Subscribe via E-mail

Your email:

Posts by category

Current Articles | RSS Feed RSS Feed

What is 70:20:10 Learning and Why Should I Care?


70-20-1070:20:10 was first presented as a learning framework by Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and Robert Eichinger in the work they did for the Center for Creative Leadership in 1996. It was based on studies by the authors and by Allen Tough (University of Toronto) regarding how managers and leaders actually learn in the workplace. They found that workplace learning activities were unexpectedly tilted towards informal events and that formal training only comprised a small part of workplace learning:

  • 70% from experiential, on-the-job, problem solving during the course of work,

  • 20% from social interaction and collaboration,

  • and 10% from formal courses.

While the actual percentages are only meant as rough guidelines, this groundbreaking finding has since been validated by a 2000 U.S. Department of Labor study which found that approximately 70% of workplace learning was informal in nature.

Looking back on my employment with a learning management system vendor, virtually none of the workplace learning I accomplished was through formal means (I remember one two-day course). I learned through trial and error, and interacting with peers, mentors, managers, and company experts. I read product specifications and manuals, played with software, watched online demos, and researched information on the internet. The crux of 70:20:10, that people learn in the workplace primarily through informal and social channels, rings true for me and for many L&D professionals I have spoken to.

Implications of 70:20:10

The precise ratios aren’t important (and I would think, extremely hard to actually pin down), but the general thrust of 70:20:10 has some extremely important implications for workplace learning and performance:

  1. The majority of workplace learning occurs outside of the formal, structured training channels companies establish to develop their employees. This means it is typically not coordinated with formal interventions and is mostly invisible and unacknowledged by the organization.

  2. Unless your work systems include social learning/collaboration and knowledge management/performance support capabilities, informal learning is largely untracked and unmanaged.

  3. Formal learning is typically, though not always, prescribed. Informal learning is largely self-service and self-directed. It is up to the employee to search for appropriate content related to their jobs – whether that be a knowledgeable co-worker or existing documentation.

  4. The quality of what you learn informally often depends on whom you know in the organization, especially when it comes to accessing best practices or organizational expertise. You can meet, email, or call an expert to ask a question – but only if you know who they are and if it’s OK to contact them. Unlike in formal training, serendipity plays a role - expertise and experience remains localized unless there are concerted efforts to capture it and make it widely available. Knowing an obliging elite performer who can share war stories and advice is singularly valuable. Extending that value to those outside of a local circle of acquaintance is the only way to leverage that value across the enterprise.

  5. Informal learning is mostly driven by job-specific requirements, often at the point of need: “I wonder what’s the best way to pitch this for type of client” or “How do I perform this one, job-specific task on this application?” While formal learning content may be based on general job requirements, informal learning is in and of the job flow.

  6. Formal learning happens as a result of an organizational directive. Informal learning happens by itself. People have always learned by asking other questions or reading workplace documentation – there’s nothing new in that.  But with the advent of online technology, and the ability to share best practices, knowledge, documents, videos, and live meetings at the click of a button, the importance and impact of informal learning has expanded immensely.

  7. Formal learning tends to be static once the development has been completed. Informal learning is continuous and ongoing – in fact every interaction with a colleague, manager, or customer; every new problem solved; or every best practice captured and shared - can be seen as adding to an ever expanding body of informal learning content.

  8. The challenge of L&D and HR professionals is to enable informal learning as well as formal learning opportunities. This shifts the role from one of training development and management to “learning ecosystem impresario.” In informal learning, people seek and supply much of the content themselves. The question is how to harness and direct this activity so that it is effective, easy to use, and job performance-enhancing? How to coordinate this type of living, breathing, ever-changing content with formal training interventions? This is a core capability of a Performance Enablement Solution (PES).

70:20:10 and Performance Enablement Solutions

If you’ve followed this blog in the past, you’ll know that a performance enablement solution provides everything an individual needs to perform their job well. The 70:20:10 learning framework is an important consideration in designing this type of solution as it is critical to take into account how people actually learn in the workplace in order to provide what is needed to support individual performance. The full panoply of learning capabilities and opportunities needs to be made available – both formal and informal. These include:

  • Access to job-relevant formal training and associated earning management capabilities.

  • Access to just-in-time performance support, reference content, job aids, tools, procedures, links, research material, etc., organized so as to allow intuitive access and easy “findability.”

  • Capturing and sharing the expertise of experienced and elite performers in written and video formats in Best Practice Forums/Communities of Practice, Ask-the-Expert Forums, and “Best of” Repositories.

  • Providing technology-based avenues for managerial feedback, mentoring and coaching.

Being able to learn new skills and knowledge quickly is an integral part of today’s workplace - understanding how people learn and enabling it in all its forms is an essential part of any performance enablement solution, and the 70:20:10 learning framework is at the heart of it.

To learn more about how to enable employee performance, contact us at or download our free resource, “Enabling Performance in a 70:20:10 World.”



Currently, there are no comments. Be the first to post one!
Post Comment
Website (optional)

Allowed tags: <a> link, <b> bold, <i> italics