Reflections on #lrnchat: 70:20:10

This week’s #lrnchat explored the value of 70:20:10. I always find looking at the questions that are used to loosely guide the conversation as a nice way to see the overall theme of the chat. Here are the discussion questions that were presented to the group:

Q1) The numbers in 70:20:10 have been challenged due to a lack of empirical evidence. Does it matter? #lrnchat
Q2) Do you consider 70:20:10 to be a theory, a model, a framework, or none of these? #lrnchat
Q3) Do you use 70:20:10 to inform your work? If so, please share examples. #lrnchat
Q4) What are the benefits of using 70:20:10? #lrnchat
Q5) What are the problems with using 70:20:10? #lrnchat
Q6) Is 70:20:10 the remit of L&D only? #lrnchat

There’s a growing interest in 70:20:10 in the Learning and Development field, so holding a Twitter Chat to explore the topic makes sense. The chat was an interesting one for me on two major fronts.

As usual, the exchange of ideas with the #lrnchat community was fascinating and thought-provoking. That’s pretty standard for me in #lrnchat. What was unique for this chat is that I often found myself to be a contrarian voice to many in the chat.

70:20:10 Lacks Empirical Evidence; Does it Matter?

This question set the tone for me for the chat, because I was genuinely surprised by how many people said that it doesn’t matter. The fact that people are willing to support the ideas behind 70:20:10 while at the same time acknowledging that there’s a lack of data to support the idea is kind of shocking. A number of people tweeted comments about 70:20:10 lining up with how people naturally learn, and I agree with that. But the conversation around 70:20:10 isn’t just about the idea, it’s about putting the idea into action.

Any time I’ve explored shifting course in my approaches and strategies in the organizations I’ve worked for I’ve made sure I did the due diligence to verify that the proposed changes made sense. I based my recommendations on one simple word: data.

Forget 70:20:10 for a minute. Let’s say you walk into your CEO’s office and propose a new course for your L&D strategy, one based on 70:20:10. Your CEO may ask some form of “What data are you using for this recommendation?”. If you respond with “There’s no data, but that doesn’t matter”, how many seconds do you think it should take before the CEO shoots down the idea?

You want to tell me that you like the ideas behind 70:20:10? Fine. In truth, I like them too.

But please don’t tell me the lack of empirical evidence doesn’t matter.

What is 70:20:10?

You’ll notice that I used one word fairly consistently to describe 70:20:10 in the previous section: Idea. That’s how I view 70:20:10. It’s a really good idea, one built upon things that we know about learning. I don’t see it as a theory (yet), a framework, or a model, and I think describing it as such does 70:20:10 a disservice.

Ideas inspire us to think differently. They tap into our curiosity and motivate us to test out new things. More importantly, ideas help shape our thoughts and the ways in which we think. To me that’s the power of 70:20:10, an opportunity to get L&D practitioners to look beyond the course and factor a broader awareness of how people learn into their practices.

To take 70:20:10 further than an idea would be to take it to the level that the idea is put into practice. A really good idea can evolve into a theory, and I think you can make the argument that 70:20:10 is either on that path, or already there. But we shouldn’t go any further than that in describing it.

Before a theory can transform into a replicable model or framework, it needs to be tested and researched. People need to try to break it. Putting a theory into practice that hasn’t gone through this process is very risky. This echoes the previous section regarding the importance of data and evidence.

What’s in a Name?

Part of the challenge with 70:20:10 is its very name. Numbers are powerful things. They convey definitive values that can not be argued. When you associate numbers into the label of an idea, those numbers are naturally going to be challenged, and people are definitely going to become skeptical when those numbers are not able to be backed up.

That’s one of the challenges the 70:20:10 conversation has today. People get so focused on the percentages that they lose focus on the value behind the idea.

During the chat Ryan Tracy shared another label for 70:20:10, one that I think much better explains the ideas behind 70:20:10 without distracting the value with actual numbers.

