Is 70-20-10 a Most Unfortunate Name?
The popular learning model has all the right pieces, but that moniker can be misleading.
If Americans called a rose a triantafyllo, the Greek word for the flower, it would still have thorns and it would smell as sweet — or at least, that’s what Shakespeare said, more or less.
While the essence of a rose will remain the same no matter what we call it, the name we give something bares much more significance than we think. People are biased toward names, and there are plenty of weird connections between a person’s birth name and the job they will hold, their athletic performance, their chances of getting an interview, or generally how successful they’ll be in life.
But it feels weird to refer to a rose as a triantafyllo, no offense to anyone Greek. My point is, we should all think twice when we have the power to name something, whether we’re talking about a baby, or a different kind of baby — like a new company, a new invention or a new theoretical concept.
Morgan McCall and his colleagues, who are usually credited with originating the 70-20-10 ratio in the 70-20-10 model for learning and development, probably didn’t get the memo. Or they got it, but they were convinced that including perfectly even numbers was the best way to go. We’ll probably never know. But we shouldn’t hold grudges against them either. The 70-20-10 model is great for organizations.
I’m not against this model of workplace learning. It can be successful if consciously implemented, and my belief is based on science. According to the In-Focus report from Towards Maturity “70+20+10=100: The Evidence Behind the Numbers,” companies that embrace this model are:
- Twice as likely to analyze problems before designing a solution.
- Four times more likely to engage directly with managers.
- Eight times more likely to encourage staff to collaborate online to solve their own problems.
- Three times more likely to get end users involved in designing solutions.
The report also said that even companies that don’t realize they’re using it witness its positive results.
But 70-20-10 may not be the best name for this particular learning strategy because the numbers are rarely that absolute; they’re guidelines. But the numbers are in the name, so they still raise some eyebrows. For clarity:
- Seventy percent is for experiential learning and on-the-job discoveries.
- Twenty percent is for social learning because organizations of all sizes are made of people and people talk with each other.
- Ten percent is for formal learning with structured instruction, online courses and individual effort.
But why? For instance:
- Why 10? Ten is an awfully low number compared to the total of 100. Does 10 mean formal learning is not that important?
- Why 20? People talk a lot. When they’re at work they talk about work as well as personal issues. Sometimes they learn new things, other times they just talk. Should all words uttered in the workplace have a daily cap?
- Why 70? There are plenty of days when employees must do tasks they already know how to perform perfectly. There are industries where main things don’t change for years. Learning through on-the-job experiences is effective and important, but is it truly 70 percent important?
Again, these numbers are guidelines, so they should depend on each organization’s learning needs. Thus, they can change: 10 may become 19, 20 may become 36, while 70 may become 47. You can make any combination.
The numbers can change and they should change. But why stick to them in the name of this great model if they do change? What should we call 70-20-10 instead? Well, there’s no use reinventing the wheel. Everyone knows what the numbers stand for:
- Seventy – experiential learning, or experience.
- Twenty – social learning, or exposure.
- Ten – formal learning, or education.
Thus, the 70-20-10 model, becomes the three Es learning model, or the Experience-Exposure-Education model. I think the names without the numbers are better.
What do you think? Will we ever drop the numbers?
Livia Mihai is a writer for Matrix by Cypher Learning. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.