70-20-10 Verses the 3-33 Pervasive Learning Model

The 70-20-10 process is a learning and development model developed by Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger (2000) that uses a three blend approach to provide a development platform for senior managers and leaders:

As Jay Cross (2011) noted, the model is a prescriptive method for developing leaders:

“The 70-20-10 model is more prescriptive. It builds upon how people internalize and apply what they learn based on how they acquire the knowledge.”

The Center for Creative Leadership (2011), where 70-20-10 was developed, also writes that the model is indeed prescriptive:

“A research-based, time-tested guideline for developing managers says that you need to have three types of experience, using a 70-20-10 ratio: challenging assignments (70 percent), developmental relationships (20 percent) and coursework and training (10 percent).”

Some have been calling for 70-20-10 to be the new learning model for across the organization, however, since it is a prescriptive remedy for developing managers to senior and executive positions, it does not mean that it is a useful model for developing skills in the daily learning and work flows that takes place within organizations because it is being applied in an entirely different context than what it was designed for.

Parts or perhaps all of 70-20-10 may be useful for developing professionals other than senior managers, but since the learning ratios vary greatly between various groups of learners (and even individual learners within a group [see bullet number 2 in the section below]), one has to be very careful about taking this approach.

Using the Ratios

The reason the 70-20-10 model is not easily transferable to the typical learning and daily work flows that occur in organizations is because the ratio of informal to formal learning varies with context. For example, the Informal Learning Blog lists some resources on the ratios of informal learning verses formal learning and the numbers vary greatly. The best researched numbers show an average of 70% informal learning and 30% formal learning. For example:

  1. The largest and most comprehensive study is by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor (1996). Their research found that an average of 30% of the learning needs come from formal learning, while informal learning averages about 70%, thus it differs greatly from the ratios that the 70-20-10 model prescribe.
  2. These numbers are averages, thus the ratios depend greatly on context, such as the learners' type of job, skill level, organization changes, etc. For example, Loewenstein and Spletzer (1998) who performed another comprehensive study for the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor discovered that learning varies from about 13% to 46% for formal learning and 9% to 96% for informal learning (p.40, table2).
  3. When one looks at the ratios that show lower levels for formal learning, there is no reliable research. For example, the second one on the list is Raybould (2000), who writes that, “many organizations report that 85-90% of a person’s job knowledge is learned on the job, and only 10-15% is learned in formal training events” (p.8). However, the author does not reference any research to back up his claims. Such citations seam to imply, “I saw it on the Internet so it must be true.” On the other hand, the references that provide higher ratios for formal learning are the most evidence based.

In addition, the 70-20-10 model was developed in the 1980s when command and control was at the heart of leadership — think of Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, and Roger Smith who more than likely thought that Learning/Training Departments were solely for their bidding and could offer very little for them personally (Pontefract, 2013). Thus the model is based on the the very thing that many learning and development practitioners are now trying to get away from — hierarchy organizations. In addition, the model was developed before the Internet, thus it does not account for the numerous technologies that have aided formal learning, such as just-in-time learning, elearning, and virtual learning.

The 10% Amplifier Effect

Although training is seen as contributing just 10 percent (actually 9-15%) of a leader's development in the 70-20-10 model, it has what is known as the “amplifier effect”—formal training courses clarify, support, and boost the other 90 percent of the leaders' learning (The Center for Creative Leadership, 2011). That is, training gives the learners the basic building blocks on which the other forms of learning can be built.

This amplifier effect works because each hour of formal learning spills over to four-hours of informal learning for a 4:1 ratio (Cofer, 2000). Bell (1977) used the metaphor of brick and mortar to describe this relationship of formal and informal learning—formal learning acts as bricks fused into the emerging bridge of personal growth, while informal learning acts as the mortar, facilitating the acceptance and development of the formal learning.

Bell also noted that informal learning should NOT replace formal learning activities, as it is this synergy that produces effective growth. This means that those who are calling for lower levels of formal learning are going in the wrong direction if they want to increase informal learning.

Thus, trainers and instructional designers help to develop the organization by establishing a shared knowledge-base on which to build the organization's leadership vision. And as noted in the previous section, while some learners may only need 10% of their learning to come from formal methods, others may need the vast majority of their learning to be more on the formal side.

The 20% Social Effect

Social learning is a process of learning caused or favored by people being situated in a common environment and observing one another (Conte, Paolucci, 2001). This allows the learners to not only perceive each other for comparison and self-evaluation, but also see others as a neutral source of information, which may help or speed several forms of instrumental learning.

