The 70:20:10 learning model – Your ultimate guide

From what 70-20-10 learning model is to its benefits, how to implement it and much more.

by Kasper Spiro

The 70:20:10 framework explains how we learn new information and skills in the workplace. It suggests that 70% of what we learn comes from on-the-job experiences, 20% from colleagues and co-workers, and 10% from formal training. Applying the 70:20:10 model in your organization is a great way to increase knowledge and achieve better performance.

What is 70-20-10 learning model and its history

What is the 70:20:10 learning model?

70:20:10 is a model for Learning and Development (L&D) that summarizes the way employees learn. According to the 70:20:10 framework, employees learn 70% of everything they know through on-the-job experiences, and 20% by interacting with co-workers.

These parts of the model are also known as informal learning, because employees learn by doing. The other component is about formal learning: 10% of what employees learn happens through structured classroom training outside of work.

Understanding 70:20:10 allows you to leverage it and provide employees with an integrated learning experience that includes performance support, knowledge sharing, and formal training. However, you shouldn’t take the numbers of the components too literally. They are a mere guideline that helps you understand learners’ needs and create an effective training program.

What does the 70% of learning entail?


Up to 70% of what employees learn in the workplace happens through on-the-job experiences. This component is all about completing tasks, resolving issues, learning from mistakes, and practicing. It is completely integrated into the flow of employees’ work.

That is why it is called learning by doing. Or, in other words: informal learning. A byproduct of this part of the model is performance support, because the activities help employees perform better. Employees are typically in control over this part of the framework. They decide what, when, and how they want to learn.

For employees who don’t have much working experience yet, informal learning is entirely new. These employees have obtained most of what they know through formal learning in kindergarten, school, and college or university. This part of the model will balance their learning once they become more exposed to it.

What does the 20% entail?


A variety of activities entail the 20% of this framework. All these activities are about learning by sharing knowledge: social learning, coaching, mentoring, collaborative learning, and interacting with colleagues. The researchers who brought the 70 20 10 model to life found that people learn a lot in the workplace by sharing their experiences and skills.

To turn the 20% into a successful and effective practice, you need to have a robust social learning culture in your organization. Does your organization already embrace this? Great! If not, you can work on the process of developing it. Start by looking at how you can facilitate and support employees in knowledge sharing.

You don’t create a social learning culture overnight. Still, once it is there, you will see that it enables employees to work more productively and create an environment where they can collaborate, support each other, and learn from one another.

In our experience, only a small number of employees are willing to participate in knowledge sharing. In fact, we have made our own twist to the 70 20 10 model to show it.

  • You will find that about 10% of employees are willing to share knowledge actively. We call them ‘the willing.’
  • About 20% of employees are willing to share knowledge if invited or encouraged to do so. We call them ‘the able.’
  • The majority of employees, about 70%, is unwilling to share knowledge at all. We consider them the consumers of knowledge created by the other two groups, and we call them ‘the lazy.’

Employees who don’t have a lot of working experience yet, haven’t spent much time sharing their knowledge. They have experienced structured classroom learning for the most significant part of their lives. You may notice these employees need a little nudge in the right direction. Give them time to adjust and help them when needed. In the end, this is a learning journey in and of itself. 

What does the 10% entail?


With only 10%, formal learning makes up the smallest part of the 70 20 10 framework. However, that doesn’t make this component less essential than the others. Formal learning is the only way of learning that happens in a structured way. That is also why these three forms of learning complement each other.

Roughly, there are two ways of formal learning. On the one hand, employees learn through training during seminars, workshops, and presentations. It is a way of learning we experience during our time at school. From our first year in kindergarten up until we graduate, we learn systematically and are trained face-to-face in a classroom setting.

It makes sense that in corporate learning, this takes up only about 10% of our time. From the moment we start our careers, we learn by doing, we learn from others – we don’t learn from training as much anymore.

E-learning is a form of formal learning as well. Online learning has a few huge benefits: employees can learn whenever they want, wherever they are. You don’t have to get a classroom full of employees together, and you don’t have to get trainers from other locations. Another benefit: online learning comes in different shapes and sizes, enabling employees to pick training and courses that best suit their needs.

