Are You Just Paying Lip Service to 70:20:10?

<Rant  Alert> yeah…another one…

Now why would anyone ask an accusatory question like that? Likely, no one would, but hey…check out this point of view. It might be a worthy question to ask given the failures of our current Training Paradigm to actually sustain workforce performance.  I mean seriously; based upon how we clutch our current Training Paradigm to our chests like a flotation device in a water landing you’d think workforce performance depends entirely upon our ability to capability. Sorry guys…the only thing we “train-in” is potential. Performance only happens at the Point-of-Work.

By now, most of us have heard of 70:20:10 where the numbers represent “how we learn”  using the following distribution guidelines:

  • 70% of learning is experiential…a.k.a. learn by doing
  • 20% of learning is social/collaborative…a.k.a. interacting with other humanoids
  • 10% of learning is formal…a.k.a. through training classes/courses/workshops/etc.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m seeing the use of 70:20:10 being used as a design framework that promotes that we pack the “70” and the “20” into the “10”. Now before anyone blows a gasket, I will admit that this practice greatly enhances the “10”, no question about it. But here’s the thing…it’s still freaking Training.

Here’s where I think we fall short using 70:20:10. I firmly believe it should also set up “where we learn”. We have an entire learning and performance ecosystem we are trying to sustain, and we cannot do that effectively by only focusing on learning in the context of the “10”. If 70% of learning happens in a hands-on environment, why not truly go to the hands-on environment where it matters most – the Point-of-Work?

Right, he is crazy. Let’s take newbies and throw them into the deep end and put business performance at risk straight-away.

Not even close. What I’m suggesting might sound crazy, but then a Performance Paradigm will do things like that with your head. That’s why they call it a paradigm shift.

We cannot limit the power of 70:20:10 to an outdated Training Paradigm. Adopt a Performance Paradigm and bring the Point-of-Work into the entire 70:20:10 framework.

Here’s what that means. To sustain performance at the Point-of-Work…and that truly is the brass ring we’re after…we need resources intentionally designed to enable workforce capability…AND… those assets should be accessible not only at the Point-of-Work, but at the moment of need as well. That would include formal Training. If you consider Gottfredson’s Five Moments of Need – the first two moments of need are related to Training (New & More)… and that aligns with the “10” and I call that Point-of-Entry.

The 3rd, 4th & 5th moments of need (Apply, Change & Solve) manifest downstream in the post-training environment I identify as the Point-of-Work. This is a holistic continuum of learning AND performance. They should NEVER be separated Why wait for graduation from Training to expose learners to “performer” expectations and technology used at the Point-of-Work?

That premise is at the guts of Intentional Design. Bring Point-of-Work into the classroom via task-centric, role-specific, experiential, scenario-based exercises. In other words, bring the “70” into the “10”. Not only expose the learner to Point-of-Work content, but integrate into the exercises actual use of the same technology that will be used on the job.

I’ve worked a lot with call centers in the last couple of years where this model has been adopted successfully. We used Performance Support Technology as the primary training engine. New agents go through New Hire Orientation (the “10”) and their hands are touching the EPS technology in the context that exactly emulates the post-training world. We teach them to fish by using the “70” during the “10”.

Seem radical? It’s not really, and when the results show the amount of time required for training cut in half, it looks even better…not to mention reducing documentation/development time by 70%+. Oh…and single-source authoring for updates benefiting from a single source of truth is pretty sweet too.

The key is found in evolving the design, development and delivery approach. People learn in a path that aligns with a sequence of 10:20:70, where a majority of the “70” is learned while on the job. That’s kind of risky considering the cost of mistakes, errors, delays, redundant work, material waste, business liability, and loss, etc. That’s the key driver of my suggestion to bring the “70” into the learning game on the front end.

The 70:20:10 framework sequence itself is more aligned with an intentional design flow than a linear learning flow. I’m convinced the intentionality of design…then a multi-use  development effort…and ultimately evolved delivery methods should sound, feel and taste like the Point-of-Work.

To be more specific, there are eight right things that serve as drivers to ensure the convergence of learning and performance resources emulating the Point-of-Work. To accomplish these right things, the workforce, whether learning or performing, should have Point-of-Work resources and technology that will “look like” the Point-of-Work and include the following:

  1. The right continuous, seamless, frictionless, ubiquitous Access
  2. To the right Learning and Performance Assets
  3. For the right Learning, Performer, & Support Roles
  4. At the right Moment(s) of Need
  5. In the right Amount
  6. In the right Format
  7. To/from the right Devices
  8. To produce the right Evidence of Measurable Business Impact

How do you identify what are the “right things” listed above? You do a performance assessment that keys on the “70”…at the Point-of-Work focused on:

