Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The #Blimage Challenge

For a bit of fun this afternoon my colleague Jane Hart set a few of us a #Blimage challenge.

I hadn’t come across this particular game before but having subjected myself to an iced water dunking along with millions of others last year I was reasonably pleased to see that this one only requires a stream of consciousness and a blog post rather than a stream of cold water.

Steve Wheeler (@timbuckteeth) explained the #Blimage Challenge this way:

“You send an image or photograph to a colleague with the challenge that they have to write a learning related blog post based on it. Just make sure the images aren’t too rude. The permutations are blimmin’ endless.”

This is the image Jane sent.


My first thoughts were ‘am I looking at a tunnel or the sun?  Is the tree heading down a rabbit-hole with its branches reaching into the long bright tunnel (or even along a yellow brick road) or are its branches holding the sun in its yellow sky?

So what sense and inspiration could I possibly draw from this psychedelic image and make meaningful on a learning blog post?

The three key messages that this little reflective exercise produced for me were:

  1. Context is king in life. When we look at a 2D rendering of our 3D world we often need additional information to make sense of it. Even when we see a ‘real’ 3D rendering we can be tricked. The street artist Slinkachu demonstrates the essential part context plays perfectly.
  2. Context is also king for learning. We learn best within the context where we are going to use that learning. Workplace learning is generally more effective than simulations which, in turn, are generally more effective than being provided with information using a traditional ‘knowledge transfer’ learning approach.
  3. If we don’t have all the information we can easily draw false conclusions. The great Peter Drucker once said ‘the most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said’. If we don’t understand the unsaid, then we’re operating in a half-known world. If we are not inquisitive and explore the (half) learning from our classrooms or workshops in the 3D world of our workplace(s) we are likely to be only half-equipped to use that learning.

So if we don’t have a 3D view of the world (the full context) – and, correspondingly, if we try to learn without knowing the full context where our learning is to be used – then the learning will be providing the equivalent of a 2D picture for us.

Having the full, unambiguous, context-critical picture is essential for effective the learning which will lead to high performance.  That’s what learning is all about. It’s only really useful when it can be put into action in the 3D world. Passing a written exam doesn’t necessarily mean that learning has taken place. It’s only when the learning can be applied do we know if that has happened. Roger Schank explains that brilliantly in a recent blog post titled ‘reading is no way to learn’.

Not having all the information can, and will, lead to critical mistakes. A 2D rendering, or learning without context, can easily lead down the rabbit hole. Watch out. Many people have fallen into that trap.

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Wednesday, 6 May 2015

70:20:10 - Beyond the Blend


The term ‘blended learning’ first appeared in the late-1990s when web-based learning solutions started to become more widely used and were integrated on one way or another with face-to-face methods.

Of course the ‘blending’ concept has been around for much longer than the past few years. Apprenticeship training has ‘blended’ for centuries and the correspondence schools in Europe in the 1840s used blending. There are many other examples of ‘blending’ learning stretching back into the past, too.

However, the incorporation of technology into learning or training delivery has given blended learning a boost.

Speed reading machines in the late 1950s and 1960s (I remember my own speed reading courses – sitting in front of a large scrolling text machine in the early-1960s), interactive video (where some of the best eLearning programmes were developed in the 1980s), CD-based support and, of course, the Web have all contributed to our relative comfort in accepting blended learning as the norm. Each of these, though, were used to design and deliver structured and directed learning based on some form of instructional design and, often, as part of a curriculum.

In terms of new delivery approaches, blending offers up new horizons. However, in terms of breaking the traditional ‘push’ learning model it offers up little.

Blended is invariably ‘Push’ Learning

There are many definitions of blended learning. In 2003 the UK Department of Education and Training defined it as “learning which combines online and face-to-face approaches”. Most people would recognise that definition in what we see as blended programmes today - the use of two or more channels to make learning more easily or widely available.

The diagram below also represents a common view of blended learning. It focuses on the ‘delivery channel’ - integrating technology with traditional face-to-face approaches and stretching the time available to spend learning.

Blended Learning Heinze & Proctor
Diagram from Heinze & Proctor ‘Reflections on the Use of Blended Learning’(2004).
University of Salford, UK.

The current Wikipedia definition of blended learning reflects its structured nature:

Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through delivery of content and instruction via digital and online media with some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace.

The key point about blended learning as is generally understood is that it remains firmly based on a push model. The learning experience is designed by others and usually packaged into a coherent event or set of events by instructional experts and ‘delivered’.

Of course within the ‘push capsule’ of blended learning there may be increased flexibility for individual learning preferences and increased flexibility of access. Participants are not constrained in the same way that they might be if they need to show up to a class at a set time and location to complete their learning process.

Traditional ‘Blending’ is based on Dependent Learning Models 

More recently blended learning solutions have been expanded to include combining simulations with structured curses, using instructional technology to link courses with on-the-job tasks, and integrating workplace coaching with formal programmes amongst other approaches.

In other words, ‘blending’ is starting to mean more than simply mixing delivery channels.

It is still, however, focused on learning outcomes (rather than performance outcomes) and is still firmly based around the concepts of structured learning processes to achieve its objectives. This is what my colleague Jane Hart calls dependent learning (see diagram below).

Blending is about increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of dependent learning.

Although it may sometimes focus on extending learning into the ‘informal’ part of this diagram (and thus making it somewhat formal) the fact that the ‘blend’ is part of an overall designed programme, course or initiative makes ‘blended’ primarily fall into the formal/dependent category.

learning categories

As such, blended learning still essentially sits in the push paradigm. It consists of learning content (mainly) and possibly some learning experiences that are designed by L&D professionals for the use of others.

Adding Learning to Work by Blending

This expansion of blended learning into the workplace can be termed ‘adding learning to work’. We intentionally add learning-focused activities into the workflow.

A number of researchers and practitioners have categorised the process of extending learning into the workflow as ‘adding and embedding’ or ‘embedding and extracting’. The categorisation below brings together some of the ways in which this happens.

Adding learning to work occurs where intentional learning-focused actions are taken to extend formal away-from-work courses and programmes back into the workplace. Most leadership and management programmes use this with work-based assignments, linked action learning, and other techniques.

The key point is that ‘adding learning to work’ is achieved through intentionally designed activities that are linked with a formal learning intervention.

Blended learning almost always falls into the ‘adding’ category. It is learning-focused and based around dependent learning models.

extending learning

70:20:10 - Beyond the Blend

By contrast, the 70:20:10 model is based on the concept of utilising both push and pull learning to achieve greater impact, shorter time to performance, sustainability, increased innovation and cost constraint.

