experience. By providing opportunities for employees to apply what they have learned in a real-world setting, training programs can become more relevant and applicable, which can increase their ROI.
The 70-20-10 model also emphasizes learning knowledge and skills that are relevant and applicable to one’s job.
By designing training programs that are aligned with job requirements and business objectives, employees are more likely to retain what they have learned and apply it on the job, which also maximizes training ROI.
🛠 How to use the 70-20-10 model in your L&D strategy
Use a structured learning approach
A 70 20 10 strategy is a detailed plan explaining how you will achieve your organization's goals through the model.
For example, suppose the goal is to improve customer service:
- 10% Formal training: You can assign online courses and training videos to help the customer service team understand customer needs and develop soft skills.
- 20% Social learning: You can schedule discussions with bosses, mentors, and peers on achieving the goal. They can observe managers demonstrating customer relations skills and take notes.
- 70% on-the-job: Practice their learnings and experiment with real customers.
Using a template will be handy for breaking down your plan into broader bits.
Embed and live in the development process
Learning should blend in with your organizational culture and not feel forced.
Determine what your employees are already used to and how willing they are to leave their comfort zone.
Then consider this factor when preparing your training budgets. Then, you'll know whether to start small with tools and resources they're familiar with or take things up a notch.
More importantly, the process should be continuous and not as a one-time prescription for a specific problem you're experiencing.
Instead, there should be an application of the knowledge, skills, and attributes gained, and a reflection of how effective the model is long after it becomes a workplace habit.
Alaina Szlachta, Corporate Trainer and Lead Learning Architect at By Design Development Solutions, advises that:
"One training program, even if facilitated over an entire week, will not lead to any meaningful learning, unless that learning is reinforced on the job. This is where most learning fails. There is no follow-up. After a training program is over, there is no thoughtful follow-up support to ensure that what employees are doing on the job is aligned with the best practices from training.
To use the 70 20 10 model at the highest levels in organizational learning strategy, we would be continuously finding ways to bring the job or bring "real life" into the learning experience. Less talk - more action. Passive learning is outdated and ineffective. We must prioritize active learning, reinforced and supported by all members of an organization - not just the learning team".
Project for the future
Understand what phase of the business life cycle your organization is currently at.
For example, you can use the framework startup-growth-maturity phase. Then begin to adjust the ratio to fit incoming changes slowly.
Small businesses stand to profit from the 70 20 10 model as they focus more on cost-effective learning, like experiential learning.
Staff develop themselves through day-to-day tasks or working closely with peers, and it's cost-effective.
📝 Concrete application: The 70-20-10 development plan
A 70 20 10 model of learning equips employees to meet goals faster, communicate openly, and be empowered to take control of their career growth.
However, integrating it into your organization will take time, especially if you're just getting familiar with it.
Clueless about how to start? We've designed PDF and Excel versions of sample 70 20 10 model development plan. You can download and modify them for your organization and individual needs.
Excel version of the sample 70-20-10 plan
The excel spreadsheet includes a progress tracking dashboard and an intuitive user interface. You also get full access on any desktop or mobile device.
PDF version of the sample 70-20-10 plan
Apply changes directly to the document, eliminating unnecessary steps such as retyping and manually searching for particular words.
🚧 Limitations of the 70-20-10 model of learning
The model's percentages can be interpreted as rigid guidelines rather than a flexible framework. The model also oversimplifies the learning process by suggesting that one can easily divide learning into three categories.
Many critics argue that although you can measure employees' time in formal learning activities, calculating the informal and on-the-job processes isn't that simple.
Limited focus on formal education
While the model acknowledges the importance of formal education, it gives it a relatively small percentage (10%) of the overall learning process. This share may not accurately reflect the importance of formal education in some fields.
Formal education is critical to developing the foundational knowledge and skills necessary to work in fields such as engineering, medicine, or law. In these cases, the 10% of formal education may be lower than required to master the field's core knowledge and skills.
The 10% formal training share would not apply to industries that require employees to stay up-to-date with emerging technologies.
In these cases, a higher percentage of formal education may be necessary to keep up with rapid technological changes.
For example, a company specializing in developing artificial intelligence technology may need to invest heavily in formal education to ensure that employees are up-to-date with the latest developments in the field.
Lack of attention to individual differences
The model assumes that all learners have the exact learning needs and preferences, which may not be the case.
Individuals have different learning styles, preferences, and motivations that should be considered when designing a learning and development program.
