Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

7 November 2017

Revisiting 70:20:10

Clark @ 8:03 AM

Last week, the Debunker Club (led by Will Thalheimer) held a twitter debate on 70:20:10 (the tweet stream can be downloaded if you’re curious).  In ‘attendance’ were two of the major proponents of 70:20:10, Charles Jennings and Jos Arets.  I joined Will as a moderator, but he did the heavy lifting of organizing the event and queueing up questions.  And there were some insights from the conversations and my own reflections.

Learning curveTo start, 70:20:10 is a framework, it’s not a specific ratio but a guide to thinking about the whole picture of developing organizational solutions to performance problems. In the book by Jos & Charles, along with their colleague Vivian Heijnen, on the topic, there’s a whole methodology that encompasses 5 roles and 28 steps. The approach goes from a problem to a solution that incorporates tools, formal learning, coaching, and more.

The numbers come from a study on leaders, who felt that 10% of what they learned to do their jobs came from formal learning, 20% came from working with others and coaching, and 70% they learned from trying and reflecting on the outcomes. The framework’s role is to help people recognize this, and not leave the 70 and 20 to chance. The goal is to help people along the learning curve, not just leave them to chance after the ‘event’.

First, my impression was that a lot of people like that the 70:20:10 framework provides a push beyond the event model of ‘the course’. Also, a number struggle with the numbers as a brand, because they feel that the numbers are misleading. And some folks clearly believe that good instructional design should include the social and the activity, so the framework is a distraction. A colleague felt that there were also some who feel that formal learning is a waste of time, but I don’t think that many truly ignore the 10, they just want it in the proper perspective (and I could be wrong).

MoreFormalNow, there are times when the ratio changes. In roles where the consequences of failure are drastic (read: aerospace, medical, military), you tend to have a lot more formal.  It can go quite a ways up the learning curve. Ideally, we’d do this for every situation, but in real life we have to strike a balance. If we can do the job right in the 10, and then similarly ensure good practices around the 20 and the 70, we’ll get people up the curve.

Another issue, for me, is that 70:20:10 not only provides a push towards thinking of the whole picture, but like Kirkpatrick (and perhaps better) it serves as a design tool. You should start from what the situation looks like at the end and figure out what can be in the world and what has to be in the head, and then go backwards. You then design your tools, and then your training, and 70:20:10 suggests including coaching, etc.  But starting with the 70 is one of the messages.

So, I like the realization of 70:20:10 (except typing all those redundant zeros and colons, I often refer to it as 721 ;).  The focus on designing the full solution, including tools and coaching and more.  I don’t see 70:20:10 being the full solution, as the element of continual innovation and a learning culture are separate, but it’s as good a solution for the performance part of the picture, and the specific parts of the development.


  1. Dear Clark,

    For the last 20 years I have seen so many practitioners trying to glorify the 70:20:10 approach and each time they end up in the spiral of less it is not scientific, not, there is no real facts (outside opinion polls) to support this, but it must be true or some aspects of it must be true.

    There is no evidence except the anecdotal view from the one promoting the model, that support that it is based on anything credible or that it has any effect on the performance of learner in any context.

    Could you please give it up and move on to something with doing.


    Comment by Claude Martel — 7 November 2017 @ 11:03 AM

  2. Claude – I’m intrigued by your comment.

    As was pointed out repeatedly in the Twitter interactions, many people misunderstand the 70:20:10 model.

    Once you ‘get over’ the numbers and get into the fact that the model is a framework for re-focusing L&D activity closer to business and organizational objectives, and that it is grounded in findings which report high performers and high-performing organizations reach that state not through formal learning only, you will see that 70:20:10 is extremely useful. Many organizations have found that is the case and use 70:20:10 as a model and methodology to improve organizational performance.

    No matter where you look – whether it’s to empirical studies in learning and performance or to world-renowned economists – you will find evidence that reports learning as part of work and learning with others are extremely important. The fact that training and development activities over the past 40 years have had no impact on global productivity growth (OECD Unit Labour Cost Indicators) suggests that there is a need to extend activity beyond standard training efforts.

    In our book ‘702010 Towards 100% Performance’ we cited 16 specific studies that found learning through working and learning together contributed significantly. We could have cited dozens more. Informal learning as part of work is an important fact of life, and anyone who denies this is either uninformed or has decided not to see it. That’s what 70:20:10 is about, helping build organizational performance by restructuring L&D approaches and focusing on learning from work as well as learning to work.

