Is there a place for the LMS in a 70:20:10 world?

22nd May 2015

If you work in the field of learning and development it’s likely that you will have heard of 70:20:10. It’s equally likely that you may not be sure what it actually is, so let’s step back for a moment and consider that.

The origins of the 70:20:10 concept are usually credited to Morgan McCall and colleagues at the Center for Creative Leadership but more recently it has been championed by Charles Jennings.

At its simplest, the 70:20:10 model tell us that:

 -           70% of learning happens on the job. It comes from the experiences, tasks and problem solving that can only happen in the flow of work.

 -           20% of learning comes from working with others, usually peers and managers.

 -           10% of learning comes from formal training interventions - workshop, elearning, reading and so on.

I think most of us would recognise this to be true from our own experience as learners.

Unfortunately, when people see nice neat lists with numbers attached, they often get fixated on the numbers themselves instead of the message they are intended to convey. It’s critical to keep in mind that 70:20:10 is a reference model not a fixed formula. The actual ratio could be 50:30:20 or 90:7:3 or 73:18:9 or whatever. It will vary from organisation to organisation, from location to location and indeed from role to role.

The model’s importance is in showing that only a very small part of the learning someone needs in order to do their job comes from formal training. The rest comes from interaction with others (social learning) and actually doing the job (workplace learning).

If you are used to working in an environment where you manage a catalogue of content and where only formal training activity is recognised as learning, this may sound like a completely alien concept. 

However, you may not be as far away from it as you think.

The early research into this didn’t say “we’ve given this some thought and we believe that learning should be split into 10% formal, 20% social and 70% work based”. They studied how learning in the workplace was already happening and found that this 70:20:10 split existed. If you consider your own organisation, you will find that the workplace/social/formal learning split already exists, even if you haven’t previously recognised it.

The LMS and 70:20:10

So, keeping in mind that the percentages are just a guide, let’s consider the role an LMS could have in a 70:20:10 world.

Work based learning (70%) - Some people (LMS vendors usually) will say that the LMS can be used to deliver support materials that staff access in order to solve problems while they are working. The only place that happens is in the imagination of marketing people. There is no role for the LMS here (unless using the LMS is part of the learner’s job). The learning comes from doing the job - gaining experience by solving problems and completing the tasks necessary to deliver results.

Learning from others (20%) - Tricky. This part of the model tends to get stretched in all directions - some people will say only social, informal day to day interactions should be considered here, whereas others will include more formal activities such as coaching, mentoring and performance feedback. I’m going to include all of them, so whether there is a role for the LMS here will depend on how it is used in your organisation. If you use it to support coaching and mentoring, or for delivering or recording feedback on performance, then it may have a role.

Formal learning/training (10%) - This is where the LMS shines. It could be used to manage a catalogue of formal content - elearning, workshops, documents and other reference works - for induction, compliance, company standards etc. It could also be used for much bigger activities - such as the learning pathways typically found in leadership and management development programmes.

70:20:10 isn’t anti-elearning, anti-training or anti-LMS. It recognises the importance of formal, managed learning activities - but it also shows us very clearly that most of the actual learning in our organisations is going on outside of that formal arena. As L&D professionals we must recognise that we cannot (and should not) attempt to manage all of the learning in our organisations.