So what about 70:20:10?

I’m currently working with an organisation who uses the 70:20:10 framework. I realise that is hardly newsworthy these days but it has got me thinking. Since I’m researching the experience of learning within complex organisations for my PhD, I’ve been reflecting on the usefulness of 70:20:10 and whether it really is the right tool for the job in the current organisational environment.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree in principle with what it articulates, namely that we learn mainly through experience. I question whether it has become just another fad. Are all learning professionals who are using 70:20:10 really aware of what it is for and what it offers? Deakin University recently published a white paper that talks about 70:20:10 – how it’s used in organisations and how it could be best utilised.

Often I have heard HR, learning and even other professionals in workplaces wax lyrical about the virtues of 70:20:10 but when you actually ask them to describe it they often (but not always) come up short. A lot of managers and executive types seem to think of it as an excuse to spend less money on learning initiatives. Others think that it means that all “formal” learning experiences are somehow worthless and that all learning must be through projects and mentoring programs.

I believe that none of this is completely true. The 70:20:10 model is just that – a model. It’s a useful heuristic to guide thinking but it shouldn’t be the alpha and omega of learning in the workplace. You need to take into account the needs of the learners and of the business as well. You wouldn’t tell a trainee Qantas pilot to “learn from experience because research says that’s more effective” – would you? (I really hope that you answered no to that…especially if you work for an airline!).

As usual, balance is key. Too often learning practitioners (mia culpa) are swept along with the latest and greatest, or just the most famous, without pausing to reflect on the true underlying needs. We go for either/or rather than a combination of what fits.