Everyone has expectations. When we come to a story we always bring our own point of view. This seems especially true of the 70-20-10 paradigm in learning. I’m guessing that this is part of the reason that the framework’s biggest proponent, Charles Jennings wrote a guidebook for it. First, people get hung up on the numbers. Learning folk do get a little fixated on numbers and the 70-20-10 monicker is a magnet for them. The truth is that the numbers are simply a short hand for the idea and their origin is from the anecdotal information collected from various studies. Successful people, when asked what contributed to their ability to do their job, relate that 70% of came from doing something. 20% came from talking to people and 10% came from absorbing information from courses, books etc. The reason that the numbers became such a rallying cry for the Learning profession is that they pointed out the disparity between the value of formal learning and the spend. The numbers also lead people to believe that there is segmentation going on. 70 is good and 10 is bad. But this is not the case. The numbers are showing a spectrum of solutions that work together to form a whole.
I am not immune to having expectations myself. I have been an avid follower of Mr. Jennings and I’ve generally understood and accepted the point of the 70-20-10 concept log ago. I saw that there was a “guidebook” on Jennings’ 70-20-10 Forum website and I ordered it right away, expecting it to be a recipe book. There are no recipes though. It’s not that kind of idea. I have been tasked in my company with creating a technology infrastructure to support the 70-20-10 framework. This could turn into a journey worthy of Don Quixote. Learning Technologists are always wary of looking for solutions before you understand what the problem is. However even Jennings is encouraging the idea of creating an environment conducive to 70-20-10 thinking. But what does this mean? We can’t create work experiences. If we created a Project Clearinghouse site, how would it be governed? Even the 20% is tricky. You can’t just plug an enterprise Social Media Tool into the Learning infrastructure and expect people to learn from it. I was expecting answers to my personal questions.
At first I was frustrated because a good portion of the book was dedicated to what seemed to be a sales job. There were testimonials of success based on implementing the framework at top companies. Although I’ve gotten a lot out of Mr. Jennings other writing, I was concerned that I would not get what I needed out of this book. I’m not the typical reader. What I was seeing as a sales job was actually a well crafted case for the framework. When I went back to my notes, I saw that I had indeed gotten a lot of ideas. The structure of the book is based on adoption and implementation of each of the components of the framework as it relates to addressing current challenges in the workplace. As I went through these scenarios, I began to get ideas for how technology can be used to facilitate this work.
The book identifies what needs to change in an organization in order to adapt the 70-20-10 principles and it tells you what kinds of changes you can expect as a result. It explains what tools you need to give your instructional designers, coaches and managers and it opens up new opportunities to rethink learning.
What is interesting is the flexibility. Given the confusion about the numbers, I was expecting a rigid adherence to the principles but there is a lot of room for interpretation. For instance, there is no better way to learn than by experience but that is not always possible. Jennings explains that sometimes a story that elicits the same reactions can be effective. I think what is missing in much of the discussion of 70-20-10 is the importance of creating context for the learning that is taking place. The book briefly mentions the importance of establishing a cognitive framework for understanding what is learned.
I’m still working on my project of making our learning architecture “70-20-10 ready” but I think it may not be as complicated as I thought. As long as the systems are open to different types of learning, we should be fine. It is up to the Learning function to figure out how to make those learning opportunities available and to provide the right context.