A 70:20:10 approach spans all four of the categories above – adding, embedding, extracting and sharing.

A 70:20:10 approach also encompasses Jane Hart’s interdependent and independent categories (above).

It is important to realise the 70:20:10 strategic model emerged from a view of modern adult learning that is wider than ‘blending’. 70:20:10 draws on the fundamental changes that have occurred, and are continuing to occur, in the workplace. Work is becoming more complex. We work more in teams and rely on others to get our work done more than ever before. Experiential and social learning are becoming more critical day-by-day as agents of development.

In response to this wider view of adult workplace learning, and to these changes, learning and work must, by necessity, merge.

Changing work

This evolving view of modern workplace learning includes:

  • A re-focusing away from Taylorist views of management as a scientific discipline and the need to standardise for efficiency towards approaches to support the need for agility, innovation and speed.
  • An acceptance that ‘best practice’ (i.e. one single best way to achieve optimum outcomes) is increasingly irrelevant in our complicated and complex working world. The focus is moving towards ‘good practice’ (i.e. practices that work well for our context but may not be appropriate in other contexts) and ‘emerging practices’ (i.e. practices that we develop retrospectively as we seek to improve).
  • An understanding that a ‘curriculum’ mindset – where plans for standardised learning pathways are defined for standardised job roles and standardised career progression – is increasingly irrelevant in a world where a culture of continuous and flexible development is required to keep ahead.
  • The knowledge that competencies (i.e. ‘satisfactory’) is what people should enter our organisations with, but that capabilities (i.e. ‘potential’) are what we need to help develop.
  • The realisation that with the intangible value of organisations out-stripping the tangible value, people (the largest intangible element) need to be seen and treated as co-creators of value. What is in the heads of workers has never before been more important for organisations to survive and thrive.

We still have a long way to go to break the learning=schooling mindset, to increase the impact and efficiency of learning, and to build cultures of continuous development embedded in work. But we’ve made some good starting steps.

The 70:20:10 reference model can certainly help us expand our concepts and practices to support a better workforce development approach when it is used wisely and as an agent of change and not followed slavishly as some ‘rule’.

Blended Learning is Only the Beginning of the Story

Blended learning has been an important first step in this process as it has helped break the shackles of time and location imposed by the dominant face-to-face dependent learning approaches that have been in use for centuries. Technology has enabled that. The ‘richness-reach trade-off’ described by Evans and Wurster in 1999 has truly been broken.

But ‘blending’ is just a baby step.

Blended learning is still on the wrong side of the chasm between learning and the learning/work continuum – and it needs to jump. A lot more work is required beyond ‘blending’ to truly embed learning into work.

It is important to remember that blended learning is a sub-set of 70:20:10, and one way to support a 70:20:10 approach, but it is not a replacement for it. If you’ve implemented blending, you’re on the road but not at the end of the journey yet.


Friday, 23 January 2015

Autonomy and Value in Social and Workplace Learning

My colleague Jane Hart recently shared the diagram below on her blog.

It shows the relationship between relative value and relative autonomy as they relate to different approaches for learning in the modern workplace.

Jane's Model

‘Learning in the Modern Workplace’ Model

Jane’s diagram shows the increasing value that can be released through exploiting learning opportunities beyond ‘the course’ and the curriculum. Initially expanding from courses to resources and then further out to the exploitation of social collaboration and personal learning (and personal knowledge mastery).

It struck me that Jane’s model closely aligned with others I’ve used to help explain the increase in realised value brought about by the use of experiential, social and workplace learning.

IBM Core Model

IBM Core Model

This model, produced by IBM Consulting services in 2005, separates learning solutions into three phases:

  1. Access Phase: where learning is separate from work
  2. Integration Phase: where learning is ‘enabling’ work
  3. On Demand Phase: where learning is ‘embedded’ in work/tasks

This model shows the maximum potential value that can be realised increases as learning becomes closer to, and more integrated with, work.

I have mapped the elements of the 70:20:10 model at the bottom to show the link with the next model.

70:20:10 Model

jennings 702010

The 70:20:10 model is a strategy and set of practices to extend learning into the workflow. The principle is that in the new working environment learning is the work. Harold Jarche has written extensively about the merging of work and learning.

I see the 70:20:10 model as reflecting, to some extent, IBM’s model. Exploiting and extending learning opportunities from point solutions (learning events) to continuous development (learning as a process and part of the daily workflow) to increase value.

Organisations that are able to move in this direction, and have the HR and L&D teams to facilitate and support the move, will extract far greater value from workforce development than those that can’t.

The Autonomy-Strategic Alignment C-Curve’

C-curve- original

This model, the ‘Jennings & Reid-Dodick C-Curve’, was developed in the early stages of an L&D transformation for a Global FTSE100 company more than a decade ago.

It links to Jane’s diagram at the top of this post and maps autonomy against strategic alignment.

this model was developed to define the journey for the L&D transformation – firstly centralising standards and processes, and building a consistent performance consulting approach, then strengthening governance, and finally ‘federalising’ to provide the autonomy needed for agility, responsiveness and sustainability.

The C-Curve is based on the principle that the end-point for an effective L&D department is where the various units (which may be regional or functional) are tightly strategically organisationally aligned, but also have the level of autonomy that encourages them to be agile and pro-active.

Many organisations flip-flop between centralised L&D and distributed L&D. The cycle tends to have a frequency of about 5-8 years. Every 5-8 years an HRD or CEO decides to centralise, or to push L&D back into ‘the business’ – depending on the current operating model.  Then, 5-8 years after that change, L&D is de-centralised/centralised once again.

The C-Curve model addresses this ‘flipping’ problem.

The fundamental issue isn’t where the various L&D resources are sitting, but how they are aligned strategically and how responsive they are able to be. Simply flipping the organisational structure and reporting lines will do nothing to address the fundamental issue.


The ‘C’ Curve applied to Workplace Learning

Some years ago Harold Jarche and I talked about the ‘C’ Curve model. Harold then aligned it with a framework he had developed for supporting effective social learning (in the context of several models – including Snowden’s Cynefin and Ronfeldt’s TIMN).

Harold mapped the autonomy/strategic alignment axes of the C-Curve against knowledge acquisition models.

As John Reid-Dodick and I concluded back in 2004, Harold came to the conclusion that a jump straight from Stage 1 to Stage 4 is unlikely to succeed and that it requires a journey through at least some other stages to reach the end-point.

