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Kay Buckby

The Mindful Trainer


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Why a learner-centred approach to training never dates


Learning by doing is one of the tenets of the 70:20:10 methodology, and it continues to be one of the most powerful tools when it comes to training new starters.

I am often amazed at how Learning & Development practices and experiences haven’t changed much, despite dramatic changes in the workplace.

Technology, learner demands and differences in expectations mean we could adopt a more learner-driven, adaptive, and less formal approach to learning.

Lombardo and Eichinger first introduced the 70-20-10 model of learning: 70% of what we learn, we learn by doing; 20% of what we learn, we learn from others; and the remaining 10% we learn through formal training.

I took part in a global research project on the 70-20-10 model and we were encouraged to reflect and share how we obtained the competence to ‘be doing what we’re doing now’.

When we shared our results, the 70-20-10 model stood up as a framework for our learning experiences.

My results were: 81% learning by doing, 10% learning from others and 9% formal learning experiences. When we shared our results, the 70-20-10 model stood up as a framework for our learning experiences.

Yet learners tell me how rigid their experiences can be when approaching HR or L&D to gain the necessary improvement in knowledge and skills to do their job. I have shared some with you to start the debate.

Onboarding experiences

I’ve recently been told two wildly different onboarding experiences from new recruits.

'Quick show around'

A recent delegate on a course told me how their onboarding consisted of a few minutes of form filling, followed by a Health & Safety at work video, then a brief tour of the site before being given a new starter pack, and then ‘handed over’ to the department head. They described their first day as: “dull…unimaginative…I started to think I’d made a career mistake…”.

Contrast this with a second story told to me by a new recruit…

'Death by PowerPoint'

One delegate told me how the company needs my help to redesign the induction programme. Three full days spent listening to this history of the company, health and safety, HR policies and procedures, was hardly an inspiring start to their career at the company.

They told me how futile the exercise was for them. They were given so much information about things that weren’t relevant to them that they couldn’t remember the review process, return to work interview format or company history.

It was a classic case of Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve – he was given too much information in too short a time scale.

Malcolm Knowles’ adult learning theory also comes to mind - that adult learners are engaged when the learning is seen as relevant to them. Think of the cost of those three days, for learning outcomes that are negligible.

Mentoring is one of the best ways of transferring know-how.

Inductions and onboarding are critical - we spend a huge amount of money recruiting the right person, only to potentially lose them by lack of engagement early on.

If we apply the 70-20-10 framework, we can start someone off with learning objectives that are meaningful not just to the company, but to them.

Mentoring is one of the best ways of transferring know-how. Buddying the new starter with an HR champion and having 30 minute meetings to discuss how things work, questions about your role in your appraisal review will be more adaptive to the starter and give great mentoring experience to an existing member of staff.

Inductions don’t need to be formal learning experiences and can be much more effective if they are driven by the learner and guided by a skilled and caring mentor.

Approaching L&D differently

As learning practitioners, we are still approached by managers with requests for skills improvement programmes - topics such as presentation skills, project management skills or managing challenging conversations.

Rather than starting course design and reinventing the wheel, try using the Socratic method - encouraging our learners to think for themselves through experience and inquiry (this works well for the 70-20-10 model).

Practical experience 

I once looked after five to six DIY retail stores. I was responsible for inductions at each store site, and as we had 60-70% staff turnover, every week seemed to be taken up with Health & Safety, store layout etc.

There’s nothing wrong with classroom/teacher type learning events, however I found on re-test people didn’t always understand why the fire doors needed to be clear or where the emergency alarms were located in their store.

I changed my approach as facilitator, encouraging my new starters to experience things for themselves and use the existing members of staff to guide them. The 70-20-10, and the Socratic method produced much better results on learning retention and learning application.

It was along the lines of ‘What do you need to know to ensure all staff and customers leave the store quickly in an emergency?’, followed by issuing a store plan.

I would then guide the new starters through the questions they might need to ask to answer this for themselves: “Who might give me the answers?”, “What do I expect to find around the store?”, “Where might I find out information in the store?”.

They’d then leave to discover it all for themselves. I could then fill in any gaps, encourage them to do more and test them when they returned to the training room.

When Area Managers visited my stores, they always found my new starters champions for Health & Safety in the store.

Using internal expertise

Why do we always leap to course design and a formal learning event? Project Management skills, for example, are bound to be found in-house. Shadowing a project manager on an existing project can be hugely valuable learning. The learner experiences real-time project management, how to overcome problems and real escalations.

I’m not saying the formal course is over or will never be required. But, when you are next asked to design a course, can you engage your learners and encourage a modern learning experience that embraces the 70-20-10 model?

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Kay Buckby


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