The history of the 70:20:10 principle

Three researchers created the model of learning in the 1980s: Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo, and Robert A. Eichinger. They worked at the Center for Creative Leadership at the time, researching successful managers’ most important developmental experiences.

For their study, they asked about 200 executives how they learned during work. The 70:20:10 framework was a result of the research. At the time, experts were the only ones who knew about the model. The wider public hadn’t heard about it yet.

Years later, in the early 2000s, learning expert Jay Cross published the book Informal Learning. In it, he advises on how to support, nurture, and leverage informal learning at the workplace. Thanks to Cross’ efforts, 70:20:10 got a larger audience and gained more attention. But that is not all that Jay Cross did – the 70:20:10 model has more to thank him for.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Cross created the Internet-Time Alliance: a think-tank focused on organizational learning and performance. Learning experts Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings, and Clark Quinn work there and support organizations in embracing and adopting new ways of working and learning.

Charles Jennings has continued Cross’s work by speaking about the 70:20:10 model at events and writing about it in his books. He also created the 70:20:10 Institute that aids organizations in aligning L&D with the business to achieve impact, improve performance, and unlock growth opportunities.

The rise of social media usage in the early 2000s has also influenced 70:20:10’s popularity. Thanks to the combination of all these events, the 70:20:10 framework finally became known among a broader public. Its rise in popularity opened the eyes of L&D managers who mostly focused on formal learning, the most known way of learning at the time. L&D started to realize how valuable informal learning is. That is why informal learning now takes up the most prominent part of the 70:20:10 model.

EGL & 70/20/10

Employee-generated-Learning covers 100% of 70-20-10

For all three components of the 70-20-10 rule, it is crucial to convert knowledge that lives inside your organization into learning resources. A few examples of resources are templates, how-to’s, videos, quizzes, and online courses.

Employees with expertise or lots of experience and know-how can create those resources themselves. By doing so, you automatically cover all three parts of this model. The 70% part because you offer resources performance support; the 20% part because employees share knowledge; and the 10% part because employees have access to formal training.

We call this way of working Employee-generated Learning, and it is our home-grown L&D method. Employee-generated Learning shifts the responsibility for creating learning content from instructional designers to employees. Employee-generated Learning enables non-didactic employees to develop learning content, and even supports those without experience in creating training.

This methodology is all about leveraging each other’s expertise while working on daily tasks on the work floor. Employee-generated Learning engages your workforce and gives people recognition and clout within the organization. By letting employees take control over the creation of these resources, you know that learning resources are applicable to your organization and always up to date.

Because knowledge is captured and shared in-house, this approach is much cheaper than third-party or off-the-shelf training. It will help you to reduce training costs significantly. Maintaining content is simple with Employee-generated Learning, because experts own it and know precisely when content needs updating.

It is also very scalable: you can let hundreds of employees follow online training made by their co-workers and your workers don’t have to wait until a trainer is available or a course starts. They can access home-made training anytime, anywhere. Because of all these benefits, Employee-generated Learning is the only sustainable way to train your workforce.

The 70-20-10 model and The five moments of learning

Employees’ learning needs are ever-changing, and it is crucial to make sure they get what they need to perform best. Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson knew that, and so they created a helpful model strongly connected to 70-20-10: The five moments of learning needs. They believe these five moments drive all learning:

  • New – learning something for the first time. Employees obtain new knowledge, mostly through top-down formal learning.
  • More – expanding on what has been learned. This also occurs through formal learning. Content may include videos, short e-learning courses, and FAQs.
  • Apply – acting upon what has been learned. This need mostly involves learning on the job and by doing and is often supported by peers, videos, how-tos, and other forms of informal support.
  • Solve – using knowledge to solve a problem in a situation when something didn’t work out as expected.
  • Change – learning to do something in a new way. This need mostly involves learning on the job and by doing and is often supported by peers, videos, how-tos, and other forms of informal support.