Harold reported:

“I’ve combined the C-Curve [X=Autonomy, Y= Strategic Alignment] with the knowledge acquisition models from these three organizational types (simple, Complicated, Complex). The question that I ask here is whether it is necessary to follow the curve or if one can leap from Stage 1 to 4.  If not, that means that organizations need to understand and implement something like a human performance technology model for L&D before they can move on to social learning. Perhaps this is why social learning is being resisted or put into a formal training box in many organizations. They have not made the move to Stage 3 (Performance Support) yet. It’s too much of a leap for organizations in Stage 2. On the other hand, social learning is only a short leap for more tribal start-ups that have not developed any structure at all for L&D as they are quite comfortable with autonomy and messy networks. Stage 2 seems like the worst place to be.”

  1. L&D Autonomous = taking action as a Tribe of its own
  2. L&D Aligned with organization = coordinated with the Institution
  3. L&D with governance & guidelines = able to work in a collaborative Market
  4. L&D strategically aligned = a co-operative member of (a) Network(s)


Harold’s full article is well worth studying.


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

70:20:10 – Above All Else It’s a Change Agent

“Progress is impossible without change; and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
George Bernard Shaw

imageTom Spiglanin is a senior engineering specialist at the Aerospace Corporation in California and is a leader in the organisation’s technical training department. The people he works with carry out research for the US space programmes – both for the US Government and for civil agencies like NASA and NOAA. In other words, they’re rocket scientists. Tom is a rocket scientist and helps other helps rocket scientists learn their stuff.

Recently Tom wrote a series of blogs titled ‘Ten Things I Believe About Workplace Learning’. His list included important issues and current areas of focus such as the new and emerging roles for L&D professionals; the value of sharing as a skill for learning and development; the importance of personal learning networks and personal knowledge mastery; and the inverse relationship between experience and the value of formal learning.

The first post on Tom’s list was I Believe in the 70:20:10 framework.

The messages he conveyed in this short post struck me as having been missed by lots of people when they talk about the 70:20:10 model as a framework for learning and development.

Tom wrote:

“The reason this framework works is that it more or less reflects what’s actually true for employees in the typical workplace. Formal education has its place in preparing people for the workplace. Once those people become employees, they have a job to get done. People aren’t hired to learn, they’re hired to increase productivity or capability. There are productivity expectations and organizational needs to be met.”

It’s Not the Numbers

imageIt “more or less reflects what’s actually true for employees in a typical workplace”. That’s the key to the 70:20:10 model, and there’s an increasing body of data in support of this.

We all know instinctively that we learn most of what we need through observing, mimicking, discussing, trying things out, making mistakes, and trying again until we are adept. That’s the nature of human learning. We are learning animals, born to learn.

We learn through watching others who ‘know how to do’ (who of us hasn’t stood and looked over someone’s shoulder recently to see how they were operating a ticket machine or some other piece of technology?) and through conversations. We learn through navigating tough situations, and through practice. And we learn through taking time to reflect on challenges and how we might have handled them differently so we can do better next time (again, who of us hasn’t spent time recently mulling over a difficult work problem whilst lying in bed, showering, or out walking the dog, and then planned ways to address it ?)

Double-Edged Sword

To make it easier to explain the skew favouring informal and workplace learning over formal (in terms of contribution to performance) we put a number on each of the three broad categories in the 70:20:10 model – [the ‘70’] learning through by experience and practice; [the ‘20’] learning through, and with, others; and [the ‘10’] learning through courses, programmes and content structured by others.

However, the way these three broad categories are described in the model can lead to a focus on the ratios rather than the underlying principles and categorisation. As such ‘the numbers’ can serve as a double-edged sword.

It is important to understand that these numbers are simply markers and shouldn’t be taken literally. This is a reference model, not a recipe. Sometimes this presents a challenge for people who want or need clear and simple explanations. Unfortunately, life’s not often clear and simple!

I have written previously about some misguided researchers (possibly out on work experience) declaring that “50:26:24 is the average learning mix in most companies right now” (with the implication that it wasn’t “70:20:10”). The idea that companies could neatly slice the learning patterns of their people into three carefully-defined and carefully analysed buckets like this belies belief. This is where a focus on the numbers masks the general underlying principles of the framework.

The evidence, however, does point to the fact that most learning is experiential and social, and most of that being carried out in a self-directed way. In other words, ‘informally’. It also points to some broad – rather than specific - ratios.

Research over the past 40 years has shown that informal and workplace learning is increasingly pervasive and central to learning in organisations. Of course studies have produced varying figures of the amount learned in these ways[1] (as one would expect). Each organisational culture will display its own profile of workplace, social and structured development opportunities, and each will vary dependent on a number of factors.

[1] 70% (Tough, 1971, 1979); 70% (Bruce, Aring, and Brand, 1998); 62% (Zemke, 1985 and Verespej, 1998); 70% (Vader, 1998); 85-90% (Raybold, 2000); 70% (Dobbs, 2000); 75% (Lloyd, 2000)

Despite all the points made above about avoiding focus on the numbers, there is a general pattern here. As Jay Cross pointed out back in 2003:

“At work we learn more in the break room than in the classroom. We discover how to do our jobs through informal learning -- observing others, asking the person in the next cubicle, calling the help desk, trial-and-error, and simply working with people in the know. Formal learning - classes and workshops and online events - is the source of only 10% to 20% of what we learn at work.”

Jay’s last comment here should be a guide to our thinking – “Formal learning .. is the source of only 10% to 20% of what we learn at work”. That’s a large variance, not an exact number, but it does suggest that we need to look beyond formal learning if we’re to help create a step-change in performance.

We can expect to see more research output and new individual ratios in the next few years. The fact that different studies reveal different numbers doesn’t make them invalid. Every study is contextual. However, the aggregated results and trends do build the evidence behind the principles of workplace and social learning, and behind the 70:20:10 model.

Why Use Numbers, Then?

Although the 70:20:10 model is primarily a change agent, the numbers do serve as a useful reminder that most learning occurs in the workplace rather than in formal learning situations. They also help stress that learning is highly context dependent.

imageSome mistakenly think 70:20:10 is some kind of golden ratio or edict that can be applied as a simple formula no matter what the context or situation.

The idea that we should be trying to align our learning and development efforts with some fixed ratio is mistaking the 70:20:10 model for something that it is not. What we should be doing is putting our effort into supporting and refining learning where it’s already happening, and this is predominantly as part of the daily workflow.

70:20:10 is not the L&D equivalent of the Ten Commandments or the Quran. The model is better likened to the guidance and advice a parent might provide to a child to help them make the most of their life “work hard to get better at everything you do, put most of your effort into being kind to others, learn your lessons, and you’ll go far”.

L&D professionals need to have tattooed onto their brains that “70:20:10 is a reference model and not a 'rule'”.

A Change Agent

image70:20:10 is primarily an agent of change for extending our thinking about learning beyond the classroom and other structured, event-based development activities.

