Designing Learning: Does 70:20:10 Still Work?

Guest Contributorby Teala Wilson | Posted | Learning

Designing Learning: Does 70:20:10 Still Work?

When it comes to learning and development in the workplace, it's common to come across the 70:20:10 ratio.

As you'll recall, this ratio refers to the ideal balance of where workplace learning opportunities should come from when developing talent:

  • 70 percent come from on-the-job experiences;
  • 20 percent from social and informal learning opportunities; and
  • 10 percent from formal learning directly set up by the employer.

This framework was first put forward a full 20 years ago, which begs the question: does it still apply today?

On the one hand, it could be easy to assume that formal learning would have increased since this learning ratio was first introduced. After all, today's learning management system (LMS) is no longer price-prohibitive even for small businesses, making formal learning easy to both distribute and consume.

On the other hand, the internet has transformed how most of us learn and many traditional LMSs have not kept pace. Often, LMSs are filled with courses made up of multiple, long modules that take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours to complete, but the future of learning comes in micro-doses, according to eLearning Industry.

From macro-learning to micro-learning

Take reading the news for instance. As a kid, I remember the newspaper arriving on the doorstep every morning. It would be consumed over 45 minutes to an hour over breakfast, and would not be thought of again until the following day (or that night for the evening television news, another similarly large, or macro-, dose of learning).

Today, you might catch some headlines on Twitter, hear a couple stories on the radio on your way to work, get an article from a colleague via email, and have a few friends text you about the events of the day. We're now accustomed to information that is both immediate and recent, making the sit-down, formal learning method almost seem passé. This is especially true as our organizations are now comprised of a generation of digitally native workers. Instead, it has been replaced by micro-doses of informal information, consumed on an ongoing basis.

With this in mind, how can we build a framework for learning that properly balances formal, informal, and experiential learning but can also account for the changes in the way we consume knowledge?

David Wentworth of Brandon Hall Group explains why the 70:20:10 rule is not a prescription, but rather a description

A new model for learning: The Learning Convergence Model

When designing workplace learning efforts, there are certain things that we need to take into account. Enter the Learning Convergence Model, the star of a new report developed by Brandon Hall Group in partnership with Halogen Software. Within this framework, the goal of learning is not an increase in knowledge. Rather, it's performance. And this aligns with what businesses want to achieve, as evidenced in the same report. According to Brandon Hall, 94% of surveyed organizations cited "improved organizational performance" as a high priority outcome for learning investment.

The Learning Convergence Model takes the 70:20:10 model for learning and makes it more flexible, allowing learning and development to achieve its real desired outcome: improved employee performance. In a recent webinar, David Wentworth of Brandon Hall Group explained that formal, informal and experiential learning should be split up based on the following three factors.

1. Audience

Learning is sometimes set up in a one-size-fits-all format which doesn't take into account how many people will be consuming the content, their various experience levels, or even cultural factors. When designing corporate learning, the audience must be considered.

For example, when teaching a large audience, electronically distributed courseware might be most appropriate and efficient (formal learning), but when teaching a small audience, informal and experiential learning might prove advantageous as the experience can be better tailored to the learner.

2. Subject matter

What are we learning? Is it a technical skill or something more theoretical? Are we learning a new behavior to adopt? While formal learning content may be best suited for teaching something highly technical, such as health and safety protocols where details need to be controlled, informal and experiential learning may prove more useful when picking up interpersonal skills such as how to effectively provide employee feedback.

3. Time frame

How much time are we allotting to our learning efforts? There are a number of different schools of thought regarding how much time is required to learn any skill. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously declared that it takes 10 000 hours to master any skill. Conversely, professional life hacker Tim Ferriss focuses on learning the crucial 20% of the skill that he claims let him achieve 80% of the results.

If the time frame allows for it, learning can be more detailed. But if there are time limitations, the learning activity should be designed to impart the most important points up front and lay the foundation for the learner to move forward on their own.

Micro-learning the formal way

It would be great to tell all your employees "Read tweets! Watch TED Talks! Learn new skills from YouTube videos!" But we'd be missing some crucial elements to corporate learning. Key among them: making sure that the learning efforts are beneficial to the business. Learning and development can be informal in nature, but distributed formally.

The Learning Convergence Model will inevitably require that some learning be conducted in the formal, long format way. But when the subject matter is easy to break up into smaller parts and the time available is short, microdoses of learning content can be both an effective and efficient way to develop talent. By taking an informal learning method and formalizing it, you can let employees learn in their natural way while helping direct them to content that will build particularly beneficial skills and knowledge. It's that same outcome of learning mentioned earlier: improved employee performance.

The key is to allow your let your employees learn in a way that feels natural, but help direct them towards content that will give them the skills to help your organization succeed.

Want to learn more about designing learning in the 21st century?

We partnered with the Brandon Hall Group on "The Learning-Performance Nexus", which is available both as a webinar and ebook. They cover how learning and development efforts can drive increased performance in your organization and give a greater level of detail on the Learning Convergence Model.

Want to learn more? Download the ebook at the link below.

Putting An Invisible Fence Around Informal Learning

David Wentworth & Caitlin Bigsby discuss how modern learning frees users to explore beyond their LMS.

Watch On-Demand
Cover of the book
Cover of the book

Putting An Invisible Fence Around Informal Learning

David Wentworth & Caitlin Bigsby discuss how modern learning frees users to explore beyond their LMS.

Watch On-Demand

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