    Comment by Charles Jennings — 8 November 2017 @ 3:51 AM

  3. Es importante tener en cuenta que 70:20:10 es un modelo de referencia y no una receta. Los números no son una fórmula rígida. Ellos simplemente nos recuerdan estos hechos – que la mayor parte del aprendizaje y el desarrollo viene a través de la experiencia y aprendizaje social en el lugar de trabajo (el ’70 ‘y ’20’) en lugar de a través de clases formales y cursos (el ’10 ‘). Por supuesto estructurada y dirigida aprendizaje “formal” puede ayudar, pero rara vez, o nunca, da la respuesta completa.

    ¿Por qué tantas organizaciones Adoptado 70:20:10?

    Una respuesta a esta pregunta se encuentra en el hecho de que 70:20:10 ofrece un andamiaje fácil de entender que se pueden adaptar fácilmente para volver a centrar el desarrollo en un lienzo mucho más amplia que la utilizada tradicionalmente por los recursos humanos y profesionales de aprendizaje.

    ¿Por qué es importante esto?

    Es importante porque la investigación en los últimos 40 años por lo menos ha indicado que el aprendizaje que se produce fuera de las clases formales y cursos no sólo es más frecuente, pero también suelen ser más eficaces que sus contrapartes estructurado y “administrada”.

    También es importante porque el marco 70:20:10 proporciona una manera de integrar las actividades de desarrollo actualmente dispares – tales como programas de liderazgo, coaching y mentoring informal, y la extracción de aprendizaje en el trabajo a través de conversaciones, las comunidades, el intercambio, la práctica reflexiva y otras acciones . También proporciona un marco coherente para elaborar estrategias lugar de trabajo, las actividades de aprendizaje social y estructurada.

    Aunque el marco 70:20:10 aplica a toda la educación de adultos, es particularmente relevante cuando se piensa en la construcción de una estrategia para desarrollar y apoyar a profesionales de alto rendimiento. (EXCELENCIA PERSONALIZADA)

    La mayoría de las organizaciones aspiran a desarrollar sus profesionales de alto rendimiento, y para desarrollar a otros a convertirse en profesionales de alto rendimiento, ya que es el cuadro de alto rendimiento que impulsa a las organizaciones exitosas.

    La investigación realizada por el Corporate Executive Board sugiere que los “colaboradores de la empresa” (como se llama el pequeño grupo de profesionales de alto rendimiento) pueden aumentar los ingresos de organización y los beneficios hasta en un 12%. Eso significa a menudo la diferencia entre el éxito y el fracaso.

    Tienen en el trabajo de apoyo actuación en alcance. Ellos saben dónde encontrar las respuestas al desafío-a-mano, ya sea a través de su propia PKM (gestión del conocimiento personal) recursos o simplemente por saber quién será más capaz de ayudarles.

    El apoyo en la mejora continuada, vendrá de muchas formas, y cada una de ellas adaptada a personas, situaciones, necesidares, o sea, de manera personalizada y personal..… Puede ser integrado en las herramientas de flujo de trabajo (donde la mayoría de las herramientas y sistemas proporcionan apoyo), o acceder a través de “otros” a través de la red .Como tal, este elemento puede sentarse en las partes tanto en el ’20 ‘y ’70’ del marco propuesto

    Se han llevado a cabo miles de horas de experiencia y la reflexión, a veces solos, pero realmente tiene una inmejorable espectativa de implementación y lo más importante, de retroalimentación.…(Resistencias al cambio educativo de Juan Domingo Farnós)

    Comment by Juan Domingo Farnos Miro — 8 November 2017 @ 7:34 AM

  4. Claude, could you suggest some ideas and initiatives that accomplish what 70:20:10 does? In the real world (e.g. the corporate learning world, and other training situations), there is too often a focus on an ‘event’ learning model, with little thought of integrating ongoing coaching and systematic ‘stretch’ assignments. I find 70:20:10 to help break that mentality. Aside from the rigorous performance consulting approach from Tulser that Charles has supported, just the conceptualization of going beyond ‘formal learning’ has proven valuable in getting people to think ‘outside’ the course. Not to the exclusion of the course, but a bigger picture approach. So, if there is a framework you think is better supported in helping break that mindset, I’d welcome hearing it.

    Comment by Clark — 8 November 2017 @ 8:25 AM

  5. And I’m providing a Google translation of Juan’s comment, since I think it’s worth a read:

    It is important to keep in mind that 70:20:10 is a reference model and not a recipe. The numbers are not a rigid formula. They simply remind us of these facts – that most of the learning and development comes through experience and social learning in the workplace (’70 ‘and ’20’) rather than through formal classes and courses (the 10 ‘). Of course structured and directed “formal” learning can help, but rarely, if ever, gives the full answer.

    Why have so many organizations adopted 70:20:10?

    An answer to this question is found in the fact that 70:20:10 offers easy-to-understand scaffolding that can be easily adapted to refocus development on a much broader canvas than that traditionally used by human and professional resources Learning.

