Finding the Best Mix in Training Methods

70:20:10 - Finding the Best Mix in Training Methods

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Have you got the balance right?

You and your team members want to be good at your jobs, so you want to learn – and keep on learning. But how do you learn most effectively?

We're all familiar with classroom-based training. But there are other, sometimes more effective, ways to learn. With the 70:20:10 model of learning, formal courses make up the smallest proportion of learning time – just 10 percent.

This article explores the 70:20:10 model and the advantages and challenges of applying it. We then suggest some practical ways for you and your team to embrace learning outside of the classroom, and how to blend this with more traditional training.

What Is 70:20:10?

According to the 70:20:10 Forum, the model describes an ideal balance between different ways of learning and developing in the workplace:

  • 70 percent by "Experience," through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practice.
  • 20 percent by "Exposure," through social learning, in person or online.
  • 10 percent by "Education," through formal learning including courses.

It grew from the work of Professor Allen Tough in the 1960s and 70s, Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger at the Center for Creative Leadership in the 80s, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in the 90s. All three found that learning outside of formal courses, especially unprompted "self-directed" learning, was both common and effective. Yet most employers had given it little or no value, recognition or support.

Despite its mathematical title, 70:20:10 is not a formula for certain success to be followed precisely, but a pointer to the kind of weight to give to each area. The purpose of the model is to encourage leaders, managers and their team members to see learning and development (L&D) as a core part of their everyday roles, not an optional add-on or something that only the L&D department does.

At the same time, 70:20:10 doesn't mean organizations should abandon their formal training programs. Instead, they can redesign them so that employees reach their development goals through a blend of methods, and with the help of their managers and co-workers.

Using 70:20:10

According to leadership and change consultant Nigel Paine, any organization that wants to use 70:20:10 properly will need to shift its whole mindset. For example, as a manager, you might be relieved to know that your team members won't be disappearing from the workplace on formal training courses quite so much. But you'll need to encourage a range of new L&D activities within your team, and collaborate with your people to embed their learning. In the hurly-burly of business life, this can be easy to forget!

So, what might 70:20:10 look like in your workplace?

Experience – the 70 Percent

Remember, 70 percent of your team members' learning is to be achieved through hands-on experience, or "doing" on the job. So you'll need to think about what kind of tasks to allocate to whom, with what level of difficulty, and with what deadlines and quality standards.

For example, tasks could be many and small but, when put together, they'll teach your team member the set of skills he or she needs to deliver a complete process. Or they could be substantial projects that use his existing knowledge in a new way. But whatever you ask your people to do, it must be actual work that fulfills a real purpose for the team and organization. You don't want anyone to be wasting time or energy "going through the motions" just for the sake of it.


L&D is much more than absorbing new information or trying new techniques. It's also about working out the connections between, and implications of, each piece of knowledge, as well as finding out how to do something better or quicker. So be sure to set time and targets for reflection and practice.

Exposure – the 20 Percent

The 20 percent of learning through exposure, or social means, could flow from the tasks you've set, or stimulate new tasks.

For example, your team member might be struggling with a task – she's just not getting a key concept, keeps making mistakes, or can't see how the task relates to a wider goal. So, you could ask her to shadow and support a more experienced co-worker, so that she'll experience for herself the meaning and effect of the task.

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Or you could recommend an online forum or on-demand learning resource for him to sign up to, where he can pursue his questions independently. You'll likely use questioning and coaching skills to help him discover some of the answers for himself. And it might be that a new task would be the stepping stone to achieving the original one.


Under 70:20:10, your L&D department will likely be less directive about training but more available to advise and guide you and your team members, as and when you need them. In particular, it could help you assess the quality of the increasingly wide range of resources available, so you can make appropriate choices.

Education – the 10 Percent

Sometimes, nothing beats an intensive burst of formal tuition from a specialist trainer, whether for hard skills such as using a new piece of computer software or soft skills like communication. This means spending time away from the workplace to concentrate, to explore an issue in depth, or to try out something risky in a safe environment.

Classroom training and a certificate of completion can even be essential, for example if your team member needs to meet legal or industry compliance standards.

