The 70:20:10 Rule

The 70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development is a commonly used formula within organisations to describe the optimal sources of learning by successful managers.

This formula was developed by Morgan McCall et al and the Centre for Creative Leadership.

The 70:20:10 model is based on McCall’s research which found three types of learning.

McCall et al suggest 70% of learning comes from on-the-job experience. This is the hands-on experience, daily tasks and challenges we encounter on the job.

McCall et al suggest we learn 20% from developmental relationships and interactions. This social learning involves learning through our relationships by sharing knowledge, observing others and nurturing mentorships.

Together, these two methods are often known as informal learning, since they don’t follow a specified pattern and happen on their own.

Only 10% of our learning is down to formal training and formal educational events.

The thing is, does anyone actually adhere to this model anymore? Harding (2021) argues that we need to exercise caution around the exactness of the 70:20:10 ratio.

One of the main criticisms of the 70:20:10 model is that it minimises the impact of formal training.

Many organisations pour a lot of their energy into formal education – what used to be the 10% is now a whole lot more than that especially in an era of mobile and online learning.

There is something else too – the 70:20:10 model sounds scientific and full of facts but there is a lack of empirical data supporting it. Under statistical and empirical scrutiny, the framework falls apart.

Jefferson and Pollock (2014) say this:

Thus, learning professionals need to keep in mind that the 70:20:10 concept is a conceptual or theoretical model based on retrospective musings by executives about what made them successful and broad summary statements of the findings. It is neither a scientific fact nor a recipe for how best to develop people.

The numbers sound impressive but it can easily be misapplied by those gullible enough to fall for a science-y sounding ‘formula’.

Kruse (2021) argues that it’s time to put the 70:20:10 model to bed and adopt a simpler model for learning which is more actionable and effective:

My humble suggestion is that we replace the 70-20-10 model with something I call the 3-to-1 learning model. It’s a simple, actionable model: for every one formal learning event, you should design and facilitate three on-the-job application exercises.




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