The 70-20-10 model makes sense because most of what people learn does happen on the job because this is where the most time is spent. Therefore, 70-20-10 certainly plays a more significant role than mentoring and working with colleagues and even more so than training which is a rare occurrence in the grand scheme of things.
In the last couple of years alone, the 70-20-10 model has taken off and the introduction of mobile devices has enabled even dedicated communities created purely to discuss the model. However, where did it start and how did it come to be so important?
Most commonly, the credit is awarded to the authors of Lessons of Experience, McCall, Lombardo and Morrison. In 1988, the three carried out a study looking into the finer details of learning and development. Although the phrase itself was never said in the text, they did discover the core of the model. By asking around 200 executives to identify key events in their career, Lombardo and Eichinger later wrote about their findings in the mid-nineties. In the paper, it stated that successful managers had placed a 70% emphasis on learning on the job, a 20% focus on learning from other people, and 10% on courses and reading various bits of training.
On the other hand, Alan Tough is another commonly cited name with this topic as he concluded that around 70% of learning and development took place outside of formal learning. Later, this went on to be criticized as Masden and Kajewski stated that there was a lack of empirical data as well as a lack of certainty regarding its origin. With this in mind, they stated that all managers, supervisors, and the like need to remember that the model is not based on any scientific evidence but rather a survey of already-successful managers. In 2012, the pair said that the figures weren’t accurate enough and that there is no suggestion that quoted amounts are ‘ideal’.
Above all else, the model helps us to understand that employees are always learning. Regardless of where they are picking up skills and in what percentage, the model explains that it is important to get a mixture of learning opportunities because employees can learn different things from different sources. Whether it is their own mistakes in the role, working with a colleague, sitting in a classroom, learning can always be achieved.
In addition to this, it is important to note that Lessons from Experience did actually state the importance of coursework. In the study of managers, many stated that coursework made a ‘significant difference’ to their development which is important considering that some say the model looks to discourage formal training.
When it comes to training, it seems as though timing is the key factor. If an employee receives the right training at the right time, the effects will be clear to see but can we really put a number or percentage on this? As professionals in the learning industry, we must always remember the two factors that require attention for optimizing performance – environment and individual capability.
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