Using 70:20:10

There were two questions in the chat exploring the benefits and problems with using 70:20:10 in an organization. My issue with these questions is in the concept of “using 70:20:10”. 70:20:10 is an idea. It’s a good idea that has potential, but it remains an idea nonetheless.

You “use” a tool, and the ideas surrounding 70:20:10 are more about helping us decide how to use the tools at our disposal.

What the Percentages Mean… and What They Don’t Mean

The core idea of 70:20:10 is based on what we know about how people learn. We can all debate the exact percentages, but we can agree that people learn most through experience, with exposure and and education taking much smaller portions of the learning pie.

That core idea is what I like about 70:20:10.  I think it’s incredibly important for those in L&D to raise their awareness to the larger scope of how people learn.

But don’t take things too far.

I’ve heard people associate the 70:20:10 idea past just how people learn, and begin to extend the idea to how we support learning, implying that since 70:20:10 represents a breakdown of how people learn, L&D efforts should be allocated accordingly. That, to me, is a dangerous assumption that again goes back to the lack of evidence.

There’s a phrase associated with the act of believing in or attempting something whose existence or outcome cannot be proved. It’s called a Leap of Faith, and it has no business in an L&D strategy.

I also think that applying 70:20:10 as an allocation of effort within L&D is ignoring a certain amount of context… but that’s a story for another post.


Until next time #lrnchat-ers!


7 Responses to Reflections on #lrnchat: 70:20:10

  1. Donald Clark January 19, 2016 at 11:28 am #

    David, you wrote “We can all debate the exact percentages, but we can agree that people learn most through experience, with exposure and and education taking much smaller portions of the learning pie.”

    Actually, I cannot agree with that because we at times learn more from others and in a few specific instances, we learn more from training. Thus it depends.

    70:20:10 is the Norma of the Learning world. 70:20:10 says that people, content, and context are the same for everyone. Thus, the human mind is much simpler to design for than dressmakers who have to makes different sizes and styles. One size fits all human minds, but many sizes are needed for the human body.

    I wrote more about it in a recent blog post, The 70:20:10 Learning Model: A Path to the Past

    • David Kelly January 19, 2016 at 3:14 pm #

      All the more reason that getting to data matters.

      I’ll add that 70:20:10 has the additional challenge of being built upon a foundational definition of what learning is – something that I don’t think we have a shared understanding of.

  2. Candice Kramer January 19, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

    “…built upon a foundational definition of what learning is – something that I don’t think we have a shared understanding of.” Or clear data about – totally agree, David. What concerned me about the chat is that there were very few references to the basis for the ‘model’, which was (as you know) a small cohort of leadership training participants in one organization. Yet 70:20:10 has taken on the burnished glow of ‘law’, as Clark notes. We all want there to be patterns and frameworks with which we can frame our discussions and our work, but it always comes down to ‘it depends on the circumstances, the audience and the goal.’ As professionals, we need to focus on what is needed, not trying to adhere to a model that may not be appropriate for a particular situation.

  3. Bruno Winck January 22, 2016 at 5:20 am #

    Strange that proponents of 702010 didn’t get it on growth by different opinions. it’s an important component of the growth mindset. The basis of agile learning implicitly sustaining the 70%. Could it be that the 702010 proponents didn’t “get it” 🙂

    I’m also surprised by the quality of the argumentation used. Denial: It’s number but it’s just to prove numbers are not important, contest people who object because they are not enough qualified, or it’s none of their business (So it’s really an L&D thing only, just the opposite of the 20+70) or calling beliefs and opinions at the rescue.

    Strange. It seems to me the topic deserved another level of critical thinking and rigorous approach given the history of learning loaded with myths. If some L&D though leaders wanted at all cost to impose yet another one they would do exactly like this.

  4. Saul Carliner January 22, 2016 at 5:53 pm #

    Helen, Thanks for providing some common sense commentary on this issue.

    • Saul Carliner January 22, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

      Apologies–see the next comment. Posted the name of the person who tweeted the link–not the author.

  5. Saul Carliner January 22, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

    David, Thanks for providing some common sense commentary on this issue.

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