Is the 70:20:10 Development Model Still Effective Today?

Jun 20 2024 | Insights
A woman working at her desk studying the 70:20:10 development model

Learning and development strategies are continually evolving within the business landscape to provide more intuitive, scalable and technologically appropriate learning solutions for employees and leaders. But does that mean there’s no longer room for the more traditional models? We’ve investigated the relevance of an old favorite, the 70:20:10 development model, and how it can be engineered to maintain its effectiveness in the future. 

What is the 70:20:10 development model?

The 70:20:10 development model suggests you need a mix of different types of learning and development sources to reach your true potential at work and in life. The idea is that real growth doesn’t just come from the stuff you’ve learned at school or work, but from connections and experiences. 

The 70:20:10 development model has been kicking around since the 80s when Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger first introduced it. The numbers in the name come directly from a survey they conducted among executives. The participants were asked where they believed they got the most learning from in life. In the results, 70% of executives reported that their learning comes from hands-on experience, 20% from social interactions and just 10% from formal education. 

This gave rise to the model we know today that mirrors exactly what they found in the survey. Effective and holistic learning and development can be best achieved with:

  • 70% real-world learning and hands-on experience 

  • 20% social connection and interaction

  • 10% formal education and training

You may ask, how has a theory based on a survey of under 200 people managed to survive and inspire for all this time? Well, it hasn’t been without its critics. 

Arguments against 70:20:10 learning

A common critique of the 70:20:10 development model is that it does not consider that businesses and organizations are diverse, and each has different requirements for learning and development. For example, a marketing agency will likely structure its learning and development plans differently to a factory with heavy machinery – we hope! What’s more, every individual may have different preferences on how they like to learn. In more recent years, several more specific, person-focused L&D models have come into play, such as: 

  • AGILE learning model: This framework was based on the agile methodology in software development and focuses on collaborative and continuous feedback and iterative learning processes.

  • Continuous learning model: This model emphasizes the importance of lifelong learning and skills building through self-teaching and integrating education into daily work activities. 

  • Personalized learning model: This model uses data and technology to intelligently customize learning experiences to an individual. These can be done through adaptive learning platforms and data-driven insight to guide learners in the right direction.

Though the 70:20:10 model may seem slightly suspect, with its suspiciously round numbers, we can see the benefits of using it as a guideline to help inform your learning priorities, and to not underestimate the impact of informal, unstructured development.

How has the 70:20:10 model adapted?

To remain relevant over the years, the 70:20:10 model has evolved to integrate modern learning practices and technologies. For instance, we mentioned earlier that the original model didn’t allow wiggle room for individual learning practises. But now executives and leaders can harmonize the model with interactive online platforms. This adaptation ensures all types of learners can gain hands-on experience. An example of this is virtual reality training, which has become commonplace across various verticals. From safety training to practising your public speaking skills in boardroom settings, VR is efficient and personalized. The growth of AI has also facilitated tailored learning experiences to fit individual needs, preferences, and learning styles.

Learning through social interaction is much easier in the modern workplace too, with collaborative platforms, like Slack, becoming the norm. Plus, coaching can take learning through social interaction to a new level. Learning and development coaching helps you by setting goals, ensuring accountability, and providing practical strategies to boost confidence and skill development.

What part should 70:20:10 play in learning and development plans?

The 70:20:10 model serves as a guideline, and its application can be tailored to suit your specific needs and goals. For example, for a leadership development plan, your priorities may lie with activities that apply pressure, like stretch assignments that push your potential leaders out of their comfort zone and teach them new skills on the go. Alternatively, you may wish to put more emphasis on coaching and mentoring, to develop interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence.

Using the 70:20:10 model as a springboard enables you to craft and customize L&D strategies that are holistic and aligned with both individual and business goals. It encourages a healthy blend of experiential learning, social enrichment and formal education that can be adapted for all types of learners. So, whilst this development model has been around for some time, we still think it holds relevance in today's learning landscape.

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