The 70-20-10 Learning Model Backed by Science

The 70-20-10 learning model has gained much attention over the years and now many huge businesses look to encourage it every day. Essentially, the model says that the majority of learning and development occurs on the job whilst a small percentage comes from mentoring and collaboration with colleagues. Finally, the smallest amount is from formal training and this makes sense as it is where they spend the least amount of time. However, where is the supporting evidence?


Nowadays, the 70-20-10 learning model is huge business and you will even find online communities dedicated to the model but where did the research come from? Back in the 1980's, the Center for Creative Leadership was playing host to Lombardo, Morrison, and McCall. In 1988, they summarized their findings in Lessons of Experience. Though the phrase wasn’t included in the research, the three looked to better understand how executives gained success.

In their study, they asked nearly 200 executives to identify key events during their career – as well as what happened, they were asked what was learned from the experience. In 1996, Eichinger and Lombardo created the Career Architect Planner and found the following; 

  • Tough Jobs – 70%
  • People – 20%
  • Courses – 10%

In some reports, you might see Alan Tough as a cited source because he once said that ‘about 70%’ of learning occurs away from the institutional frameworks. Many critics, Will Thalhaimer in particular, dislike the model because it uses exact percentages. In 2006, Thalhaimer questioned how often research results offer even percentages like the one seen in the 70:20:10 learning model.

As recently as 2012, Masden and Kajewski researched the origins of the model and found that there is a shortage of empirical data. In other words, they felt as though there was very little observation with the research. Also, they said that there cannot be absolute certainty of the origin. After this, and many other pieces of research, learning professionals are always urged to remember that the 70-20-10 learning model is purely theoretical. With no scientific backing, it is purely advice given from 200 executives at the time of asking. As you have seen, the model suggests 20% for collaboration and learning from others (including the boss) but are there some industries that require more? Additionally, do some industries need much more than 10% on formal training?


Moving forward, what do we make of the model considering it is almost impossible to test? Above all else, it does serve as a reminder that employees tend to learn constantly whether it is through their own decisions, help from others, or official training. Within Lessons of Experience, it should be noted that the authors included a section discussing the importance of formal training. Furthermore, it goes on to say that the most effective training has two key factors – it comes at a great time for the employee and it deals with relevant issues.

From this, we can say that the right training at the correct time can work wonders for employees but can we attach a certain percentage to this? For many, the model should be adapted for each employee depending on how well they deal with certain environments. According to the Behavioral Engineering Model from Gilbert, performance optimization requires both environment and capability.