Good use of 70:20:10 results in increased focus on supporting effective learning and development within the daily workflow, naturally and at the speed of business – or preferably faster than the speed of business.

That’s where the model can have its greatest impact.

Along with providing a strategy for supporting effective and efficient learning and releasing high performance, 70:20:10 thinking also helps to change and develop mindsets (and change practices). Of course formal away-from-work learning is still necessary to build capability efficiently and effectively in certain situations – especially when people are new to an role or organisation. However we need to think and act more widely than simply changing the delivery channel.

That’s where a 70:20:10 strategy can help.

Although many L&D departments are reaching out to new media and new approaches to support daily development activities – with incorporating social learning into courses, launching MOOCs, adding gamification, using mobile and other communication and delivery channels in the vanguard - many of these are still being implemented within the traditional L&D structured learning framework. That framework and mindset is essentially about command and control - 'we design and deliver the packages, the 'learners' learn, we metricise and report'.

This traditional approach lacks flexibility and is based on assumptions that may have been valid in 18th century Prussia when the concept of a curriculum arose, but is not fit-for-purpose in our fast-evolving 21st century world. 70:20:10 thinking and action helps overcome this ‘course and curriculum mindset’. A 70:20:10 L&D strategy is a good starting point for this change process.


I view 70:20:10 as an opportunity to re-establish the working relationship of L&D departments with their colleagues and stakeholders and to move from 'control' mindsets to supporting, facilitating, and enabling mindsets and practices with razor-like focus on organisational and stakeholder needs and priorities.

I’ve seen quite a few smart HR and L&D departments move rapidly along this road.

It's up to the wider L&D professional body as to whether it takes that opportunity or not.

At the core of 70:20:10 thinking is the fact that most of the learning that occurs in the workplace simply can't be 'managed' by anyone other than the person who is learning (and, sometimes, by their supervisor) so L&D professionals need to re-think their role if they're to help extend and improve the learning that's already happening outside their world. 70:20:10 helps them do just that.


Apart from Tom Spiglanin’s post, this article arose from various conversations and articles over the past months.  The 70:20:10 model is more a light pointing the way than a rulebook.


Monday, 24 November 2014

The Only Person Who Behaves Sensibly Is My Tailor


“The only person who behaves sensibly is my tailor. He takes new measurements every time he sees me. All the rest go on with their old measurements.”
—George Bernard Shaw

I’ve always enjoyed George Bernard Shaw’s writing. He was a man who made a great deal of sense to me. I started reading his books in my early teenage years and many of the ideas in them have stuck.

Shaw was a true Renaissance man - an Irish playwright and author, a Nobel Prize and Academy Award winner (how many can claim that double?) and a co-founder of the London School of Economics.

Shaw had a particular interest in education; from the way the state educates its children, where he argued that the education of the child must not be in “the child prisons which we call schools, and which William Morris called boy farms”; to the way in which education could move from teachers “preventing pupils from thinking otherwise than as the Government dictates” to a world where teachers should “induce them to think a little for themselves”.

Shaw was also a lifelong learner. Despite, or possibly because of, his own irregular early education he focused on learning as an important activity in life. He developed his thinking and ability through a discipline of reading and reflecting, through debating and exchanging ideas with others, and through lecturing. Apart from leaving a wonderful legacy of plays, political and social treatises, and other commentaries, Shaw also won the 1925 Nobel Prize for literature for “his work which is marked by both idealism and humanity, its stimulating satire often being infused with a singular poetic beauty". And, in 1938, the Academy Award for his screenplay for Pygmalion (later to be turned into the musical and film My Fair Lady after Shaw’s death. He hated musicals – some would say sensibly - and forbade any of his plays becoming musicals in his lifetime)

At 91 Shaw joined the British Interplanetary Society whose chairman at the time was Arthur C Clark (some interesting conversations there, I’m sure).

Shaw summed up his views on lifelong learning thus:

"What we call education and culture is for the most part nothing but the substitution of reading for experience, of literature for life, of the obsolete fictitious for the contemporary real."

Shaw’s Tailor

In the statement about his tailor Shaw was simply making the point that change is a continuous process and part of life, and that we constantly need to recalibrate if we’re to gain an understanding of what’s really happening. If we do this we are more likely to have a better grasp of things and make the adjustments and appropriate responses needed. It’s the sensible approach.

Shaw and Work-Based Learning

I recently came across Shaw’s quote about sensibility and his tailor again in Joseph Raelin’s book ‘Work-Based Learning: Bridging Knowledge and Action in the Workplace’. Raelin’s work is something every L&D professional should read.

The quote started me thinking about the ways we measure learning and development in our organisations.

Effective Metrics for Learning and Development

I wonder what Shaw would think if he saw the way learning and development is predominantly measured in organisations today.

The most widely used measures for ‘learning’ are based on activity, not on outcomes. We measure how many people have attended a class or completed an eLearning module, or read a document or engaged in a job swap or in a coaching relationship.

Sometimes we measure achievement rates in completing a test or certification examination and call these ‘learning measures’.

The activity measures determine input, not output. The ‘learning’ measures usually determine short-term memory retention, not learning.

I am sure that Shaw would have determined we need to do better.

Outcomes not Activity

Even with today’s interest in the xAPI/TinCan protocol the predominant focus is still on measuring activity. It may be helpful to know that (noun, verb, object) ‘Charles did this’ as xAPI specifies. However extrapolating the context and outcomes to make any sense of this type of data requires a series of further steps that are orders of magnitude along the path to providing meaningful insight.

In many cases the activity measures simply serve to muddy the water rather than to reveal insights.

Attending a course or completing an eLearning module tells us little apart from the fact that some activity occurred. The same applies to taking part in a difficult workplace task or participating in a team activity.

Activity measurement does have some limited use. For instance when a regulatory body has defined an activity as a legal or mandatory necessity and requires organisations to report on those activities. these reports may help to keep a CEO out of the courts or jail. But this type of measurement is starting from the ‘wrong end’. A ‘learning activity is not necessarily an indicator of learning’ tag should be attached to every piece of this data.

There’s plenty of evidence beyond the anecdotal to support the fact that formal learning activity is not a good indicator of behaviour change (‘real learning’). For example a  study of 829 companies over 31 years showed diversity training had "no positive effects in the average workplace." The study reported that mandatory training sometimes has a positive effect, but overall has a negative effect.

