70:20:10 and the role of the Learning Practitioner

At this year’s opening day of the Learning Technologies conference and exhibition, I had the opportunity to meet Professor Jennings and listen to his sage-like wisdom, for a full hour. This was one of the facilitated round-table sessions that were running through the day that I had been lucky to stumble across, and while I may not remember all the detailed figures, names and places of the case-studies, academic research and examples that he cited, I did get the essence of what was shared, which I’ve captured here:

70:20:10 explained

70:20:10 is about how workplace learning takes place, with the principle that the majority of learning occurs by doing something, or experientially. For example, by asking the question, what is the business problem or challenge we are trying to solve and actually working to solve it. This is the 70. The 20 is around social learning, the discussion and chat we have with others. This could be being coached or mentored, officially or unofficially. The 10 is what we call the formal learning experience, e.g. the training course or learning intervention.

A principle, not a percentage

Professor Jennings shared with us that after the original survey research was done which led to the formation of the 70:20:10 model, the question was asked around the make-up of the sample group, and it was found there were only 3 women. So, another research questionnaire was done on an all-female group – with slightly different outcomes. More learning came from the social learning – but whether this was due to a reduced number of real work opportunities for the women in the sample, or whether women inherently learn more by sharing and collaborating, is up for debate. Additional studies in different cultures also provided slightly different results. And this is where it is important to remember the essence of the 70:20:10 model. Focus on the real-life problem and come up with a real-life way of solving it. That is when the most learning takes place.

The example Professor Jennings cited was in a production facility, the solution was to broker exchange between team leaders to minimise production errors that led to the costly shut-down of the production lines. The successful solution in the end was a system for team leaders to log any errors so they could be immediately shared with the other team leaders, allowing them to see what was happening and take preventative action. So, no classroom solution, no training on quality awareness, but a tool to share information as quickly and effectively as possible.

In another example, Professor Jennings described ‘the best money he ever spent’ whilst at Reuters in charge of all their training, ‘was on pizza’.

The problem was a vastly reduced training budget, the challenge was to keep all the many technical employees up to date. So rather than spend loads on external specialist training solutions, they introduced ‘pizza afternoons’ every fortnight where a random cross-section of technical specialists came together, to chat, informally over pizza. More learning happened naturally by providing the environment for employees to talk and learn from each other than by fulfilling a complex shopping list of outsourced technical training.

Reflect, reflect, reflect

Of course – critical to the principle of ‘learning by doing’ is the role of reflection. Professor Jennings shared a handy prompt in the shape of a pocket-sized card – with three simple questions:

  • What were your recent challenges and activities?
  • What have you learned from these experiences?
  • What will you do differently going forward?

This pocket-sized tool has been adopted in many of the organisations Professor Jennings has worked with, the idea that all managers carry this and use it at every one to one discussion. A simple yet effective way to start building a learning culture.

The learning facilitator

The take-away from this for me is how the role of the learning professional has changed, or how their role needs to change into an enabler and problem solver, not just an arranger of formal interventions. Learning & development professionals need to use the skills they have in understanding group dynamics and team processes to bring people together and facilitate discussion to reach those solutions.

Many a time in organisations I have heard the learning and development teams push back to the business with ‘that’s not a training problem, that’s a business issue’ – which is missing the point of the 70:20:10 model entirely. Any business or operational issue is a training issue. It may not need a traditional solution in the form of a formal training programme, but the skill of the L&D team, that are used to working across the business and bringing people and teams together, could be the key that’s needed to unlock the route to a solution.


Are your Learning & Development teams embracing new ways of working and learning? We can support you with creating a Modern Learning Strategy . We love working with L&D teams to shape direction, our Modern Learning Strategy Workshop is a great way to do this.



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