The learning needs New and More can be fulfilled with formal training: face-to-face training or e-learning. This is the 10 part of the 70-2010 model. The moments Apply, Solve and Change are all about informal learning, the 20 and the 70 bits. That doesn’t only point out that we have to move from learning to support. It also means that formal learning is only a solution for a small part of the learning challenges.

70-20-10 model criticism & evidences

70-20-10 model criticism

Feel like you need more data supporting 70-20-10 to believe in the model? You’re not alone. Lack of evidence is one of the most significant criticisms of the framework. Even though the framework is widely popular on the one hand, many people question it for various reasons on the other. Let’s look at some of the main criticisms of the 70-20-10 model.

1. There is not enough empirical evidence

The 70-20-10 model was brought to life by three researchers. They asked about 200 executives to fill in surveys to identify three events in their careers that made them manage differently. Many people argue that this survey didn’t gather enough empirical data to support the model. And not just that. Many people have questioned the decision to survey managers who had already experienced success. 

2. 70-20-10 doesn’t focus on formal training enough

The 70-20-10 framework states that only 10% of things employees learn comes from formal learning. That component of the model, just like 70 and 20, should not be taken literally and is just a guideline. However, many L&D professionals argue that enabling employees to spend only 10% of their time on formal learning is not enough.

70/20/10 model criticism debunked

Along with the criticism, there are many arguments as to why the 70/20/10 is a valid and valuable framework. Let’s go through the evidence and reasons why people do believe in the model. 

1. Employees working full time have plenty of time for formal learning

Some say spending 10% of your time on formal learning is not enough. Even though it is just a rule of thumb, it is interesting to know how many hours 10% of an employee’s time actually is. A Dutch study has broken it down for us. Employees in full-time employment spend more than 1800 hours a year on work.

Taking the 10% literally, that means that employees spend 180 hours a year on formal learning. Nut when it comes down to it, employees only spend 35 hours a year on formal learning according to Statistics Netherlands. So even though some people find this part of the model isn’t big enough, really, it is not even used to its fullest.

If you consider that most formal learning happens at kindergarten, school, and college or university, it makes sense that people spend less time on it at work. The foundation is there already, and jobs are a way for people to build on what they know by learning by doing: by informal learning.

2. The model is an advantage for many organizations

The website of the 70/20/10 Forum offers many case studies that show how successful the implementation of this framework is for many organizations. They all managed to provide in the learning needs of their employees, thanks to 70/20/10. 

3. The model is meant to inspire

One of the most important things to know about 70/20/10, is that it has been created to inspire other learning techniques. It is not meant to be seen as a prescriptive model. As long as you keep in mind that the model is not scientific and is not a recipe for instant success, it can be applied efficiently.

4. It is an efficient way of learning that improves productivity and performance

Informal learning covers the most significant part of 70/20/10. And thanks to that, employees don’t have to wait for formal training anymore. They can ask colleagues or use available learning content to learn a new skill or obtain knowledge.

Also, they can work on a specific topic or skill with their coach or mentor and improve their performance. This framework allows employees to integrate learning activities in their work, which enables them to work more productively and increase the quality of their output.

5. Research shows that employees find collaboration more valuable than formal learning

Research done by Charles Jennings and Towards Maturity shows that 90% of employees find collaboration essential or very useful to do their job. Only 37% think the same about formal learning. Having a learning approach that embraces the 70/20/10 model enables employees to learn 90% of things through collaboration, making the model extremely valuable.

What to make of 70/20/10?

With all the arguments for and against implementing the model, it is fair to say that you shouldn’t see it as a scientific model or recipe for guaranteed success. It is a rule of thumb, a framework that can inspire you to create an effective learning experience for employees.

Benefits of the 70:20:10 model

Whether you believe in the framework or not, it is worthwhile to check out its benefits. Amongst them are higher productivity, increased engagement, and improved performance.

1. The model is efficient and improves productivity

For a long time, L&D focused on just formal learning. Once the 70:20:10 model became popular, it initiated a shift, and L&D realized it is valuable to focus on performance support and knowledge sharing too.
This was a massive shift in thinking. Thanks to the informal part of the 70:20:10 framework, employees don’t have to wait for formal training anymore. They can learn by interacting with colleagues or applying learning content. This framework allows employees to integrate learning activities in their work, enabling them to work more productively and increase their work quality.

