There is a core set of frameworks that support the way organizational learning and development is conducted. Many of these, such as the Kirkpatrick evaluation levels, carrot and stick motivational programs and the ADDIE model have been around since the 1960s.
The Kirkpatrick framework made sense in a world based on courses and classrooms. The world of mobile and social learning and Google, however, requires new measures. Dan Pink challenged assumptions about what motivates people in his book Drive, where he said organizations should focus more on intrinsic as opposed to traditional extrinsic motivators. Consider the ADDIE model today. Rapid prototyping approaches to develop products and programs are reframing its sequential, time-intensive methodology of analysis, design, development, implementation and evaluation.
Under the Microscope
It’s time for the 70-20-10 model for professional development to join the list of valuable but dated approaches in need of a checkup. The 70-20-10 model was first proposed in the 1980s by authors and researchers Morgan McCall, Robert Eichinger and Michael Lombardo. It became a foundation for the work at the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), which continues today and has been adopted by many global organizations — including IBM, SAP, General Electric, Procter & Gamble, Farmers Insurance and American Express.
At its core, the model states that learning occurs primarily from on-the-job experiences (70 percent), followed by learning from others (20 percent) and, finally, from formal courses (10 percent). The research basis for the 70-20-10 equation is not particularly strong, however. Further, it’s dated.
A survey by the Educational Development Center in 1996 found that 70 percent of workplace learning is informal. In 1997 the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that people learn 70 percent of what they know to do their jobs informally. These results also were supported by CCL surveys that asked people to reflect on their most meaningful developmental experiences. Things have changed, but the 70-20-10 model is still consistent with most people’s experience; it makes sense when employees think about their careers.
As widely used as the 70-20-10 model is, it has been most useful as a guideline on how to use different developmental experiences. But the specific ratios break down under close scrutiny. Consider: Do employees really learn from on-the-job experiences by themselves, or is reflection necessary? Do employees learn from their jobs when they have been doing the same thing for 10 years? What happens when employees learn from team members on a project: is that part of the 70 or 20 percent? What about action learning programs that focus on on-the-job problems and encourage learning from others: where do they fit?
Further, 70-20-10 was established pre-Internet. When it was first presented, access to information was limited; the Internet was a drawing on a white board; most classroom training was traditional; communities were people in the neighborhood; and Google was not a verb. Now, many people choose to learn by posing questions to online communities and wait to soak up the wisdom of the crowd.
The Portfolio Development Approach
When learning leaders do away with the formula but keep the relevant categories — this is called the portfolio approach — many problems are eliminated, and the most important advantages of the original 70-20-10 model can be retained.
The portfolio approach also acknowledges that a single formula cannot cover all situations. If a new technology, for instance, is being implemented, the 10 percent will be considerably higher because there are few internal people to learn from, and experience is not yet deep enough to be a factor. Similarly, a heavily networked organization may find that 20 percent is too limiting to describe its impact on learning. The best mix depends on the goals, audience, infrastructure and desired outcomes of the intervention.
There are three parts of the portfolio approach to talent development: learning from new experiences, learning from others and learning from courses and materials.
Learning from new experiences: This approach includes many of the traditional experience-based development methodologies, but it also expands to include experiences such as community and nonprofit work that offer strong development opportunities. Also, experiences in this part must be new to be truly developmental.
Learning from others: This approach takes the next step and incorporates the myriad options available for social learning. Learning activities in this category now extend far beyond formal feedback and coaching sessions; learning through virtual and online networking, communities of practice and knowledge sharing through posted user and peer-generated content is also included.
Learning from courses and materials: This approach, while it sounds like the usual classroom-based learning, takes courses and materials and leverages technology-enabled delivery platforms. Activities that fall into this approach include consumption of online content, audio and videocasts, performance support materials accessed from mobile devices, as well as live and virtual classroom-based programs.
The portfolio metaphor for talent development is useful because it exists in business and the arts. An investor, for example, manages a portfolio of stocks, each with its own characteristics and strengths. In the arts, a person displays his or her portfolio of work, each piece showing a different style, subject or composition. Portfolios do not contain a single stock, work of art or developmental approach. Diversity, based on purpose and intention, is essential to a successful presentation.
There are important differences between the new categories in the portfolio approach and the old 70-20-10 framework:
Emphasize learning from new experiences: New and different experiences are the best teachers. Development occurs in a learning zone, not a comfort zone.
Include community, not just workplace experiences: Learning knows no bounds; it can and should occur in different contexts. It also coincides with organizations placing stronger emphasis on community and nonprofit activities to develop future leaders and employees.
Add greater weight to learning through social learning and personal networks: This is the biggest change since the original framework was formulated in the 1980s. The rise of social learning and the value of relational capital have been underestimated in organizations for decades. Now, technology has provided the tools to explore, identify and leverage others’ insights. Extending one’s own personal network and accessing content generated by peers, coaches and experts is a primary source of learning, and it should be a major part of each person’s developmental plan.
Renew emphasis on learning from courses and materials: A number of advances have occurred in this category as well. Content-based e-learning courses are now part of a vast interconnected online reference source. Access to information has been removed as a barrier to learning. Consequently, individual interactions with materials and interventions are more valuable than they were before. On-demand and on-the-go learning have changed formal learning: The best courses focus on job experiences and learning from others — they are not isolated events.
Figure 1 demonstrates how a competency, in this case strategic thinking, can be developed across the three core talent development approaches. The figure is a tool that can be used to specify competencies or what employees need to learn and what options are available to develop those competencies.
Figure 1 can help managers think more carefully about the different opportunities that can be employed to aid competency development, many of which are free. Further, this type of table can be developed for leadership competencies, job skills, required new workforce competencies or experiences needed for promotional opportunities. It is also recommended that learning leaders develop portfolios for each key competency or capability, and then managers and employees can select those that should be included in a development plan.
The portfolio approach helps to ensure a richer developmental experience — it avoids the common, simplistic approach of attending a training class and assuming development has been accomplished. It will be easy to adopt for organizations that have used 70-20-10 in the past, as it refreshes the categories and ends reliance on a formula that does not have a strong research basis. It also leads to a type of meaningful developmental program that continually engages and challenges employees — which, in turn, improves productivity and retention.
David C. Forman is chief learning officer for the Human Capital Institute and president of Sage Learning Systems. Barbara A. Keen is global head of organization development and talent management for Aptalis Pharma, a specialty pharmaceutical company. They can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.