Driving learning back into the business: the 70/20/10 concept


Driving learning back into the business: the 70/20/10 concept

by Stewart Beamont January 2011


“The real finish line for learning is the delivery of business results”

“The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning”:  Wick, Pollock, Jefferson (2010) p.7



As a learning professional, who is your customer?

Clearly, on one level, your participants are your customers: they rely on you to design learning programmes and facilitate in a way which provides a high quality professional and personal learning experience for them.

But your ultimate customer is the business. Any firm’s investment in learning for its professionals is intended to drive its business strategy. The real measure of our success as learning professionals is the impact that our participants will have on the bottom line as a result of the skills, knowledge and commitment that we have helped them to develop

This clearly has implications for what happens to our participants when they shake hands with us at the end of their group or classroom experience. What happens to them next? Do they get the support and the stretching opportunities they may need to continue their learning?

We see increasing use of the metaphor of “Journey” to describe the development of professional people. This simple idea is strongly influenced by the 70/20/10 model of learning, which describes the relative impact of three different kinds of learning on the development of professionals, and in particular the development of managers and future leaders.

The model suggests that for most professionals

– 10% of their learning is formal, and comes from organised learning programmes

– 70% is on the job, representing the work challenges, opportunities, successes and failures that individuals experience and think about

– the other 20% represents all the linking activities that join the 10% and 70% and make them coherent. For example, performance review, work scheduling, coaching, mentoring, action learning, promotion decisions, the opportunity to take part in new projects, and so on

It’s our belief that outstanding businesses make sure that the 20% is in place for their people. Without it, the 10% will be wasted and the 70% will be poorly planned and ineffective.

How valid is the 70/20/10 concept?

“About 70 per cent of organisational  learning takes place on the job, through solving problems and through special assignments and other day-to-day activities. Another 20 per cent occurs through drawing on the knowledge of others in the workplace, from informal learning, from coaching and mentoring, and from support and direction from managers and colleagues. Only 10 per cent occurs through formal learning, whether classroom, workshop or, more recently, e-learning.”

Charles Jennings, Head of Global Learning, Reuters

Whatever its academic pedigree, the 70/20/10 concept of development has achieved credibility in a range of organizations worldwide. It has become part of the vocabulary of Microsoft, Deloitte and Nokia. It is promoted by the Centre for Creative Leadership. It has been badged as a consulting tool by Slade Consulting. It is, interestingly, also promoted in a slightly different guise by Google as a model for creating innovation, and is described by Gary Hamel in his book “The Future of Management” (2007)

Conceptually, the 70/20/10 model can clearly be linked to David Kolb’s fundamental work on experiential learning, and the Learning Cycle that he describes through which adults convert their day-to-day experience into skills and knowledge.

In effect, 70/20/10 is the organizational version of Kolb’s model. The cycle below describes how this works in practice

The clear emphasis of the model is that formal learning programmes are important: within each learning programme, learners will be challenged and stretched, and during the programme they will travel through a continual learning cycle of input, activity and review.

However, the real Learning Cycle takes place AFTER they leave the formal learning programme and enter (hopefully) a working world in which they are given intelligent opportunities, challenged, stretched, coached, given feedback, and encouraged to move to the next level of their development.

We have known for a long time that formal, off-site learning provides a relatively small component of our professional development. Morgan W. McCall’s research (1) shows that successful people regard the following “career events” as crucial to their development. His findings can be mapped directly onto the 70/20/10 model

Assignments Work challenges, first time managing people, starting a new project, new responsibilities

Other people Role models, coaches, people giving feedback (sometimes just a key sentence or two…)

Learning events Formal courses, solo study, conferences, academic input

Hardships Failures, difficult colleagues, disappointment, personal trauma, frustration, the opportunity to work through difficulties.

The 70/20/10 model effectively responds to this research by placing McCall’s “career events” in a planned, supported context. It poses a number of challenges to any organization

How far is work allocated to individuals in a way which motivates and stretches them?

What is the quality and consistency of coaching support?

How effective are we at helping individuals to learn from feedback?

Can we construct our 10% Formal Learning programmes so that the 70%/20% are “designed in”? In practice, this will mean using action learning and sponsored projects to drive real development

It is clear that the processes and attitudes and commitment that are required to deliver 70/20/10 are the responsibility of every business leader and every business professional. However, the rewards are huge in terms of optimizing potential and business focus, and in this way it is an effective template for a successful organization. As guidance about the relative value of different activities, it’s a simple model with profound implications.

As a learning professional, it’s important to have an understanding of the journey that your participants will go on as part of your programme. You may have a crucial personal role to play in the final “action planning” part of your classroom programme, to ensure that your participants go away with clear goals, and a clear plan to achieve them.


1.       Described in “High Flyers: Developing the Next Generation of Leaders”(1998): Morgan W. McCall


To learn more about how you can develop a learning culture in your oganisation, please contact the office: +353-1-6688891 or info@davittcorporatepartners.com

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Stewart Beamont is a Senior Associate with DavittCorporatePartners – Corporate Psychologists