Building on the 70/20/10 Learning Model

19th December 2019

Is your employee learning and development programme meeting your expectations?

It’s rarely easy to get busy colleagues to take time away from their to-do list and invest in their own development.

But we believe that the 70/20/10 learning model can provide a guide for a learning programme that meets diverse learner needs, engages an overwhelmed cohort and supports your business goals.

Before we outline how the 70/20/10 model can help us think differently about employee learning and development, let’s take a quick look at the model itself.


About the 70/20/10 model

No theory is perfect.

The 70/20/10 model of learning is no different.

The model suggests that, in the real world, learning can be grouped into several categories, and each category provides a different proportion of the total:

  • 70% comes from on-the-job experience
  • 20% is achieved through interactions with colleagues
  • 10% is derived from formal education and training

First developed thirty years ago, and based on research of 200 senior managers, many practitioners believe that this model is flawed. And we absolutely agree that no single model should be used as the basis for all learning and development decisions. This is because your employee development programme should factor in different learning styles, requirements, corporate goals, compliance needs, employee availability and employee retention. A recent graduate working in tax or finance will have very different needs from a senior HR manager. The 70/20/10 model may not accurately describe the learning experience of either colleague.

However, the 70/20/10 model is useful because it highlights the need for learning to roam free of classrooms and e-learning suites, and to incorporate a range of formats. Corporate learning programmes should embrace a variety of learning opportunities if they are to support capable, compliant and confident colleagues.

At Marshalls, we often refer to the 70/20/10 model when building e-learning courses for our clients. It helps ensure that our courses are effective at achieving genuine progression. Considering the model means we can help our clients to improve the reach of their learning and to push development into every aspect of corporate life. This can mean using e-learning and LMS tools to encourage free-range learning, and it also means building other systems, schemes and processes to support things like peer-learning and mentoring.

The model can help colleagues learn essential skills, behaviours, requirements and knowledge by weaving content through various strands of their working life. Given that some studies show that, after six months, as many as 90% of learners have forgotten what they learned, it’s clearly important to treat learning and development as a journey with many stops. Of course, these statistics vary according to different studies, but research typically suggests that retention rates are surprisingly low. For this reason, employees are likely to benefit from repeated exposure to key themes and principles.

The need for variety in learning

While the value of different learning formats is often debated, it’s hard to argue that a degree of variety is beneficial when it comes to engaging learners.

On the flip side, there is value in repetition. If every learning experience is wildly different in format, length, style and tone, then learners may be focused on the mechanics rather than the content.

Employees appreciate having a degree of agency in their learning and development. Rather than being funnelled through a sequence of modules and workshops, employees can benefit from opportunities to self-select how, when and what they learn.

Great decision-making power reduces rates of absences and turnover (Bond and Bunce, 2001; Bond, Griffin, 1991; Wahlstedt and Edling, 1997).


On-the-job learning

When we think of on-the-job learning, we might imagine simply ‘learning by doing’, or picking up information and ideas while performing your duties. And while this is a key part of professional development, on-the-job learning can also incorporate more strategic learning strategies to ensure colleagues gain the key skills they need. After all, if this component of learning is to account for as much as 70% of a colleague’s total, it’s crucial that organisations make better use of learning opportunities that could be easily missed.

Let’s consider a few examples of what this might look like in practice.

Teachable moments

Important lessons can be missed, even when they are right in front of us. Rather than leaving it to chance, organisations can identify the key teachable moments in a colleague’s day and look for creative ways to highlight and reinforce the lesson. For example, this might mean including messaging in employee emails, or adding alerts or guidance to your software packages. Using posters and signage can also help to remind colleagues of the importance of certain processes, actions or behaviours.

How can you draw attention to an important lesson, in the very moment it happens?

Goal setting

While goal setting is often part of a performance review or mentorship programme, goal setting can also incorporate learning challenges. For example, a mentor or manager might encourage a colleague to focus on a particular lesson, behaviour or regulatory issue. Colleagues can be given tips for recognising the lesson in practice, and asked to report back on what they discovered.

This can help cement key lessons shared in mandatory or induction training programmes, and reduce the likelihood of these facts or principles being forgotten.