This can be problematic for several reasons:
- Learning preferences: Different individuals have different learning preferences. Some prefer visual aids, while others prefer auditory or kinesthetic learning styles. By not accounting for individual preferences, the model may not optimize the learning experience for all individuals.
- Prior knowledge: Learners come to a learning experience with different prior knowledge and expertise levels. For some, 70% of learning through on-the-job experience may be appropriate. In contrast, others may need a larger share of formal education to build foundational knowledge before applying it on the job.
- Motivation: Individuals have different incentives for learning. Some may be highly motivated to learn new skills, while others may be less interested or motivated. The model does not account for differences in motivation, which may impact the effectiveness of the learning experience.
⤴️ Alternative models
Tweaking the OSF ratio
The OSF ratio is a Training Industry concept, which translates to "on-the-job, social, formal." It argues that some companies don't have perfectly rounded learning sources as the 70 20 10 model of learning suggests.
Some companies have 48-23-29 or 56-27-17 ratios instead, which is expected as not every business is the same.
However, it's important to note that the original 70 20 10 rule isn't actually a rule.
It's more of an inspiration so that you can alter the ratios according to your organization's structure and needs.
Experiential learning cycle
David Kolb created the experiential learning model in 1984. It refers to a cyclical process of action where people, in this case, employees, go through four stages of learning:
- Concrete experience: when they are involved in a new experience or topic being taught.
- Reflective observation: they learn by watching others or developing observations and making comparisons with past experiences.
- Abstract conceptualization: they develop new ideas and theories about the topic being taught.
- Active experimentation: They make decisions and act on new ideas by experimenting.
Action learning is a model of learning that focuses on solving real-world problems through collaboration and reflection.
This model involves a small group of learners who work together to identify a problem, gather information, and develop and implement a solution. The group then reflects on the process, identifies lessons learned, and applies those lessons to future situations.
Action learning has several benefits, including:
- Practicality: Since the focus is on solving real-world problems, learners can immediately apply what they have learned in the workplace.
- Collaboration: Action learning emphasizes teamwork and cooperation, which can lead to a more diverse range of perspectives and ideas.
- Reflection: The reflection process in action learning allows learners to evaluate what they have learned and identify areas for improvement.
- Leadership development: Action learning can be particularly effective for developing leadership skills, as it allows learners to practice problem-solving, decision-making, and communication in a safe and supportive environment.
- Transferability: The skills and knowledge gained through action learning can be transferred to other situations, making it a precious model for developing relevant skills for various contexts.
➡️ Enable meaningful growth with Zavvy
Before implementing the 70 20 10 rule, focus on sharing the benefits of the new learning model with everyone in the organization. Employees will be more receptive to the change when they can see the bigger picture and how they fit into it.
More importantly, use automation to streamline the transition into the model.
Our development software is an excellent place to start.
It assists employees to:
- Pick 2 to 6 focus areas they wish to develop for the next six months of their career (communication, leadership, decision-making skills...).
- Define goals and actions they'll take towards developing each competency following the SMART principle.
- Set deadlines themselves, so there's no pressure to make fast progress.
Managers and peers receive notifications as soon as the growth plan starts and can receive monthly reminders on the progress until completion.
And voila! It's really that simple.
Let us show you how it works. Speak with our experts in a free demo.
How has the 70 20 10 model been received by experts?
The 70 20 10 model has received many positive reactions.
Companies like Google are using it to teach employees how to allocate resources. But, of course, the model has its limitations. The obvious ones are that the ratio is too exact, and there's no scientific evidence to prove it.
Is the 70-20-10 model still relevant?
Regardless of the criticisms, the 70 20 10 rule proves to be effective if used correctly. The first step to implementing it is to remember that it's not a recipe for instant success.
Instead, it's a source of inspiration when creating a learning and development strategy.
What is hands-on experience in the 70-20-10 model?
The hands-on experience means that 70% of employees' knowledge comes from daily job-related activities—for example, filing or paperwork and operating equipment. Plus, you learn from doing, refining, and improving them continuously.
What is learning from others in the 70-20-10 model?
Employees gain 20% of work knowledge from unstructured interactions with others like co-workers and managers.
For example, if you need better communication skills, the best way to learn would be to watch another proficient employee in action.
What is formal learning in the 70-20-10 model?
Formal learning refers to the structured and planned educational processes that help employees learn—for example, onboarding courses, textbooks, instructional videos, lectures, and knowledge bases.