“There are two caveats about training. First, it does show small positive effects in the largest of workplaces, although diversity councils, diversity managers, and mentoring programs are significantly more effective. Second, optional (not mandatory) training programs and those that focus on cultural awareness (not the threat of the law) can have positive effects. In firms where training is mandatory or emphasizes the threat of lawsuits, training actually has negative effects on management diversity”

Dobbin, Kalev, and Kelly
Diversity Management in Corporate America
2007, Vol. 6, Number 4
American Sociological Association.

For further evidence as to the fact that training activity does not necessarily lead to learning (changed behaviour) we need look no further than the financial services industry. Did global financial services companies carry out regulatory and compliance training prior to 2008?  Of course they did – bucketsful of it. Did this training activity lead to compliant behaviour. Apparently not. It could be argued that without the training things could have been worse. However, there’s no easy way to know that. The results of banking behaviour and lack of compliance were bad enough to suggest the training had little impact. I suppose we could analyse, for example, the amount of time and budget spent per employee on regulatory and compliance training by individual global banks and assess this against the fines levied against them.  I doubt that there would be an inverse correlation.

(What is our response to the global financial crisis and the apparent failure of regulatory and compliance training? More regulatory and compliance training, of course!)

The Activity Measurement ‘Industry’

The ATD’s ‘State of the Industry’ report, which is published around this time of the year on an annual basis, is a case-in-point of the industry that has grown up around measuring ‘learning’ activity.

ATD has been producing this annual report for years (originally as the ASTD). The data presented in the ATD annual ‘State of the Industry’ report is essentially based around activity and input measurement – the annual spend on employee development, learning hours used per employee, expenditure on training as a percentage of payroll or profit or revenue, number of employees per L&D staff member and so on.

Some of these data points may be useful to help improve the efficient running of L&D departments and therefore of value to HR and L&D leaders, but many of the metrics and data are simply ‘noise’. They certainly should not be presented to senior executives as evidence of effectiveness of the L&D function.

To take an example from the ATD data, the annual report itemises ‘hours per year on ‘learning’ (which means ‘hours per year on training). The implicit assumption is that the more that are hours provided, the better and more focused the organisation is on developing its workforce.

But is it better for employees in an organisation be spending 49 hours per year on ‘learning’ than, say, 30 hours per year? These are figures from the 2014 ATD report.

Even if one puts aside the fact that as a species we are learning much of the time as part of our work and not just when we engage in organisationally designed activities that have a specific ‘learning’ tag, this is an important point worth considering.

It could be argued that organisations with the higher figure – 49 hours per year – are more focused on developing their people.  It could equally be argued that these organisations are less efficient at developing their people and simply take longer to achieve the same results. It could be further argued that the organisations spending more time training their people in trackable ‘learning’ events are simply worse at recruitment, hiring people who need more training than the ‘smart’ organisations that hire people with the skills and capabilities needed who don’t need much further training. We could dig further and ask whether spending 49 hours rather than 30 hours is indicative of poor selection of training ‘channel’ – that organisations with the higher number are simply using less efficient channels (classroom, workshop etc.) than others who may have integrated training activities more closely with the workflow (eLearning, ‘brown bag lunches’, on-the-job coaching etc.). Even further, is the organisation with the 49 hours per year simply stuck in the industrial age and using formal training as the only approach to attack the issue of building high performance – when it could (and should) be using an entire kitbag of informal, social, workplace and other approaches as well?

One could go on applying equally valid hypotheses to this data.The point is that activity data provides few if any insights into the effectiveness of learning and provides only limited insight into the efficiency of learning activities.

So why is there an obsession to gather this data?

Maybe we gather it because it is relatively easy to do so.

Maybe we gather it because the ‘traditional’ measurement models – based on time-and-motion efficiency measures – are deeply embedded. These time-honoured metrics developed for an industrial age are not the answer.  We need to use new approaches based on outcomes, not inputs.

Learning is a ‘Messy’ Process

imageThe real challenge for measuring learning and development is that performance improvement often comes about in ‘messy’ ways.

Sometimes we attend a structured course and learn something new and then apply it our jobs. At other times we attend a structured course and meet another attendee who we then add to our LinkedIn connections. At some later point we contact this LinkedIn connection to help solve a problem – because we remember they told an interesting story  about overcoming a similar situation in their organisation or part of our organisation.

This second case falls into the ‘messy’ basket. It is almost impossible to track and ‘formalise’ this type of learning through data models such as xAPI – unless we’re living with the unrealistic expectation that people will document everything they do at every moment in time or that we track every interaction and are able to draw meaningful inferences.  Even national security agencies struggle doing that.

More frequently than learning in structured events we learn through facing challenges as part of our daily workflow, solving the problems in some way, and storing the knowledge about the successful solution for future use.  We also increasingly learn and improve through our interaction with others – our peers, our team, our wider networks or people we may not even know.

So how do we effectively measure this learning and development? Is it even worthwhile measuring?

I believe the answer to the second question is ‘Yes, when we can gain actionable insight’. It is worthwhile measuring individual, team and organisational learning and development to understand how we are adapting to change, innovating, improving our customer service, reducing our errors and so on.

This type of measurement needs to be part of designed performance improvement initiatives.

Furthermore, measuring learning frequently via performance improvement is better than measuring it infrequently.

One of the challenges the annual performance review process has come under recently is that the insights (and data) collected as part of the process is too infrequent. Companies like Adobe have already abolished annual performance reviews and replaced them with regular manager-report informal check-ins to review performance progress and any corrections needed. Fishbowl, a Utah-based technology company, has gone a step further and not only abolished annual performance reviews but also abolished its managers. Companies such as W.L.Gore have been treading this path for some time. It is clear that the annual performance review, a metrics approach based on ling (long) cycle times and relatively stability, will give way new, more nuanced approaches. A parallel path to learning metrics.

Outcome Measurement

One of the challenges for L&D is that the useful outcome metrics are not ‘owned’ by them. These are stakeholder metrics not ‘learning metrics’.

If we want to determine the effectiveness of a leadership development programme the metrics we should be using will be linked to leadership performance – customer satisfaction, employee engagement levels, organisational profitability for instance.

If we want to measure the impact and effectiveness of a functional training course the metrics we should be using are whether productivity increases, first-time error rate decreases, customer satisfaction rises, quality improves and so on.

If we want to measure the benefits from establishing a community for a specific function or around a specific topic the metrics we should be using will be linked to similar outputs – productivity increases, increase in customer satisfaction etc. Also we should be measuring improvements in collegiate problem-solving, cross-department collaboration and co-operation and similar outputs in the ‘working smarter together’ dimension.

These metrics need to be agreed between the key stakeholders and the L&D leaders before any structured learning and development activities are started. Without knowing and aligning with stakeholder expectations any structured development is just a ‘'shot in the dark’.