2. The model is a great way of knowledge retention

To successfully implement 70:20:10, your organization needs to foster a learning ecosystem. In such an ecosystem, you work with various tools and platforms that facilitate performance support, knowledge sharing, and formal training. A considerable advantage of working with those tools and having an ecosystem is that all learning content is in house and available for employees.

Studies show that employees who have access to a Learning Management System LMS and work in an organization that embraces 70:20:10, are more engaged learners and retain more knowledge. New hires in these organizations are less likely to leave, too.

3. The model increases employee engagement

Because 70:20:10 enforces employees to give each other feedback, ask questions, and collaborate, they often realize that development happens all the time and in a variety of ways. That is highly motivating for employees. Organizations that work with the 70:20:10 framework have thus seen the engagement of their staff increase.

4. The model improves team performance

70:20:10 is an efficient way of learning that improves productivity, and that doesn’t just apply to employees. People in teams can learn about each other’s strengths and weaknesses, complement each other, or teach each other new skills to develop themselves. That way, 70:20:10 is also able to improve the performance of an entire team.

5. The model is flexible enough to use it in your organization’s way

Since 70:20:10 is not a fixed model but a guideline, it lends itself to be applied in different ways – and thus, in the way that is the best for your organization. Some organizations use the framework to target performance development outcomes, while others use it in combination with their learning philosophies.

How to implement the 70 20 10 model

Does the thought of employees taking an active part in their learning and development make you smile? Would you love to cultivate collaboration between employees and teams in your organization? Sounds like it is time to learn how to implement the 70 20 10 rule.

If this is brand new for your organization, it might be challenging for everyone to adapt to the new approach. By informing everyone about the benefits and having a plan, developing a strategy, and investing in the right tools, you are on your way to success.

1. Raise awareness

It all starts with making sure people understand that employees’ development is not just about following a course. That it is something employees can work on themselves, during their daily tasks, without having to go anywhere. You don’t have to raise awareness among everyone who works in your organization. Especially if your organization is large. It is a good idea to start small: with a business unit, for example. That way, you can introduce it to others step by step, show concrete results as you move on, and then spread to other areas of your organization.

2. Define objectives

Before you implement the 70 20 10 framework, think about what you want to achieve. What is your end goal, and how does this model help you to get there? Where in your organization, business units, or teams does it fit? Make sure to align 70 20 10 with your organization’s strategy, even your L&D plan, so you can ensure that all your efforts will lead to you realizing your objectives.

3. Make a 70 20 10 development plan

Because knowledge sharing is a big part of the 70 20 10 model, it may seem like a robust system isn’t needed to implement it. Don’t be fooled. To reach your objectives, you need a 70 20 10 development plan. The first step to forming a plan is to determine where you are. Combine that with the goals you defined during step two, and you will be able to decide what you need to do to get there.

Once you have the outlines of your plan, it is time to start filling it up. Think about how much time and budget you want to spend on formal learning, which team leaders and managers will play a significant role, which tools you need to invest in, and so on. The decisions you make should lead you to where you want to be. Try to answer some of these questions:

  • Whom do you need to get on board?
  • Who will be coaches and mentors? And who will coach and mentor them?
  • Who will be your champions within the business, who might put up barriers?
  • What resources do you need to support the model?
  • Will there be any impacts on IT systems?
  • What will the ROI be? 
  • How about savings over time or cost increases?
  • How will you keep records and measure success?
  • What resources do you need to make this happen?
  • Have you identified any risks and dependencies? 
  • Do you have a plan in case things go wrong?