As a manager, your role in this 10 percent slice of L&D is threefold. You can help to:

  • Make sure the training happens.
  • Prepare your team member to make the best of her upcoming training.
  • Reinforce and put into action her new knowledge and skills when she returns to the workplace.

She'll struggle to learn, or even fail to attend, if she's worrying about the impact her absence might have on her and her team mates' workload. So be sure to encourage everyone to plan for the disruption, and help them to understand the importance of the training, so they don't feel resentful.

He'll also struggle if he turns up for the course without having talked through with you what he needs to get from it, to help him and the wider team meet their goals. Also, he might have pre-course homework to do, so he is mentally and practically ready to start. So, count that as part of his 20 percent Exposure time and protect him from competing demands.

When she returns from the training, don't let her drop back into old habits, but challenge her to apply her learning to her role, and to share it with her colleagues. Explore with her any issues that the training sparks, such as a need for new equipment, procedures or communication with other teams, and engage the whole team in any changes.


The various members of your team will likely need to attempt different tasks, access different resources, work alongside different people, and attend different courses, to meet their individual L&D needs. So don't put everyone through the same program!

Advantages of 70:20:10

Learning "on the job" used to be seen as inefficient, as it stopped team members being productive while they trained. There was also a risk that a world-weary co-worker would teach them how to "get by" in an average way, rather than demonstrating how to excel.

In contrast, today's connective technology and increasingly collaborative workplaces mean that you can be doing your job while you learn to a high standard. The internet gives easy access to experts and high-quality content from around the world. Organizations are trusting their employees more, and encouraging them to share skills with one another, even across team and departmental boundaries. So you no longer need to remember large amounts of job-related information – you just need to know where to find it when you need it.

Your source might be your team member, your co-worker, your manager, your organization's intranet or learning management system, a third-party on-demand service, or even social media. So, learning can take place any time, anywhere and under anyone's guidance – rather than at set times, away from the workplace, and only through official "trainers."

And embracing the spirit of 70:20:10 can make for an agile team and organization. Learning will become a habit instead of an afterthought: people will more likely be on the lookout for any knowledge or skills that will help them do their jobs better, rather than being resistant to or frightened of change.

Challenges of 70:20:10

It can be tempting for organizations to misinterpret the 70:20:10 model and reduce their investment in L&D, believing that learning will just happen naturally. And team members might view learning on the job as a cheap option and approach it negatively, so you'll need effective evaluation of the process to build trust.

In this less-directive model, be sure to encourage members of your team to share with you which knowledge and skills they'd like to develop and how. But be aware of office politics – you might find you're challenging organizational rules and culture if, for example, you allow people to use their own mobile devices or access insecure content while at work.

You'll need to spend more time and thought on coaching and mentoring your team members. And all of you might need to develop your skills in asking questions of one other, rather than using "show and tell" to train.

Learning is about change, and change can be difficult, so be sure to encourage and support any example of learning you see in your team. Invite team members to share their observations, ideas and successes. Celebrate achievements day to day, and consider a formal rewards scheme – maybe through the "gamification" of online resources.

Key Points

The 70:20:10 model tells us that effective learning can take place any time, anywhere and under anyone's guidance, and that we need a mix of methods for people to learn optimally: experience, exposure and education.

Ideally, you should plan for and enable 90 percent of your team members' learning time to be experience- and exposure-based, on the job. This means:

  • Setting them tasks and challenges appropriate to their individual needs that will also deliver useful outcomes for the team and organization.
  • Pairing up learners with more expert and experienced people.
  • Giving a lot of your time as a manager to coaching your team members.
  • Working with your L&D department to recommend the most appropriate online resources for "self-directed" learning.
  • Encouraging your team members to access learning whenever they need to, in a medium that suits them best, while keeping within organizational rules.

But for the 10 percent of time when education away from the workplace is appropriate, you can help your whole team make the most of it through solid preparation and follow up.

Most of all, encourage a mindset in your team of continual learning and development, and support and reward it whenever you see it. Together, you can learn your way to success.