L&D also needs to consult with its stakeholder on how to obtain these metrics.

Some data may be readily available. Customer-facing departments, for example, will regularly collect CSAT (Customer Satisfaction) data. There are a number of standard methodologies to do this. Sales teams will inevitably have various measures in place to collect and analyse sales data. Technical and Finance teams will have a wealth of performance data they use. Other data will be available from HR processes – annual performance reviews, 360 feedback surveys etc.

These are the metrics that will provide useful insights into the effectiveness and impact of development activities managed by the L&D department.

Obviously these data are more nuanced than the number of people who have completed an eLearning course or have attended a classroom training course, but they are more useful. Sometimes the causal links between the learning intervention and the change in output are not clearly identifiable. This is where careful scientific data analysis together with the level of trust relationship between L&D and stakeholder are important. The 10-year old study by the (then) ASTD and IBM ‘The Strategic Value of Learning’  found that:

“When looking at measuring learning's value contribution to the organization, both groups (C-level and CLOs) placed greater emphasis on perceptions as measures”

One C-Suite interviewee in this study said “We measure (the effectiveness of learning) based on the success of the business projects. Not qualitative metrics, but the perceptions of the business people that the learning function worked with.

New Measurements Every Time

Returning to George Bernard Shaw, one of the challenges of effective measurement is the need to review the metrics needed for each specific instance. No two situations are identical, so no two approaches to measuring impact are likely to be identical. Or, at least, we need to check whether our metrics are appropriate for each measurement we undertake.

As Robert Brinkerhoff says, “There is no uniform set of metrics suitable for everyone”.

Brinkerhoff’s Success Case Method addresses systems impact rather than trying to isolate the impact of learning individually as the more simplistic Kirkpatrick approach attempts. Brinkerhoff’s approach moves us from input metrics to stakeholder metrics – certainly on the right road.

What is also required in defining and agreeing metrics that will be useful for each and every project is a process of engagement with stakeholders and performance consulting by learning professionals.

These approaches require a new way of thinking about measurement  and new skill for many L&D professionals but, like Shaw’s tailor, we need to ‘behave sensibly’ and stop wasting our time on trying to ‘tweak’ the old methods of measurement.

Learning, and measurement, are both becoming indistinguishable from working.


Shaw: Nobel Foundation 1925. Public Domain
Tape Measure:
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0


Monday, 17 November 2014

Embedding Learning in Work: The Benefits and Challenges

(a version of this article was originally written as background for an #OzLearn chat held on Twitter, 11th November 2014)

The Power of Embedded Learning

A common finding that has emerged from study after study over the past few years is that learning which is embedded in work seems to be more effective than learning away from work. If people learn as part of the workflow then this learning is more likely to impact performance in a positive way.

The Research

imageA 2009 study by the Learning & Development Roundtable, a division of the Corporate Executive Board, reported that on-the-job learning had three times the impact on performance improvement over formal training programs. The same study found employees with high exposure to on-the-job learning activities were 262% more engaged than those who had no exposure to on-the-job learning. ‘High exposure’ in this study was defined as being engaged in ‘11 or more on-the-job learning activities during the last month’.

A further 2010 study of manager development activities by Casebow and Ferguson at GoodPractice in Edinburgh, Scotland reported that informal chats with colleagues was both the most frequently used development activity and was also seen as the most effective by the majority of managers.


imageYet another study by Bersin & Associates (now Bersin by Deloitte) published in March 2012 reported that “Organizations with strong informal learning capabilities, including the adoption and use of social learning tools, are 300% more likely to excel at global talent development than organizations without those competencies.” By their very nature informal and social learning is embedded in the daily workflow.

An earlier study 2003 by the Corporate Leadership Council identified 15 leader-led activities that improve performance and found that learning through workplace experience was at least three times more effective than simply ensuring that workers had the necessary knowledge and skills to do their jobs.


There are many other studies with similar findings, and more being published on a regular basis.

Learning in Context

These findings are not at all surprising.

imageAs long ago as 1885 Dr Hermann Ebbinghaus published his treatise Über das Gedächtnis (On Memory) that suggested context was critical for effective learning. Although Ebbinghaus’ experimental research was limited, his theory and results indicated that context and the spacing effect are key contributors to effective retention, learning and performance improvement. It could be argued that context is best provided by embedding learning in work.

Recent brain science work is filling in the gaps and we now know a lot more about the way the brain modifies itself in the light of experience and both the neural and behavioural differences between people who approach learning with ‘open’ or ‘fixed’ mindsets. The work by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, has enhanced our understanding about learning, context and mindset considerably. Dweck’s research suggests that experience and practice combined with a growth mindset are critical ingredients for effective learning and development. Each of these is more powerfully experienced in the context of the workflow rather in the more sterile atmosphere of a classroom.

The benefits are clear, but what are the challenges of embedded learning in work for L&D departments?

The Challenges

imageOne of the major challenges is the fact that until recently L&D professionals have seen their primary role as instructional designers and creators of learning content and experiences where this content and these learning experiences are separate from work. ADDIE (or some other instructional design approach) ruled. The learning needed to be designed, managed and measured.

Of course some effective learning experiences can be designed, managed and measured, but they tend to be in the minority. The majority of learning occurs naturally as part of the workflow. This type of learning is ‘designed’ by the individual (sometimes with input from their manager), it is self-managed, and the measurement is in terms of outputs – not by passing a test or some form of certification but by demonstrating the ability to do work better, faster, more accurately, with greater agility and levels of innovation if needed.

imageThe challenge for L&D professionals is to develop ways to support, encourage and facilitate these ‘90’ types of learning (through the 70:20:10 lens) that occur as part of the daily workflow. This learning can’t be ‘managed’ by HR, L&D or by any of the processes and technology systems they put in place. It can, however, be supported, facilitated, encouraged, exposed and shared by HR and L&D with the outcome of improving not only individual performance, but team and organisational performance as well.

A second significant challenge (and blind spot for many L&D departments) has been the provision performance support. The lack of understanding and failure to use performance support approaches and tools has created a significant barrier for supporting the learning that is embedded in work. Performance support is a sleeping giant that has only recently been nervously prodded by some L&D departments, despite the fact that ePSS has been around for at least 25 years, and other non-technology supported performance support approaches for eons.

imageGloria Gery published her seminal ‘Electronic Performance Support Systems’ book in 1991, yet these powerful systems and approaches have only marginally entered L&D’s mindset. This will no doubt change in one respect as the ‘rise and rise’ of social learning further impinges on organisational learning cultures and people turn to online communities and expert location tools to help them improve their work and to learn more effectively in the workplace. Together with ‘point-of-need’ performance support solutions (Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson at ApplySynergies are doing a great job on this, as are companies such as Australian organisation Panviva and others in Europe) the whole gamut of performance support opportunities are an open goal if only L&D can evolve from ‘course’ to ‘resource’ thinking.

