In business, learning and adult development, 70:20:10 or 70-20-10 is a working model theory. It is about the percentage ratio of how people learn. This breakdown theorizes that 70 percent of adult learning is informal and occurs through actually doing a particular job. Twenty percent of learning is instructional and typically sticks from a coach, mentor, boss, co-worker, etc. Ten percent of their learning is formal. It occurs through academic classes, online courses or other types of formal standardized learning.
70-20-10 working model history
The specific origins of this model are fuzzy. However, most researchers agree on the groups of people with key roles in the history of this theory.
The Deakin Prime whitepaper “Demystifying 70:20:10” and many other works online argue that you can trace aspects of the theory back to Professor Allen Tough of Ontario. His 1968 paper (“How Adults Learn”), supports the idea of 70:20:10 but does not directly express it. He actually uses the term in a 1979 work “The Adult’s Learning Project.”
Other credit should be given to the work of Morgan McCall, Robert Eichenger and Michael Lombardo. Namely for their work at the Center For Creative Leadership in 1987, and McCall’s work with Lindsay Holmes in 1988.
Also adding to the theory is a study by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that was published in 1998.
Companies and businesses are all over the map when it comes to the actual percentage breakdown they use. However, many like the model as the best place to start. Some companies tweak it from there, fitting it into their already structured training and development programs. The better the fit, the more productive the business can be.
Looking closely at this theory has made managers more aware that they play a vital role in employee development. For some, taking on this new role has been positive. But others find it difficult to add yet another task to already overflowing duties.
Even so, the awareness that managers do play a role in facilitating learning on the job, has added a new workplace paradigm to consider. Can you use employee development as a motivational tool for employees with tedious routine work without an upward pathway to growth? And if you do, how long can you expect to keep that employee around?
Developmental Challenges of 70-20-10
Another problem managers often face which makes them hesitant to fully embrace an official structured development program concerns ROI (Return on Investment) issues. Acts that deal with people are often intangible and difficult to measure. They are not impossible to measure, but they take a longer time to see the full impact.
For example, you might implement a program to motivate workers in routine jobs. Only months down the road you will find out that attitudes improve, and there is better quality in the work itself. You may also find workers who choose to leave, but actually simply move to another department, retaining that added value for the company, but perhaps diminishing the numbers in your department.
But the benefits outweigh the disadvantages. A happier employee will stay longer, be more productive and can become part of the development process as mentors themselves. Employees are there to work, but learning new skill sets should be seen as part of that work, and incorporating that training into actual job duties can change the way employees feel about their work experience.