Interactions with colleagues

Your colleagues will constantly learn from their peers. This is likely to happen, to some degree, regardless of your intentions. But recognising the value in this peer-to-peer learning can help you capitalise on opportunities, and ensure that the lessons learned are connected to your wider organisational goals, rather than conflicting or undermining your messages.


Peer shadowing

Getting colleagues to work alongside each other is a very common practice, but it is often restricted to an induction period. Once colleagues are in place, this kind of activity tends to stop.

But our colleagues are a rich resource. By working alongside peers, individuals can learn new approaches, share their own insights and pinpoint issues affecting their work. And peer shadowing also helps to promote networking within and across teams.

In software development, pair-programming is a popular method for ensuring that code is written consistently to conform to company guidelines and best practices. How could pair-working support your own team’s learning and development?

Feedback sessions

Reviewing each other’s work, sitting in on meetings and discussing best practices can all help colleagues to learn from peers. These sessions can be formal or casual, one-to-one or group discussions.

Initiatives like these can easily be misconstrued as a form of collective punishment or a corrective for bad behaviour – even when the intention is pure. Rather than forcing colleagues to conduct a feedback session, it might be beneficial to make them optional so that colleagues take part willingly and with openness and curiosity, rather than fear or resentment.


While mentoring is often about career development in a broader sense, the mentoring relationship can also be a useful vehicle for learning. To facilitate this, you might include guidance for mentors that touches on key corporate learning goals, and perhaps asks mentees to reflect on their own behaviour or adherence to policies and processes.


Some of the best ideas in your organisation might be stranded in a single team – or guarded by a single individual. Getting people talking – and cross-pollinating ideas – can help everyone to learn. In many organisations, networking across teams, departments or functions does not happen naturally; and you may need to facilitate it. For example, you might use digital networking apps or chat channels to foster new discussions across the company. Or you might use offline events like company lunches, activities or groups to get people to connect.

Formal learning

Some lessons are too important to leave to chance.

Your colleagues may need to be aware of your regulatory environment, safety issues, company policies or other non-negotiables for which you need evidence of their understanding. Or it might be a complex software package, or a company process, or a style of communication that everyone must know. In such cases, classroom or e-learning modules provide a convenient and cost-effective method for ensuring that all colleagues are on the same page and safe from physical or legal risks.

There are many approaches to delivering e-learning, and many different techniques you can use to get better results from your investment. The following approaches can improve learner uptake and retention rates:

Follow-up learning

Single-serving messages are easy to forget. But when you hear the same message several times, you are more likely to remember the concept and the content.

To ensure lessons are learned and remembered, you might need to make mandatory training programmes an annual event, or you could look to integrate the messages in other formats and moments – from company conferences to remuneration packages.

Because different people have different learning styles and preferences, reinforcing the learning in this way can also ensure that everyone gets the message, whatever their personal style.

Email and SMS learning

One way to support formal learning programmes is with automated SMS or email systems. For example, you could trigger a sequence of follow-up emails when employees complete their induction. Or you could give learners the opportunity to sign up for an SMS component when they start a compliance course. In addition to the classroom or digital content, they would get a trickle of messages to encourage them to explore the topic further – or to help them remember key details.

Not only does this give you the advantage of drip-feeding information over time, it helps to take the learning out of the classroom (or the web browser) and into a range of settings. Receiving messages at different times naturally shifts the context and can help learners identify new facets to the content.

Short courses

Rather than focusing on one or two comprehensive courses, it may be beneficial to split learning into shorter, more focused courses. This can make learning more accessible to busy colleagues, and also reduces the expectation for colleagues to remember many ideas, principles or requirements all at once. Instead of trying to remember everything, colleagues can focus on understanding one or two topics clearly.


The 70/20/10 model; imperfect but influential

As you can see, the 70/20/10 model is flawed, and is unlikely to represent the actual learning experience of all your learners. But this model does give shape to corporate learning structures, and can remind us all of the need to weave learning into every aspect of your colleagues’ experiences. Whether through formal learning, interactions with peers, or ad-hoc teachable moments, organisations must consider their learning needs holistically. This can improve outcomes for learners, and help employees to feel engaged and valued.


Learning and development from Marshalls

As one of the UK’s leading e-learning consultancies, we understand the challenges of delivering learning to busy and pressured colleagues.

If you would like to know more about how we can help, either through e-learning or blended learning solutions, get in touch with our friendly team here.

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