Everyone has Expectations – a review of Charles Jennings’ 70-20-10 Framework Explained

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.

5 thoughts on “Everyone has Expectations – a review of Charles Jennings’ 70-20-10 Framework Explained

  1. Thank you for this excellent analysis, Adam.

    I wrote the ’70:20:10 Explained’ publication to provide context about using the model and not as a recipe book. I wholeheartedly agree with you that there is no ‘recipe’ for using 70:20:10. It’s a reference model or framework rather than a set of rules or fixed steps. Every organisation needs to use the model in the way that best suits their own situation and aspirations. Context rules!

    One of the strengths I have found with the 70:20:10 model in the 15 years or so I have been using it is its apparent simplicity. This apparent simplicity helps communicate the fact that employee development is much more than a set of courses and curricula.

    Whenever I work with organisations looking to implement a 70:20:10 strategy I find that senior executives ‘get it’ almost immediately. It’s simple, and everyone knows that they themselves have learned a great deal as part of their workflow. The model also offers a robust strategic approach that guides the integration of experiential, social and structured learning.

    Thanks again for your insights.

  2. Thank you for your response Charles.

    The premise of 70-20-10 is simple, intuitive and easy to “get” however I feel that the application to the workplace learning function is anything but simple. Everything that the learning function touches becomes formal by definition. It needs to be communicated and documented. Experiences happen all the time without Learning function interventions. I worry that we will risk spoiling the dish by poking at it. I would rather create formal programs that teach people how to learn from experiences. What do we do for the people whose managers refuse to give them stretch assignments. What other kinds of experiences can we create? I’m encouraged by the flexibility of the framework. I was once a Performance Artist and in that role I was always looking for ways to create new experiences. Perhaps not all experiences have to be strictly work related. We could make fun allegorical stories happen in real space and involving the learners so that they integrate the message in the story with their daily lives.

  3. Hi Adam! Thanks for sharing your this and other thoughts and experiences here. I’m also a big proponent of the 70-20-10 approach. I always love to hear what others are experiencing when making this type of transition – especially anything navigating this path in actual, real-world environments like what you are doing.

  4. Hi Adam,

    Excellent review and analysis of Charles’ framework book. Whilst I wildly support 70:20:10 the true understanding of the concept seems to get lost in the desire to find ways of deconstructing formal learning and costs. I hope this offering goes some way in demonstrating that each element plays a key part in the development of our talent. Providing the formal 10% that imparts known knowledge and then supporting our learners both through peers sharing and experiences is key to enhancing and evolving both their understanding and capability. This enhanced knowledge should then be fed back into the learning experiences for next generation learners, constantly moving us forward. 70:20:10 reflects the basis of most successful learning models showing that isolated learning does little more than take time and money unless supported, practised and reinforced.

    supporting learners is undertaken via a shift from L&D as a business function, to L&D as a valued contributor to business success. This requires positive business engagement and buy in us outlined in Charles’ approach to implementation.

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