Recently, social learning has been extended with the use of Social media—communication tools that allows users to create, modify, and/or distribute content (Clark, 2010). Social media includes such tools as blogs, microblogs (e.g., Twitter & Yammer), file sharing (e.g., Flickr & SlideShare), Virtual Meeting Places, (e.g., Adobe Connect & Elluminate), social sites (e.g. Facebook & MySpace), and wikis. For more information see Social Learning and Social Media.

Thus social learning may be done face-to-face or through the use of social media tools. Some of the methods used include:

The 70% Job Experience Effect

The five most important experiences that leaders and managers obtain to gain skills are (Wilson, Velsor, Chandrasekar, Criswell, 2011):

These experiences allow the leaders and managers to learn three important leadership lessons skills:

While some of the above job experiences may provide new skills and knowledge for job-holders other than leaders, some are difficult to provide. For example, while managers and leaders can normally use their skills across different department levels, shuffling an entire organization through various departments proves quite difficult as many skills are not relevant in other departments and the rotation schedule can prove extremely difficult to manage. Thus other forms of experience must be provided, such as:

Negative experiences can also be used for promoting learning, such as learning from mistakes, however since personal reflection often occurs some time after the experience, it is mostly retrospective (McCauley, Brutus, 1988). Reflection can often be hard to accomplish, thus new leaders and managers often need coaching or mentoring to help them through the process.

3-33: A Better Model?

Dan Pontefract (2013) provides what I see is a closer approximation of the learning ratios: 3-33, which stands for 33% of the learning is formal, 33% is informal, and 33% is social. What is most interesting is that the research behind his model revealed that when the learners were asked to give the percentages on how they thought they learned, the numbers were very different than when the researchers actually discovered how the learners did indeed learn. This coincides with other research that indicates what learners are able to judge about their learning experiences (see Learner Self-Assessment Ratings). Pontefract 3-33 approximation is a Pervasive Learning model - learning is a collaborative, continuous, connected, and community-based growth mindset:

3-33 Pervasive Learning Model

One of the other major errors of the 70-20-10 model is that it places reading in formal learning. Since when did reading a book become formal learning? Dan of course places it under the correct type of learning in his 3-33 model... informal. The 70-20-10 error seems to coincide with the command and control culture that was most prevalent in the 1980s—the top leaders viewed popular writers as part of the elite who they could trust and learn from, while the learning/training functions were viewed as someone to do their bidding, rather than trusted partners.

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Bell, J., Dale, M. (1999). Informal Learning in the Workplace. Department for Education and Employment Research Report No. 134. London, England: Department for Education and Employment.

Center for Creative Leadership (2011). The 70-20-10 Rule. Leading Effectively e-Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/enewsletter/2011/NOVrule.aspx

Cofer, D. (2000). Informal Workplace Learning. Practice Application Brief, No 10. U.S. Department of Education: Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education.

Conte, R., Paolucci, M. (2001). Intelligent Social LearningJournal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation, vol. 4, no. 1.

Cross, J. (2011). A model of workplace learning. Internet Time Blog. Retrieved Nov 28, 2011 from http://www.internettime.com/2011/03/a-model-of-workplace-learning/

Clark, D. (2010). Instructional Design: Social Learning and Social Media. Media, Strategies, and Methods. Retrieved from http://nwlink.com/~donclark/hrd/media/social_learning.html

Loewenstein, M.A. and Spletzer, J.R. (1998). Formal and Informal Training: Evidence from the NLSY. Washington D.C.: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ore/abstract/ec/ec940090.htm

Lombardo, M.M., Eichinger, R.W. (2000). The Career Architect Development Planner. 3rd Ed. Minneapolis, MN: Lominger Limited.

McCauley, C.D., Brutus, S. (1988). Management Development Through Job Experiences: An Annotated Bibliography. Retrieved from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/MgmtDevelopmentBib.pdf

Pontefract, D. (2013). Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization. MA: Jossey-Bass.

Raybould, R. (1995). Performance Support Engineering: An Emerging Development Methodology for Enabling Organizational Learning. Performance Improvement Quarterly, vol 8(1) pp. 7-2. Available at: http://www.imamu.edu.sa/Scientific_selections/Documents/IT/Raybould.pdf

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor (1996). BLS Reports on the Amount of Formal and Informal Training Received by Employees. Retrieved January from http://www.bls.gov/news.release/history/sept_042897.txt

Wilson, S.M., Velsor, E.V., Chandrasekar, A., Criswell, C. (2011). Grooming Top Leaders: Cultural Perspectives from China, India, Singapore and the United States. Center for Creative Leadership. Retrieved from http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/GroomingTopLeaders.pdf