A final challenge facing many L&D professionals is that embedding learning in work almost always requires the active support of executives, business managers and team leaders. This means L&D needs to engage these groups and work closely with them. This inevitably requires the provision of a clear set of business imperatives for embedding learning in work delivered in a way that is meaningful and compelling to these busy stakeholders. L&D professionals need to step up to the plate with their consulting and interpersonal skills if they are to enrol the critical support from these groups. This can be a big challenge but it is one where success is critical if learning is to be effectively embedded in the workflow.


Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Development Mindsets and 70:20:10

x-defaultProfessor Carol Dweck is a psychologist at Stanford University and the prime force behind mindset theory. Dweck’s research has led her to the conclusion that each individual will place themselves on a continuum according to their implicit belief of where their own ability originates.

In simple terms this means that those who tend towards believing in ‘nature’ or innate ability as the prime factor in determining their success are defined in Dweck’s model as having ‘fixed mindsets’ or fixed theories of intelligence.

At the other end of the continuum are those that believe their success, and the success of others, comes from hard work, learning, and persistence. These people are defined as having ‘growth mindsets’ or incremental theories of intelligence.

This is an interesting theory, but so what?

Well, Dweck’s work goes further than this observation. She has found that even if people aren’t aware of their own mindset they can be identified by their behaviours, especially their responses to failure.

Fixed-mindset people fear failure (it reflects badly on their ‘innate ability’) while growth mindset people tend not to mind failure so much because they believe they can overcome failure by reflecting on what went wrong and then set themselves to unlearn, re-learn and overcome the cause of the failure.

imageAll this is very interesting. I’m sure we have all looked around us at colleagues and family members and seen these different mindset types – or people behaving in these very different ways.

However, neuroscience research has supported Dweck’s model. In the experiments by Moser, Schroder, Heeter, Moran & Lee brain activity of students was examined when receiving feedback and the differences were clear.

All students’ brains were active when being told whether they had selected the right or wrong answer to a question they had previously been asked, but only the brains of students with ‘growth mindsets’ remained active to hear details of the correct answer if they had got it wrong.  The brains of those with ‘fixed mindsets’ simply shut down at this point.

New Knowledge and Crack Cocaine

Gary Marcus is another professor of psychology who has spent years studying human cognitive development. His book ‘Guitar Zero’ addresses a challenge close to my own heart – that of an adult learning a musical instrument. Marcus’ insights into the learning process reinforce Dweck’s model. Throwing himself into learning guitar at 39 years he describes the learning process as ‘addictive’. Marcus cites neuroimaging research by Knutson and Cooper that found:

“new knowledge can bring the same sort of surge of dopamine one might get by ingesting crack cocaine.”

Knutson and Cooper also point out that the motivating force of novelty and the desire to learn new things are basic biological needs. All foraging species must have a drive to explore the unknown. We’re no different from other species, whether we’re working in our offices or other workplaces, or enjoying our time with our families and friends.

If HR and learning & performance professionals are working with something that’s both a basic human driver, and whose impact on achieving it provides a kick like a horse, then maybe this is something we should be actively exploiting in our organisations.

The challenge is to ensure each of our organisations has as many people with growth mindsets as possible. These type of people are more receptive to continuous learning. They are critical for organisational survival and growth in a changing world. Without ‘growth mindset’ people, organisations end up providing products and services to a world that is in the past.

Development Mindsets

I have been focussing on the important role of development mindsets as an starting point for adopting the 70:20:10 model for some time. My development mindsets are identical to Dweck’s ‘growth mindsets’. They view personal, team and organisational development as something that needs to be worked at constantly. Every day. Widespread evidence of development mindsets is essential if organisations are to achieve Peter Senge’s ‘Learning Organization’ status and if the 70:20:10 model is to be successfully used.

The French company Danone has an excellent initiative based on continuous learning and the 70:20:10 model called ‘One Learning a Day’. There is a very good short video of Danone’s approach on YouTube here. I have worked with Danone to help the company build support for One Learning a Day in the form of approaches and tools to underpin this cultural change initiative and support the drive to demonstrate the power of continuous learning and development mindsets.

Initiatives such as Danone’s help open up more people to adopting and building development mindsets. It’s not easy to change attitudes, behaviours and habits, but this change is essential if organisations are to gain full benefit from the 70:20:10 model.

Development: noun \di-ˈve-ləp-mənt, dē-\
the act or process of growing or causing something to grow or become larger or more advanced

Mindset: noun \ˈmīn(d)-ˌset\
a particular way of thinking : an attitude or set of opinions. An inclination or a habit … a way of life

Development Mindsets and the 70:20:10 Model

70:20:10 provides a clear and simple approach to extending the support of learning and development for all workers - from individual contributors to senior leaders - beyond the services traditionally delivered by the HR and Training/L&D departments. Ignore the specific numbers (it’s just so obvious they are simply helpful indicators to remind us how people learn at work, not some rigid formula to be aimed at or adhered to). Focus on putting into place the support and processes that help embedding, extracting and sharing learning as part of the workflow.

Development mindsets are critical for successful use of the 70:20:20 model.

70:20:10 relies on workers taking much more responsibility for their own development, and on team leaders, managers and senior executives supporting that development together with, and aligned to, the activities of HR and learning professionals. It has to be a full team effort.

If nothing else, 70:20:10 is an agent of change – helping strengthen cultural focus on high performance and continuous development and better positioning people to change behaviours to incorporate all the things that go with growth or development mindsets – constant enquiry, and acceptance of failure as part of the process on the road to success.

70:20:10 also focuses beyond structured learning activities to address the entire way adults learn at work – whether that is through challenging experiences and their outcomes, through opportunities to practice, through building robust, resilient and supportive personal networks, or through making space for reflection, gaining insights and ensuring improvements, where necessary, are taken on-board. A 70:20:10 implementation will provide support, tools and processes to ensure learning is deeply embedded in everyday work.

Jane Hart recently published her insights on an experiential online workshop she ran for the sales team at Pfizer in India. Reviewing the success of this event – a ‘10’ type of activity, but designed to drive ‘70’ and ‘20’ behaviours – Jane observed that:

“the organisational culture encouraged, supported and rewarded the team in their endeavours through learning and working from one another.”

This is at the heart of successful a 70:20:10 strategy, or any other change implementation. If organisational culture and values are at odds with the idea of self-directed development, openly sharing learning together, and the need for managers and leaders to play their (important) role in facilitating, encouraging and supporting continuous development then failure is almost inevitable. If values and culture are aligned and if managers and leaders do play their part then the outcome is invariably successful.

