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Martin Baker

Clear Lessons & The Charity Learning Consortium


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Busting the myths of 70:20:10


Martin Baker says new research proves that 70:20:10 is not just ‘the Emperor’s new clothes’

Learning professionals are no different from anyone else in being drawn to the shiny and the new, and the 70:20:10 learning model has certainly caught our attention. But let’s get one thing straight right from the off – 70:20:10 isn’t new.

It’s the way that we have been approaching apprenticeship training for decades, mainly learning on the job, with some formal training too. It’s that magic combination that makes apprenticeships so powerful in terms of equipping people with the practical skills they need.

The other thing I’d like to dispel is the - quite frankly daft notion - that the ratios of 70:20:10 are somehow fixed. I’m not sure how anyone could divide L&D into such neat parcels. It is of course a model, or a framework, and potentially an incredibly useful tool. And like all tools, it’s what you do with it that counts.

Detractors (and there are some) say there isn’t any evidence that using the 70:20:10 framework works, that it is the modern equivalent of the ‘Emperor’s new clothes’. New research by Towards Maturity suggests this isn't the case.

The results - which will be shared by Laura Overton and co-author Charles Jennings at a free event on 21st April - are interesting. For example, organisations supporting learning in the flow of work respond faster to business change, have more motivated staff and more satisfied customers.

According to the report, those applying new models of learning such as 70:20:10 are:

  • 5x as likely to be able to attract talent
  • 4x as likely to respond faster to business change
  • 3x as likely to report improvements in staff motivation  
  • 2x as likely to report improvements in customer satisfaction scores

Surely any organisation would be overjoyed to see these benefits. But for me the real beauty of the 70:20:10 model is that it doesn’t necessarily cost anything.

What it does is force a shift in L&D mindset from ‘engineers to shopkeepers’, or what Charles Jennings refers to as ‘Sherpa’s instead of managers’.

A group of enlightened, high profile L&D commentators (Charles Jennings and Laura Overton amongst them) have been calling for years for this kind of dynamic change. Of course it isn’t always comfortable to change, to move out of comfort zones, to adapt to different ways of working.

And perhaps that is why the 70:20:10 model has its myths and detractors – it threatens the status quo.

A wonderful drawing from artist Simon Heath sums this up far more succinctly than me – I love the image of the meteorite about to hit the dinosaur with the message ‘we’re still preparing people for a world that no longer exists’.

It seems to me that those L&D professionals enlightened enough to adopt new ways of working, as the 70:20:10 approach demands, are not just being brave - they’re ensuring their own survival.

70:20:10 myths* in the firing line:

  • There is no evidence that 70:20:10 works. There is evidence available. Download 70+20+10=100: The Evidence Behind the Numbers from Towards Maturity.
  • The ratios of 70:20:10 are fixed. Common sense says that’s impossible and – ironic as it sounds – it really isn’t about the numbers.
  • 70:20:10 is a dogmatic rule. No it’s not, it’s simply a model designed to help L&D professionals do their jobs better.
  • 70:20:10 implies courses don’t work. Again not true. The 70:20:10 model looks at the most appropriate, holistic way to solve business and performance problems, and a course may be part of the solution.
  • Including elements of social learning into courses is ‘doing’  70:20:10. Just bolting on a social forum to learning isn’t really getting to the heart of what the model is all about.
  • 70:20:10 is a just a way to cut costs. No – but organisations using 70:20:10 are more efficient and get better results.

*With thanks to Charles Jennings who has identified the myths.

2 Responses

  1. There was an interesting
    There was an interesting point made on Linked In recently that there is an assumption that 70:20:10 is also about allocated time and resource which isn’t the case. this is about what level of learning, on balance, you get with each area. Supports your point that this doesn’t mean that we don’t invest in courses, but that we understand that only 10% of learning (roughly) is likely to come from them.

    I also hold with the fact that this isn’t a new philosophy but simply supports the learning cycle. going back and applying your learning in the workplace will always deliver greater results.

    1. Thanks Peter; there was also
      Thanks Peter; there was also an interesting debate taking place on Twitter (you can see it by searching #Why702010) that went through some of the misunderstandings around 70:20:10 – some good points made!

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