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Opinion: When it comes to training, have we all got our priorities wrong?

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ChalkboardIf only 10% of what we learn comes from the 'classroom', then why are most training departments so focused on organising outside events, asks Andrew Mayo? Isn't it time to look at the other 90%, and give more support to learning on-the-job?






It was an international client of mine who introduced me to the 70:20:10 rule and they took me by surprise at the time. They had asked us to design a suite of learning programmes following this rule which governs how people learn: namely that 70% comes from activity and real life challenges; 20% learning from others, and 10% from classroom or reading inputs. My surprise was because most training departments are mainly focused on organising discrete events (and elearning is also in the 10%). In fact, their priorities are in the reverse order.

Photo of Andrew Mayo"There are some real challenges to training professionals here I think, if they are concerned that learning is truly effective."

Of course the truth is that people like going away from the job, enjoying a change of scene and hopefully congenial company and interesting conversation. Trainers are trained to create learning experiences for a number of people to share together, which is an economic use of their time, and which gives them a satisfying personal role. But is this really only 10% of real learning? First, such a rule is only a generalisation and for some types of learning, such as attitudinal reorientation and some areas of new knowledge, the classroom does indeed offer significant learning. Secondly, it may be a small part of the learning journey but an absolutely essential one – providing the unique benefits of learning with others.

We can build in quite a lot of learning from others into a formally organised event, from other participants and from storytelling by visiting guests. But this essentially happens through coaching and mentoring programmes; through action learning sets; knowledge sharing; communities of practice, and certain kinds of personal reading. But the 70% is learning from experience – from the challenges, problems, opportunities that the work of everyday brings and this has to be on-the-job.

There are some real challenges to training professionals here I think, if they are concerned that learning is truly effective. We tend to be pretty rigorous about managing the off-the-job events but should we not apply the same rigours of learning management to a truly blended programme? This challenge is made all the more real where most learning is outsourced – the trainers come, and then they go. Continuity of learning is not their problem. And internally, professional resources are probably too thin to allow for systematic follow through of every learner.

Yet 90% of effective learning – if we accept this rule – is far too large a chunk to leave to exhortation and hope, or hastily prepared action plans at the end of an event. Some say 'it is the manager's job to spend time pre and post a learning event to make sure it is consolidated'. That is a cop out in my opinion, and we all know it rarely works. Most managers are neither skilled nor motivated to deal with systematic on-the-job learning, except perhaps for some technical/professional areas. It seems to me there are two much more effective avenues to be pursued. On the one hand, the professional can design structured and relevant learning assignments – both from utilising the people around the learner, and from the opportunities of work itself. This should be a normal part of programme design. It cannot be done in a remote office, as designing classroom activities can be. Knowledge of the learner's working environment is required, and not a little creativity. Indeed, it is probably worth training some professionals to do just this.

"The expert continuous learner is always on the lookout for new experiences and contacts, through which knowledge, skills and attitudes are developed."

The second avenue, and very productive it is too, is to train people to manage the 90% themselves, using systematic frameworks and methodologies. The expert continuous learner is always on the lookout for new experiences and contacts, through which knowledge, skills and attitudes are developed. These are people who can work out for themselves how to extend their off-the-job learning to the real world. Some are borne with sufficient curiosity to do this naturally, but most people gain from some help in 'learning to learn' – in giving and receiving knowledge, experimentation with new ideas, how to ask for new experiences, and utilising the richness in the people around them. Their starter skill has to be the setting of clear personal learning objectives, followed by the choice of the means of learning, and then by self evaluation – knowing whether the learning need has been met or not.

The good news is that learning never stops, and it will happen whether managed or not. But without a map most of us make somewhat erratic journeys. As training professionals our concern should be beyond great happy sheets at the end of a course, but about designing and facilitating learning journeys that will take us effortlessly to Level three evaluation. This is a very different skill to training delivery – and a scarce one.


Andrew Mayo is director of Mayo Learning International and Mayo Training. His consultancy, specialising in organisational and individual effectiveness can be found at
www.mayolearning.com, and his training company at www.mayotraining.com.


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