70/20/10: Enlightening Discussions in Chicago

I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago two weeks ago to participate in a Learning Innovation Workshop with a small group of 25 industry leaders, including representatives from Brandon Hall Group, and the insurance, business consulting and oil industries.

The goal of the workshop was to bring together bright, articulate, and knowledgeable people to share their insights and key practices on critical topics facing learning leaders today.  Additionally, the purpose of the workshop was to create a conversation — a social learning experience where the sum was more than the total of our individual knowledge. I believe we accomplished that and more.

A central topic of conversation for the day was making 70/20/10 work. I’ll have to admit I went into the conversation with a bit of frustration concerning the topic.

70_20_10_GraphicIf you aren’t already familiar with the 70-20-10 research, it is a learning model based on research in the early 1980s done by the Center for Creative Leadership. The various forms of the research were published in the book “Career Architect Development,” which noted that successful and effective managers learned their best lessons:

  • About 70% from job assignments
  • About 20% from people and feedback
  • About 10% from courses and reading

My frustration with the topic centers on the fact that many people try to apply the research too literally – shoving every course, program, and concept into the model. I’ve seen organizations remove formal onboarding programs or valuable face-to-face learning experiences in the name of 70/20/10 without taking into consideration critical business outcomes.

Keep in mind that the 70/20/10 research looked at how people were learning, not the best way to learn. And the study was conducted in a more structured, less technology-enabled work environment than we live in today. In reality, learning is all about context, timing, goals, available learning materials, and learning styles. The real shift, no matter what you call it, is toward adaptable learning — learning that fits the learner’s needs versus the limitations of  delivery capabilities.

I also realize that 70/20/10 is a great way to provide an easy-to-embrace and easy-to-quantify model for business leaders reluctant to shift their perception of learning from formal learning all together. It provides a platform for change that is easy to explain.

What I found in the Chicago discussions was that many of the participants felt the same way. In fact they opened up the conversation by asking, “Would you want to know that your surgeon was trained this way?” We all know that medical practitioners spend a great deal of time both in the classroom as well as learning on the job – but none of us want to be the patients they are learning on without some support or guidance. From this point, our discussions gave some real insight into how our learning leaders are struggling with these issues on a day-to-day basis.

The simple fact is that Brandon Hall Group’s recent research on Relationship Centered Learning showed that more than half of the organizations were delivering more than 40% of their learning via the classroom, and over a quarter said the same about online learning modules. Classroom and e-learning are not the enemies. Strategic learning leaders realize that the question isn’t one of just reducing these forms of delivery, but ensuring that learning is truly adapting to today’s business needs.

Our discussions came up with some very practical ideas for making 70/20/10 work in both low- and high-risk environments; here are just a few of the highlights:

  • Set Expectations. Tell leaders they are simply responsible for a good portion of each employee’s development through coaching and on-the-job experiences.
  • Create Connections. Experiential learning opportunities are hard to find, so create better ways to connect employees and opportunities.
  • Embrace Structure. Give some structure to on-the job-learning experiences , including  manager and employee roles, follow-up and feedback processes, and journaling tools.
  • Leverage Mobile. Provide on-the-job guidance and use it to track on-the-job performance.
  • Create Ecosystems. Provide environments with access to people, tiered learning assets, and community tools where and when learning is most needed (Our Relationship Centered Learning Research  supports this).
  • Mimic a Reality Show. Provide more realistic, immersive, and consequence-driven simulations for dangerous or impractical on-the-job training situations. The more reality-driven the consequences, the more likely people will learn.
  • Hug mistakes.  Make room in your performance measures for on-the-job learning mistakes and celebrate the lessons.

The conversations were deep and controversial, with many people disagreeing throughout the day – pushing back on the need for structure, costs, and resources that many suggestions may require. But I think everyone walked out of the room with more information and insight than they walked in with. Isn’t that the real important outcome of any social learning experience?

If you are interested in the 70/20/10 learning model, we’d love to hear your thoughts on how you’ve applied it and what is working, or not working, in your organization.

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