Traditional training vs 70:20:10 in the digital age


Traditional training vs 70:20:10 in the digital age

Use the 70:20:10 method to develop your managers for best success.


Human beings have always cooperated – it is one of the things that sets us apart from a great many other species on the planet. However, what gives us the edge over other high order primates is our ability to share our learning with those around us. Whilst chimpanzees and gorillas display some of these traits, it is our ability to socially learn that has set homo sapiens on the course to planetary domination.

Traditional training methods often rely heavily on a single ‘expert’ disseminating information. This can be problematic as many training courses are heavily didactic – the information contained in an ‘off the shelf’ adult learning package might not be applicable to everyone in their real-world employment. Once the session is over and the expert has gone, there is nobody to whom questions can be directed and the learning exists entirely in a temporary bubble.

Those being trained take their newly acquired information out into their work environment where colleagues re-instruct them. The phrase ‘yeah…but it doesn’t quite work like that here’ perpetually echoes around the work environment. It is an incredibly frustrating experience for many employees to realise that much of their formal training bears little relevance to their job.

Researchers looking at productivity, leadership and development have made an interesting discovery which supports social learning theory and brings into question previous training methodologies. Anyone who has begun working for a new company will know that after the initial induction period, most ‘on the job’ knowledge is gained from asking colleagues and those around you.

Research has shown that regardless of what position you’re taking in a company, you will learn around 10% from formal training in your induction and the remaining 90% via your direct experience and expertise shared by colleagues. The 70:20:10 model was developed across the 1980s and 1990s by Morgan McCall.

The model splits our understanding of the learning process into three separate sections, noting that 70% of our learning comes from our direct experiences, 20% comes from our social interactions with others and the remaining 10% comes from formal training.

70% of our learning is through real world experience

There is no better way to learn something than to actually do it. Human beings are naturally inclined to problem solve and when given the chance will often innovate and create their own solutions. Sometimes the newest member of a team will shift the paradigm on how a problem in the work environment is solved. Harnessing the creativity of new staff rather than simply indoctrinating them into a ‘this is the way we do things’ process can yield surprising and effective results.

As technology moves us further into the digital age, there are huge changes to the way we learn looming on the horizon. Augmented and virtual reality simulators may give workers a full experiential training package from which data on their performance can be extracted. Conventional powerpoint presentations might give way very quickly to VR headsets whilst questionnaires and checklists will almost certainly be replaced by personalised apps sent directly to employees’ computers and mobile phones.

20% learning through social interaction

McCall’s research showed that mentorship and social interaction have a key part to play in work-based learning. Human beings share knowledge and this is vital for the smooth operation of a workplace. A good mentorship scheme supported by unstructured, on-the-spot learning allows workers to facilitate their own development. This is hugely advantageous in many ways, but management should ensure that bad habits aren’t being passed around.

The role of the ‘visiting expert’ is being rapidly subverted by the expansion of digital technology. Wherever they happen to be in a company, the ‘experts’ can record instructional videos for their colleagues, and distribution of their knowledge is infinitely easier than it has ever been. Social learning apps can link learners and mentors together and even encourage workplace-wide celebrations when levels of mastery are reached. The digital age has ensured greater connectivity between people across companies and this can only be good for the 20% of our learning that relies heavily on those around us.

10% formal training

There are some things that cannot be learned through either experience or social interaction and this is where formal training becomes important. Driving a car, for example, is best learned through direct road experience and being mentored by an instructor. These two things make up 90% of what you need to know, but in order to be a competent driver, you must still understand the rules of the road. This includes being able to recognise and read road signs in advance of taking to the road. This is where formal training is vital, as a framework for the other forms of learning or as a way of ensuring employees attain peculiarly esoteric knowledge pertinent to their role.

Good formal training doesn’t necessarily have to be a boring and predictable slideshow session. It can help secure the other types of learning, and adult learning can be supplemented with online training or the use of mobile phone technology. In the past, it may have been easier to bring employees together for a day-long training session on health and safety, but this can now be presented in ‘bite-sized’ chunks over a number of weeks. This ensures employee engagement remains very high. The nature of this bite-sized learning means that materials can be drip fed over a longer period of time, keeping the important information at the forefront of the mind and tackling the dreaded ‘forgetting curve’.

Management development teams are beginning to understand the powerful combination of the 70:20:10 model and digital technology. Traditional training methods may have had their day. Our brains have been bolstered by ever more sophisticated technology, and this combination is creating a new, innovative and exciting world for adult learning across the globe.

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About Tim Anderson
Tim has over thirty years’ experience within the sales environment as a sales person, a sales manager, a sales director and as a mentor and coach. He has run sales teams as a sales director within the IT sector as a direct re seller, a VAR and as an MSP. He has developed and exited from two IT businesses and supported three training and development organisations to grow their businesses by supporting their commercial offering. He has taken these teams through change initiatives . Tim continues to develop himself as a coach and has successfully taken his coaching into executive and leadership coaching. He has combined coaching with management and leadership development and regularly supports senior managers to take their next step upward in their careers. He is a qualified coach and a Chartered Manager and also holds a degree in professional consulting.

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