The murkiness of 70:20:10

Written by Paul Matthews on 31 August 2018

I was fascinated to overhear an ‘argument’ at an L&D event recently where two people were discussing which type of learning fitted into which part of the 70:20:10 model. I was fascinated because I am not sure it really matters and anyway, what would they do with whatever split they finally agreed on?

In trying to categorise ‘types’ of learning to see whether they satisfy 70 or 20, or some other arbitrary classification, we are falling into the tick box trap. We are wanting a way to be able to say to someone in a senior suit who has mandated a 70:20:10 strategy for learning that we are doing it.

'See. Look, here are my spreadsheets on the types of learning we are doing and how much of it is ‘70’'.

One of the protagonists I overheard was saying that instructor-led training is definitely in the 10% and that a performance support system is definitely in the 70% because they are using it in their workflow. Maybe, but consider this…

Gloria Gery coined the term Electronic Performance Support System (EPSS) and describes it as:

“An orchestrated set of technology-enabled services that provide on-demand access to integrated information, guidance, advice, assistance, training, and tools to enable high-level job performance with a minimum of support from other people.”

Who cares whether any learning that takes place because of the support system, electronic or not, is 70 or 20 or 10.

If we go with this definition, and I can’t think of a better one, then learning may indeed happen when a worker uses an EPSS, but it is a possible side effect and not at all guaranteed. We cannot say that we are ‘doing 70’ if we implement an EPSS. Gloria’s focus is on performance, not on learning.

So, let’s use an EPSS to enhance performance and be grateful for the learning side effect that often happens. Indeed, we may even design our EPSS in such a way as to try to magnify the side effect, however there is a lot of information in an EPSS that I want to leave there rather than try to transfer into an employee’s head.

You could of course say that remembering the information that they looked up is useful but not essential because they can look it up again in the future, and that the real 70% benefit is learning from the experience of using that new bit of information.


But just because they use a new bit of information, do we know if they learned anything? Does installing an EPSS ensure any learning, and if so, how much? And so the discussion could continue in further circles...

If we do a proper performance diagnostics process and come up with the real or anticipated barriers to the desired performance, we can then design a range of solutions to deal with the barriers. I have yet to see a process like this result in a range of interventions/solutions that does not include some form of performance support.

At this point, who cares whether any learning that takes place because of the support system, electronic or not, is 70 or 20 or 10. What we care about at this point is ensuring performance.

I think a conversation that tries to clarify the murkiness surrounding which bits of learning fit into which box is a red herring. Let’s focus on performance instead and what’s getting in its way. Then we deal with those barriers to performance. I agree with the murkiness of the 70:20:10 model, but I am not convinced there is a need to deal with it.


About the author

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning, especially informal learning, learning transfer, performance consultancy, and how Learning & Development can help achieve business targets.



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