The 70:20:10 Model And Rapid eLearning
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Revisiting The 70:20:10 Model

I am sure that all of us are pretty familiar with the 70:20:10 framework that says that employees get 70% of their learning through solving challenging, job-related problems (on-the-job), 20% from their peers (but in reality, mostly from their bosses), and just about 10% from formal training organized by their companies. The model is neither backed by empirical studies nor is it a proven prescription for how best to develop people. So, it is rather intriguing why it became one of the Ten Commandments for Learning and Development.

In reality, it was more of a reflective observation made by successful managers during a survey by McCall, Lombardo, and Eichinger at The Center for Creative Leadership. This team made the concept so popular in the '80s that many organizations swore by it, though it isn’t really clear how they actually used it, especially in an era where online learning was still a sci-fi fantasy. Later, more rigorous studies indicated that the ratio is actually more like 55:25:20, but it still remains an observation of a real-life phenomenon rather than a mantra for an effective strategy for developing competencies.

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Was It Really Used?

I am from the training and development era of whiteboards and overhead transparencies where getting people into a training hall was the greatest challenge, forget about assisting employees in their on-the-job training or helping the mentor-mentees. So, I am really not sure how the model helped back then. It never helped me anyway. But one thing is for sure, the 70:20:10 concept (or the 55:25:20 one, if you like) is definitely something you will easily agree with; it is so intuitive, look back on your own learning from when you started your career—10, 20, or more years ago.

We learned most of what we know by doing our jobs, pushed to the edge by real-life challenges. We did learn a handful of great lessons from our bosses and at times, from our colleagues, mostly in our early days, but we can’t say we learned a lot from the training programs we had attended, classroom or virtual. That’s the truth and that’s how adult learning and organizational environments have always been.

Today’s L&D Managers: The New Messiahs

Things have changed in training now. So, you can understand why I am tickled pink at how corporate training development is perceived today, after drinking the magic potion called “Learning Technology.” We are suddenly the new messiahs who bring about a competitive advantage through organizational learning, so much so that some among us are admitted to the C-suite. When Peter Singe speaks, Michael Porter listens!

Today, we rub shoulders with the hallowed "strategy." Anyway, with technology-enhanced learning in the form of eLearning, microlearning, and mobile learning on one hand, and learning-enhanced technology, like the LMS and mobile devices on the other, the golden history of corporate training is being written as we speak.

L&D managers and LMS administrators at the corporate level, training and development managers in business units, and functions like marketing and sales, quality or supply chain, along with Subject Matter Experts and a team of in-house Instructional Designers (and/or an eLearning design and development vendor) make up a large and competent army of learning experts ever so ready to take care of the learning needs of their organizations.

Meeting The 70% Need Through Microlearning

Let’s see if the ratio has become more significant (or rendered insignificant) in today’s world. Research-based model or not, we all accept that "on-the-job at the workplace" offers the most opportunities to learn the most relevant skills, those directly linked with our core competencies that are required to deliver results.

We also know that the most fundamental prerequisite for effective learning is motivation. We are most motivated to learn when we know for sure that what we are going to learn will help us in our jobs. We don’t need to be cajoled with “engaging” and “entertaining” learning. What we would lap up is learning that is Just-In-Time, just-enough, and just-for-me, even if it is a 1-page PDF or a grainy video shot on a smartphone.

My decades of experience working with global organizations have shown time and again a large number of small, easy-to-learn topics of study that are urgent and important for employees to master and apply immediately. These essential, but easy to learn skills, warrant neither classroom nor eLearning investment. They are far too many, some of them with limited shelf-life. These needs can be nicely met with microlearning “nuggets,” designed “rapidly” and delivered to the employees’ mobile devices.

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Is Rapid eLearning Devoid Of Instructional Design?

Nothing can be farther from truth. That rapid eLearning design and development doesn’t include instructionally and visually sound content is a misconception that needs to be debunked immediately and categorically. What rapid eLearning is devoid of is unnecessary and costly “bells and whistles”—irrelevant graphics, verbatim audio, and complex animations that are supposed to “engage” the learner.

But when we are talking of training needs that lie in that 70% domain closest to their jobs, the learner is already highly engaged. She needs training. She is already convinced about how it is going to make her job easier. She really doesn’t need to be cajoled as in the case of a dry compliance training. So, what rapid eLearning-based microlearning has are media elements that are minimalistic and utilitarian, just enough and not more. What it does have in ample measure are:

  • Performance-based learning objectives
  • Easily-to-assimilate content
  • Meaningful formative assessments
  • Cost-effective and relevant interactivities
  • A final assessment that’s aligned with the learning objectives and content

So, if you, the L&D managers, are close enough to your business, you will have no problem in identifying these myriad needs for which your stakeholders and employees will beat a path to your door. Unlike a few decades ago, today you have the arsenal to address these needs. If you are interested in spending a lot of time, effort, and money in trying to build a “Taj Mahal” of a course on induction, branding, or ethics, good luck to you. I am not trying to dilute the importance of these topics but just trying to show you the “blue oceans” of the training world. You need to take care of the former while not neglecting the latter.

Final Thoughts

The 70:20:10 model, as we discussed earlier, is an observation of a real-life phenomenon in corporate organizations. We need to remember that it’s just an approximation and may vary across industry verticals, specific organizations, and job competencies. It’s just an indicator and the onus is on us to validate the ratios in our own specific situations. We also need to be wary of using it as a panacea for an effective training strategy. It is most definitely not, especially when we have the wherewithal to “blend” different training methodologies to concoct an optimal learning solution for any training need in any area—70, 20, or 10!

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