4. Invest in the tools and platforms to facilitate formal and informal learning

Now that you have a plan in place, it is time to start thinking about what tool can assist you. There are various paths you can walk. However, one thing is sure: you need tools employees can use for performance support, knowledge sharing, and formal learning. Having tools and platforms that facilitate a learning ecosystem helps you pave the way to success. There are at least three types of tools we recommend you to work with:

  • Learning Management Systems (LMS) are traditional tools that support L&D with managing their learning activities. Truthfully, LMS are on the decline, but they can come in handy as a database of training for L&D. LMS can cover formal learning.
  • Almost opposite of the LMS, we have Learning eXperience Platforms (LXPs). LXPs enforce a bottom-up approach and put employees in charge of what, when, and how they learn. They are like the Netflix of learning: employees can search for content on-demand, recommend content, and find experts in their domains. LXPs facilitate the 70% of the 70 20 10 model.
  • Performance Support Systems (PSS) improve performance by helping employees to solve problems on the go. They offer practical information to solve a particular learning need on the fly. This allows employees to get back into the flow of work as quickly as possible.

5. Implement, measure success, and repeat

Once you have everything prepared and in place, there is not much that can stop you from starting. It is time to implement 70 20 10 and get going. While the employees within your company are learning, collaborating, and taking courses, it is up to you to steer everything in the right direction. Measure success with surveys, polls, or NPS (Net Promotor Score) surveys to see how things are going.
how-to-implement-70-20-10

NPS surveys allow you to ask learners a straightforward question: “Would you recommend this to a friend?”. The learner gives a score from 1-10. A rating from 1-6 means they wouldn’t recommend it; 7-8 is a passive rating that means that they will not actively promote or complain about it; and 9-10 is a promoter, which means that the learner will actively promote it.

Based on these scores, you receive an overall NPS score. The feedback you get can provide you with insights into how engaging and helpful employees find this way. It is also a means to get suggestions on how to optimize your approach.

Implement useful feedback to improve processes, and move forward, step by step. It may take a while and some improvements until everything is going as smoothly as you want. Don’t worry, that is completely normal. In the end, you are learning from this experience as well.

Conclusion

702010 is an L&D model that states how people work at the workplace. About 70% of learning happens through on-the-job experiences like solving problems, getting feedback, learning from mistakes, and so on. About 20% of learning happens through knowledge sharing and interaction with co-workers. These two components cover informal learning. The 10 bit of this framework is about formal learning and states that 10% of what employees learn, comes from structured training.

The 702010 rule was brought to life in the 1980s, when Morgan McCall, Michael M. Lombardo, and Robert A. Eichinger conducted a study to discover how managers learn at work. But years went by before their model became well-known.

In the early 2000s, learning Jay Cross mentioned the model in his ground-breaking book Informal Learning, and it started to get more attention. After that, expert Charles Jennings made sure the model became even more famous by writing about it, talking about it at events, and starting the 702010 Institute with the CEO of Tulser. Tulser is a company that supports organizations in creating successful L&D results.

The 702010 frameworks surge in popularity made for a switch in many L&D professional’s mindsets. They started to realize how valuable informal learning is, which is why it now takes up the most prominent part of the model.

As with anything famous, some people criticize the model, while others point towards its benefits. Some of its opponents argue that not enough empirical evidence supports the model. They also say the model doesn’t focus on formal training enough. Counterarguments are: the model is meant to inspire and not to take too literally, it is an efficient way of learning that improves productivity and performance, and research shows that employees find collaboration more valuable than formal learning.

Apart from that, the 702010 model comes with some great benefits:

  • It is a great form of knowledge retention.
  • It increases employee engagement.
  • It improves team performance.
  • Solve – using knowledge to solve a problem in a situation when something didn’t work out as expected.
  • It is flexible enough to use it in your organization’s way.

Do you believe the 702010 framework is a way for your organization to embrace formal learning, performance support, and knowledge sharing? Follow these steps to implement the model:

  • Raise awareness
  • Define objectives
  • Make a 70 20 10 development plan
  • Invest in the tools and platforms to facilitate formal and informal learning
  • Implement, measure success, and repeat
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About the author

Kasper Spiro is the CEO of Easygenerator and a recognized thought leader in the world of e-learning. With over 30 years of experience, he is a frequently asked keynote speaker and well-renowned blogger within the e-learning community.