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A Learner’s Right to Choose?

Bob Little 

January 1, 2016

As chairman of the judges, I’m looking forward to announcing in the next few days the 2016 lists for the most influential people in the corporate e-learning sector – in the world, North America, Europe, the UK, and Asia-Pacific.

For many years, Elliott Masie – head of The MASIE Center – has been firmly established as one of the world’s major L&D gurus. So, when Elliott speaks, the corporate learning technology world tends to listen.

In a recent edition of his newsletter, he wrote, “We must be careful to not innovate around a non-diverse sense of the audience of learners. I know people say things like, ‘our workers are all mobile’ or ‘no one wants to go to class anymore.’ In fact, some of those may be true, but there is also a huge diversity of learning styles, histories, preferences and even managerial permissions.

“Let’s keep open our learning choices – aiming to touch and support a much wider range of learning modes. At the end of the day, our goal is to support the workforce in learning for performance – regardless of the learning method chosen.”

The Towards Maturity 2015 Benchmark Report that we looked at last week draws on data from more than 600 L&D professionals and 1,600 learners in 55 countries, and it appears to show that Masie’s goal is still more a dream than a reality. Only 30 percent of organizations are achieving improved productivity and engagement from their L&D initiatives, only 20 percent have seen improvements in their organization’s learning culture, and only 40 percent are achieving increased efficiency as a result of their training strategies.

Nonetheless, there are some signs that L&D activities and materials are catering for a wider range of preferred learning styles and preferences. The vast majority of training programs used to be delivered face-to-face but the report finds that this is true for “only” 55 percent of programs now.

Moreover, 53 percent of organizations polled consider the course to be just one of several options for building skills, 47 percent adopt approaches that support learning in the flow of work, 67 percent are delivering learning via mobile devices, and 29 percent provide their workers with online job aids.

The concept of 70:20:10 has also been added to the learning mix. This model describes an ideal balance between different ways of learning and developing in the workplace:

  • 70 percent of learning typically takes place by “experience,” through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practice.
  • 20 percent happens by “exposure,” through social learning, in person or online.
  • 10 percent happens by “education,” through formal learning including courses.

The 70:20:10 framework aims to show L&D as a core part of everyone’s role, not an optional add-on, but it doesn’t advocate that organizations abandon their formal training programs. Instead, it suggests that they redesign them so that workers reach their development goals through a blend of methods that suit them, and with the help of their managers and co-workers.

But it isn’t a formula for success. Nor is it necessarily definitive for everyone in all places. Charles Jennings, one of the world’s top authorities on the model, has observed that 70:20:10 seems to apply more to men, while a truer picture for women is closer to 5:40:55, unless they work in a highly regulated industry, in which case the figures are 40:40:20 for both sexes. Speaking at The Charity Learning Consortium conference and awards in London in November 2015, Charles stressed the truth behind the 70:20:10 model but encouraged his audience to find “new ways of learning and new ways of working.”

If there is any truth in the 70:20:10 philosophy, then purely concentrating L&D effort on formal learning will doom L&D professionals to be marginalized in their organizations. “C-level” executives and operational heads will give them little credence and credibility. Indeed, many L&D professionals will tell you that that this has been so over very many years. So, how do you, in Elliott Masie’s words, “support the workforce in learning for performance – regardless of the learning method chosen”?

Brian Murphy, the head of learning for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Citibank, comments, “The key themes from the Towards Maturity Benchmark Report resonate with us. Here, we’re building an L&D team which fully embraces the 70:20:10 framework. We call it the ‘3Es’ for Experience, Exposure and Education.

“We use this to force us to not just produce formal learning (‘Education’) but also to support and facilitate continuous workplace learning. We see managers as the key component to developing ‘Experiential’ and social (‘Exposure’) learning – and we are doing a lot of things to educate them around how they can support continuous learning in their teams and businesses.”

What is your organization doing to support 70:20:10 and what more could it do? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.

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