    Why is this important?

    It is important because research in the last 40 years has at least indicated that learning that occurs outside of formal classes and courses is not only more frequent, but also tend to be more effective than their structured and “managed” counterparts.

    It is also important because the 70:20:10 framework provides a way to integrate currently disparate development activities – such as leadership programs, coaching and informal mentoring, and the extraction of learning at work through conversations, communities, the exchange, reflective practice and other actions. It also provides a coherent framework for developing workplace strategies, social and structured learning activities.

    Although the 70:20:10 framework applies to all adult education, it is particularly relevant when thinking about building a strategy to develop and support high-performing professionals. (PERSONALIZED EXCELLENCE)

    Most organizations aspire to develop their high-performance professionals, and to develop others to become high-performance professionals, since it is the high-performance cadre that drives successful organizations.

    The research conducted by the Corporate Executive Board suggests that “company partners” (as the small group of high-performance professionals is called) can increase organizational income and profits by up to 12%. That often means the difference between success and failure.

    They have the work of support acting in scope. They know where to find the answers to the challenge-at-hand, whether through their own PKM (personal knowledge management) resources or simply by knowing who will be best able to help them.

    The support in continuous improvement, will come in many forms, and each one of them adapted to people, situations, needs, that is, in a personalized and personal way .. … It can be integrated in the workflow tools (where the majority of tools and systems provide support), or access through “others” through the network. As such, this element can sit on both the ’20 ‘and’ 70 ‘parts of the proposed framework

    Thousands of hours of experience and reflection have been carried out, sometimes alone, but it really has an unbeatable expectation of implementation and, most importantly, of feedback … (Resistance to educational change by Juan Domingo Farnós)

    Comment by Clark — 8 November 2017 @ 8:30 AM

  6. Clark, Thanks for sharing. As usual you distill ideas clearly. 721 helps as a framework. My interest has been shifting to the far right, “personal autonomous expertise.” I understand that the role of learning curve, but that is a perspective which sets the discussion around learning. I discovered that when I focus my efforts in understanding how people fix, solve and improve issues at work, the focus shifts to doing rather than learning. By doing, we consequently learn. All the best, Ray

    Comment by Ray Jimenez — 9 November 2017 @ 4:25 AM

  7. If the numbers are causing a commotion, why not switch to letters? FCI = Formal, Coached, Informal.
    Of course you then lose the impact implied by the ratios.
    Anyway, nice job explaining the framework.

    Comment by Dallas McPheeters — 13 November 2017 @ 11:32 AM

  8. I think the 70:20:10 framework is another important tool in our toolbox that should not live there alone. Other frameworks such as ‘transfer of learning” and flipped classroom, help us develop learning and practice experiences that best serve our learners. I think the variables that influence learning are greater to control outside the classroom, and may hamper our consideration of these areas for learning. I agree that the learner’s managers also may resist learning on the job and hence influence our decision on how to design learning. I would think that having good feedback systems in place for the ’70’ is critical.

    Comment by Wendi Braun — 13 November 2017 @ 11:34 AM

  9. A better framework that is research-based and proven is the “Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning.” https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00SZ634ZY/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

    Comment by Bill Brantley — 14 November 2017 @ 6:33 AM

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    Pingback by Revisiting 70:20:10 | EDUMIO.com — 14 November 2017 @ 10:30 AM

  11. Praise to Will and Clark for taking on one of many distorted concepts that somehow become not only accepted but also responsible for misguiding sincere efforts to build effective learning programs. It’s so hard to get the train back on the track once it’s gained such inertia. Even having a discussion about it will doubtlessly lead some conclude they should be striving to implement 70:20:10! As noted, perhaps the one positive is that people consider multiple modes for building successful behaviors. But perhaps the most interesting suggestion is Dallas McPheeters’ comment that maybe letters should be substituted. “FCI = Formal, Coached, Informal.” Substituting an alternate concept is one way we know of to pry people away from an erroneous one. This helpfully ditches ratios, which are the big chunk of the misunderstanding. We need then to add a visual to supplant the pyramid. Maybe three bubbles?

    Comment by Michael Allen — 15 November 2017 @ 8:42 AM

  12. Michael, appreciate you weighing in. I’m surprised you think the 70:20:10 framework will be responsible for misguiding learning. I’m curious why, as I think that the focus on the value of coaching and ongoing support is a valuable alternative to the ‘event’ model too prevalent (c.f. our Serious eLearning Manifesto).

    Comment by Clark — 15 November 2017 @ 11:12 AM

  13. The notion of focusing our efforts in understanding how people fix, solve and improve issues at work, the focus shifts to doing rather than learning resonates for me.

    Comment by Sara — 17 November 2017 @ 11:40 AM

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