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Labeling 70:20:10

In the Debunker Club, a couple of folks went off on the 70:20:10 model, and it prompted some thoughts.  I thought I’d share them.

If you’re not familiar with 70:20:10, it’s a framework for thinking about workplace learning that suggests we need to recognize that the opportunity is about much more than courses. If you ask people how they learned the things they know to do in the workplace, the responses suggest that somewhere around 10% came from formal learning, 20% from informal coaching and such, and about 70% from trial and error.  Note the emphasis on the fact that these numbers aren’t exact, it’s just an indication (though considerable evidence suggests that the contribution of formal learning is somewhere between 5 and 20%, with evidence from a variety of sources).

Now, some people complain that the numbers can’t be right, no one gets perfect 10 measurements. To be fair, they’ve been fighting against the perversion of Dale’s Cone, where someone added numbers on that were bogus but have permeated learning for decades and can’t seem to be exterminated. It’s like zombies!  So I suspect they’re overly sensitive to whole numbers.

And I like the model!  I’ve used it to frame some of my work, using it as a framework to think about what else we can do to support performance. Coaching and mentoring, facilitating social interaction, providing challenge goals, supporting reflection, etc.  And again to justify accelerated organizational outcomes.

The retort I hear is that “it’s not about the numbers”, and I agree.  It’s just tool to help shake people out of the thought that a course is the only solution to all needs.  And, outside the learning community, people get it.  I have heard that, over presentations to hundreds of audiences of executives and managers, they all recognize that the contributions to their success came largely from sources other than courses.

However, if it’s not about the numbers, maybe calling it the 70:20:10 model may be a problem.  I really like Jane Hart’s diagram about Modern Workplace Learning as another way to look at it, though I really want to go beyond learning too.  Performance support may achieve outcomes in ways that don’t require or deliver any learning, and that’s okay. There’re times when it’s better to have knowledge in the head than in the world.

So, I like the 70:20:10 framework, but recognize that the label may be a barrier. I’m just looking for any tools I can use to help people start thinking ‘outside the course’.  I welcome suggestions!

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