What’s wrong with 70-20-10 in learning and development?

In my view the whole concept of 70-20-10 for learning and development is fundamentally flawed. What this says about anyone in the development field is that they are in the 10% team and if you are lucky enough to be able to stretch into coaching on the job, you may even make it to a 20 or 30% team, but the mother load of all learning in this set-up falls on supervisors, team leaders and manager for the on the job bit. Now I don’t know where the inventors of this idea have been hiding, but in most organisations doing more with less is the order to the day thanks to the economic conditions, heavy restructuring etc.; which effectively translates as follows managers don’t have time to look up from their day duties for long enough to go and explore and engage in meaningful learning activities for their team, the bottom-line is more important.

Jut in case you haven’t heard of this concept before this model suggest that 70% of our learning is on the job through experience, 20% of our learning is informal and 10% of our learning is formally done either in classroom or on courses. I am not sure where this concept was floated first, but I guess in the need to portray a soft industry into hard figures, someone must have thought this was a brilliant idea and a multitude of providers have jumped on the bandwagon to be your 10% provider of learning services. I agree with the base idea that most of us learn to do our job best by doing it, the whole 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration works for me.

Where this model starts to be a misfit, is when you look at the profiles of leaders. Every single leader I have worked with as a coach or trainer, has been an avid reader, course and learning seeker. Every biography of world and business leaders I have ever read always mentioned who their mentors were, the fact that they had great teachers or were once again readers or experimenters, who learn from their projects. The one thing leaders have in common is their hunger for learning and they actively seek these opportunities.

I don’t believe many days go buy without some form of informal learning for me personally and I would class myself in the learning geek category of exploring new courses all of the time in order to share more knowledge and gain more skills to serve my client base better. So my % of informal learning is probably a lot higher than a mere 20%, my levels of formal learning are also way above 10% at any given time. When I look at my coaching client base, they would be the same and granted maybe like attracts like, I haven’t met many high achievers who don’t beat these odds pretty much all of the time.

When it comes to the 70% of on the job learning, I would agree in the early days of a new job this figure may well be accurate, but if this ratio stays over a longer tenure, then I would start wondering about the ability of the individual. In my working life there isn’t a day that goes by where I haven’t picked up a nugget from a colleague or tested out a new way of working for myself, but most of the time my habits tend to be quite solid and the same. It is through actively seeking new information and skills that I learn best, so for me the model is probably upside down and I would even say 60/40 with 60% actively seeking new knowledge and 40% on the job implementing.

Maybe I work in a learning bubble and have surrounded myself with like minded individuals, but most people I know of my own generation and younger tend to be life long learners of some kind. The way in which we learn has changed and is definitely edging towards fun and experiential sessions but the balance in the 70-20-10 model is definitely questionable and in my view outright unfeasible.