  • People Role-specific related to work, support, and other roles that could benefit from the assets developed – Who does the work – Who needs to be trained
  • ProcessesTask-centric details around workflows and work processes – What are the workflows involved? – Where do they break down? – What is/are the root cause(s)?
  • Content Content resources used to do the job as well as content used to teach the job
  • Technology An inventory of enterprise application systems are accessed to complete the work – Learning & Content systems – Business resource systems/databases
  • Measures KPIs that serve as evidence of business impact and sustainability – KPIs acquired from the Process discovery effort

The objective is to create a holistic profile of the environment [the ECOSYSTEM] where the workforce will transit a continuum of learning and performance from Point-of-Entry to the eventual Point-of-Work while reducing the time and expense for them to achieve competency… make that sustained competency…or in operational speak “sustained workforce capability”.

Closing Thoughts

So…what happens if 70:20:10 is not the right percentage blend and it turns out to be 85:12:3? Who cares? Why even measure it? Truly, 70:20:10 was only ever intended to be a guideline, not a hard target. The emphasis and the spirit behind the model are on the experiential, social and formal aspects of learning. But don’t stop at learning. Intentionally design Point-of-Work into the “70”…and the “20”…and the “10” because that is how it should be baked into the Performance Paradigm.

I guess the bottom-line is this: Leverage the 70:20:10 framework across the entire ecosystem using a learning and performance continuum versus just paying lip service by limiting the application to putting lipstick on the training pig.

Get to the Point-of-Work like the organization’s sustained workforce capability depends upon it…because at the end of the day…it does.

</Rant Alert>

Gary G. Wise
Workforce Performance Strategist & Change Agent
(317) 437-2555
Website: Workforce Capability Solutions
LinkedIn Profile


  1. Dré van Melis
    November 2, 2016 at 4:09 pm

    Hello Gary. Very nice blog! Combining these insights with something like Merriënboer’s 4CID-model would be very interesting.

    • November 2, 2016 at 4:12 pm

      Thanks! Will have to check out the 4CID Model.

      • Dré van Melis
        November 2, 2016 at 4:48 pm

        There’s a lot of it on the web. It might be a good way to get the 70-20 into the 10…

      • November 2, 2016 at 4:49 pm

        Just did a quick scan and like the inclusion of task-centricity.

  2. Milton Harvey
    November 2, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    For what it’s worth, 70-20-10 came out of a series of studies involving software programmers. The numbers are much more evenly distributed when it comes to manufacturing or leadership development.

  3. November 2, 2016 at 10:57 pm

    Good one Gary. Do you think the lip service may be that there is a disconnect between how Learning and Development are reviewed and measured upon their performance (bonuses, incentives etc). Reason I say that is that their job description and KPIs are all aligned to delivery of training solutions as opposed to say, achieving results and outcomes related to improving business performance. I’m of the mindset that if we don’t address this aspect that it’s no wonder that many are packing the 70-20 into the 10 – after all, they are being incentivised to do so. Others don’t know the difference nor dare I say it, actually care. The question is, how can we change our performance measures that show how much we have enabled competency in our workers?

    • November 3, 2016 at 9:22 am

      You’ve nail a big part of the problem. When I speak at conferences, I often introduce myself as one who has amassed an impressive string of failures in my L&D career…not failure in meeting objective or leading successful teams meeting their objectives…but for failing to sustain workforce performance. What a Performance Paradigm is intended to do is outside of the scope and charter of most typical L&D teams. It is a leadership blinded by the myth that training drive performance. I’ve sold that line of thinking for years…and then drank the Performance Paradigm Kool-Aid…and became a performance consultant in self-defense…because I was getting tired of my stakeholders telling me the training was not effective. It was good stuff…but it did not address the post-training moments of need where real value was generated…or lost. I use that example to illustrate that L&D is not an cluster of incompetents, hardly the case. If the rules of engagement [performance paradigm] are adopted, then rules of play…and of measurement should match the new game. The measurements we should be seeking are KPI-based on the performance metrics common to the operational arm of the business with whom we work. That means Levels 3 and above. That would mean living in the Point-of-Work…which for most, implies an expanded role and skill set. If I were ever to become a CLO, one of the first things I’d do is “plant” consultants into the operational side of the business. If Point-of-Work is really ground zero, we need to be there. The metrics for success are actually low hanging fruit, but you have to be in the grove to pick them. I appreciate you reading and asking an awesome question.

    • December 5, 2016 at 7:41 pm

      Totally agree that we incentivize based on an out-dated paradigm. This is why I emphasize the cultural aspects of Change. If the wrong KPIs remain in place any sustainable change is going to be a struggle. It needs to change at the top and the emphasis moved to tangible evidence of business impact. Your comment is spot on!

  1. November 2, 2016 at 3:41 pm

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