Informal learning - The systems thinking and training blog - Bryan Hopkins

Go to content

Main menu:

70:20:10 - helpful myth or not?

Published by in Informal learning ·
I have just been reading a thought-provoking article by Toby Harris regarding 70:20:10 (and other learning and development myths), and thought that this made a lot of sense.

There is something in the idea of 70:20:10, and it has certainly captured the imagination of many organisations and raised the profile of informal learning. However, as Toby says, following the concept blindly is not helpful.

As I also mentioned in a previous blog, it is just not possible to divide up the ways in which people learn into the categories which 70:20:10 identifies. The original idea for 70:20:10 came from observations regarding leadership in American corporations made by Lombardo and Eichinger in 2000. As far as I have been able to ascertain, this was not peer-reviewed in academic literature, and so must always be a little suspect. There has then been this extrapolation from the leadership context to learning in general, which is also problematic.

What is perhaps more reliable is research carried out by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (Frazis et al, 1998) which suggested that 80% of what people learn is done informally. Broadly in line with 70:20:10, but this research did state that the distinction between formal and informal is very difficult to define.

Toby also points out the contradiction of organisations implementing 70:20:10; of course, as soon as you institute informal learning it is no longer informal. Merely setting up social learning platforms to facilitate informal learning has also been shown to be very problematic. Again, much peer-reviewed research has shown how difficult it is to set up a sustainable informal learning network (or community of practice), particularly in organisations where the culture of sharing information is limited.

True informal learning starts at an operational level and is probably largely through large numbers of small conversations. This then needs to filter back up through the organisation so that it can influence messages coming back down the organisation through the formal training process. This is all in line with what complexity theory and the edge of chaos concept suggest as a way of meeting the infinite variety of an operational environment.

The challenge, therefore, is for organisational culture to change to allow learning to move up through the levels rather than be primarily a downward process. If 'implementing 70:20:10' can achieve this, then rock on!

Why I like 70:20:10

Published by in Informal learning ·
I have just finished reading the report "70+20+10=100: The Evidence Behind The Numbers", produced by Charles Jennings and Towards Maturity. A most interesting and worthwhile read.

For clarity, the 70:20:10 model refers to an observation that 70% of what people learn comes from real life and on-the-job experience, 20% from working with other people and 10% from formal training. These figures came from observations on leadership in a largely male target group, and, as the report acknowledges, different figures have been derived for female groups. Other research, not referred to in the report, discusses how 80% of what people learn comes from 'informal' means.

So there is some disagreement about the numbers, but this is largely because of the difficulties of actually defining what these categories of learning mean: what is the difference between 'on-the-job experience' and 'working with others'. What exactly is 'informal' learning?

But really, the numbers are not important. Why 70:20:10 is such a useful concept is that it provides a simple model around which people can conceptualise the importance of integrating formal and informal learning, which is something which the training industry has struggled with for many years. As the report says, its value is in helping people to realise that learning is a complex, multi-faceted activity, but that taking steps to facilitate non-formal learning opportunities and integrating them with formal training can bring rich rewards to organisations.

As I read the report I felt a strong sense of vindication that my own systems-based approach to analysing performance issues and developing training strategies is completely justified. Using a systems approach automatically means that we develop an understanding of each part of the 70:20:10 triad, about the dynamics of the workplace, how people work with each other and share information, what barriers and enablers may exist to implementing new knowledge and skills and so on. This can help us to design training which explicitly helps people to integrate their informal learning opportunities with training. Definitely a good thing!

Using workshops to promote informal learning

Published by in Informal learning ·
For the last 12 months I have been working on the dissertation for my Master's programme in systems thinking. That is a long time to be working on a relatively small area of knowledge, so it needs to be something about which you are interested!

As I was thinking around for a topic to examine, I reflected on how people attending training workshops always comment on how useful it is to meet other people who do the same work, and I often wondered if people chose to stay in touch with each other after the event, or if they were just 'ships that passed in the night'. So for my dissertation I started to do a lot of reading around the subject of social learning networks and communities of practice, to see if there were any lessons which could be learned which were of relevance to the process of workshop design.

Quite a few factors seem to be relevant. Official support is important, in terms of encouraging people to take time out to share knowledge and information and in providing practical, logistical support. Learning networks need to motivate their participants so that they continue to engage with the network, and this will often require injections of energy from some organising committee. People need to trust each other, to feel that it is okay to ask questions which might be seen as revealing ignorance.

So in my research I distributed on-line surveys to people in 22 different workshops, and asked them to assess various aspects of how the workshop had been run and to describe how they had stayed in contact with other participants after the workshop. The results showed that the key factor in making it more likely that people will stay in touch with each other after the workshop is trust: if the workshop is designed so that people get to know each other through discussions and other activities designed to promote social learning, the chances are much greater that they will stay in touch.

Staying in touch means enhancing informal learning, and this can be a powerful tool for enhancing the value of a workshop, but one which we rarely ever measure. Systemic approaches to evaluation is a subject I will return to on another day.

Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
Back to content | Back to main menu