Fortunately, we’re moving into an era where collaboration and sharing are recognised as increasingly important – even with one’s competitors. I have written about the rise of ‘co-opetition’ in an earlier article. There is no doubt that organisations are becoming more co-operative and collaborative within and without, and this is usually reflected in more openness and sharing and greater receptiveness to new ways of development and reaching high performance.  There are very few organisations swimming against this tide.  Some may be slower to understand the benefits, but they will do so finally, without doubt.

A key driver of these changes will be the encouragement for more and more of the workforce to adopt development mindsets.

Thanks to Simon and Carol Townley of the Gorilla Learning Company for insights and the fixed/growth neuroimage.


Wednesday, 20 August 2014

It’s Only 65% !

Adam Weisblatt's imageThe results of yet another 70:20:10 survey were published recently.

The researchers (possibly on work experience) declared that “50:26:24 is the average learning mix in most companies right now”.

The report of the 50:26:24 survey went on to say:

“It’s widely accepted that the 70:20:10 model is the most effective learning blend for business, but getting to that perfect mix can be a challenge. It’s early days and we’ve got a long way to go, but when we crunched the first numbers on our new study, we could see that the current average mix of training in the L&D industry is actually:

  • 50% via ‘on the job learning’
  • 26% through ‘informal training’
  • 24% from ‘formal training’”

A few things flew off the page from this survey and hit me square in the temple. The comments below are not intended as a blanket criticism of this specific survey, but it did get me thinking about a number of misconceptions of what the 70:20:10 model is really about. It also got me thinking  about approaches to organisational learning in general.

Learning ≠ Training

Although the terms convey basic concepts, there seems still to be some confusion between the meaning of the words learning and training. This confusion is not isolated in surveys such as the above. It is a common problem and underlies many of the barriers that organisations encounter as they strive to develop and implement effective learning strategies.

‘Learning’ covers a much wider range of activities than training. Learning is a process not an event. Learning is something we’re doing every day.

Training describes a structured set of events that when designed and assembled carefully can provide an effective way to help people accelerate learning (learning = behaviour change). However the words training and learning are not interchangeable.

This may seem a small point that most of us have ‘got’ and don’t think about, but it’s important. The term ‘informal training’ for example is meaningless. Whereas the term ‘informal learning’ as Jay Cross describes it, is extremely meaningful:

“.. the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider."

Jay wrote the seminal book on Informal Learning.

70:20:10 is Not About the Numbers

J.Potts-1The 70:20:10 model is not about percentages or numbers and there is no universal ‘right’ ratio.

70:20:10 is a model that describes the way adults in work generally learn.

So why use the numbers, then?

The numbers are a useful reminder that the majority of learning occurs through experience and practice within the workflow (the ‘70’), through sharing and supporting others, conversations and networks (the ‘20’),  and that a smaller amount of overall learning occurs through structured training and development activities (the ‘10’).

70:20:10 is not a recipe to be used slavishly. The numbers are a simple framework to drive change and help people focus beyond structured learning interventions to where most of the learning happens (in the ‘20’ and ‘70’).

I wrote about ‘the numbers’ on this blog back in June 2012. What I said there still holds.

Every organisation that uses the 70:20:10 framework will have individual needs and contexts.  The way they support learning and development will be particular to them. If you’re in a high compliance environment it’s likely that your people will be required to spend more time on structured training (whether this has an impact or not is another issue altogether). If you’re working in a highly innovative and creative environment it’s likely your learning and development will be skewed more towards the social and experiential types of development. So the ratios describing how people learn in a large compliance-driven organisation are likely to be different from an agile start-up. How we support learning and building high performance should reflect these differences.

So if you’re supporting effective learning and development in a high compliance context, then you’ll need to be aware that the ‘best’ ratio for your organisation and the individuals will be skewed by regulatory needs. If you’re supporting effective leaning and development in an environment where agility and innovation are at a premium then you’d better be prepared to support higher levels of collaborative and ‘trial-and-error’ learning – in the ‘70’ and ‘20’ zones.

'Training Types’

The 50:26:24 survey categorised three distinct and separate ‘training types’, described in this way:

“Current research suggests that the ideal training mix is 70% On the Job Training, 20% Informal Learning and 10% Formal Learning.”

I found this a strange categorisation.

Now I’m not sure if I’m over-reacting to this approach, or I simply don’t understand it, but ‘on the job training’ suggests structure and intention to me. The ‘training’ word gives that away. But then the input for this survey asks for the ‘current learning mix’ and offers ‘on the job’, ‘informal’ and ‘formal’. On-the-job learning doesn’t have to be structured and intentional. Most isn’t.

I don’t want this post to be a criticism of an individual survey design, but I do think that the designers of data-gathering surveys such as these need to think about the terminology they use carefully. In my mind ‘on-the-job’, ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ are not three mutually exclusive categories.

In real life 'on-the-job' learning can be either informal (i.e. self-directed or non-directed) or formal (i.e. experiential development that is part of a structured course or programme).

‘Formal learning’ suggests learning that is designed and directed by someone other than the learner as part of a curriculum, course, programme, module etc. Formal learning can include on-the-job activities and learning, but not necessarily.

These three types of learning are not dichotomies (if one can have dichotomous trios). The world is not black-and-white.

Without any definitions of these categories (and I couldn't find any in this survey) I fail to see how respondents will provide consistently accurate input. Potentially leading to garbage in, garbage out.

Continuous Learning is the goal of 70:20:10

J.Potts-2The final point I would make is that focusing on ‘the numbers’ masks the fact that learning happens as a continual process and usually as part of the workflow. 

That’s a fact. We humans are learning machines. We can’t help but learn as we live and work.

Even when we engage in classes, programmes and structured eLearning modules as part of the overall mix to support and accelerate learning and performance improvement we don’t stop learning as soon as we walk out the door or finish the online recall test.  We continue to learn as we put our new knowledge or skills into practice. We continue to learn as we discuss challenges and options with our colleagues. We continue to learn as we try to do things a newer, better way.

Many organisations are using the 70:20:10 framework to help create cultures of continuous learning and to to build high performance. They understand that more formal learning is not necessarily better, and that by helping develop mindsets to exploit learning and development opportunities whenever and wherever possible they are much more likely to achieve their high performance aims.

(Thanks to Adam Weisblatt and Jim Potts for allowing me to use their 70:20:10 cartoons)

Images © Adam Weisblatt and © Jim Potts. Not to be reproduced without permission of the copyright owners.