70-20-10? … As Always – It Depends.

70-20-10? Oh Really? How Coincidental. 

Every…one? I’m sorry – and – it also smacks of L&D Navel Gazing – IMO.

First – the Numbers … with my definitions. Note that there are many sets of definitions out in use.

  • 70% – Learning via OTJ Assignments– Informal Learning & Development through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practices, and tough assignments. Also known as: On-the-Job (OJT).
  • 20% – Learning via Coaching– Informal Learning & Development via coaching from others in one’s personal networks.
  • 10% – Learning via Training & Education – Formal Learning & Development through courses and programs, workshops, elearning, webinars, etc.



The 70-20-10 Focus

As a model, what does it communicate?

What is its focus?

It’s just not externally focused enough, and is too internally focused – IMO – unless dumping that 70% and 20% on the customer is the external focus. 

For THEY – Our Clients – are in control of those two components of the model – the 70 and 20 – not that we cannot help them there too. But they own that … no?

And they have final say about making those two happen – all three really – but those two especially – and – they have to then live with the potential disruptions and consequences to their business, to their Processes – for them – when they address the 70 and 20 … and most of the time they have to really believe that there is that short term pain for that long term gain in order for them to really follow through. 

Or – they – just – let – it – go.

Because… It’s Informal. Or guided Informal.

Note: not that their assessments and final say judgments about what to do and how to the 70 and 20 are always right. Guiding the Informal is critical IMO.

And – those numbers – 70-20-10 aren’t right – IMO.

The concepts are good, right. The numbers are wrong.

Me – I’ve spent most of my career working for Fortune 500 firms formalizing learning when the informal approach wasn’t cutting it. Developing comprehensive, performance-focused T&D Paths … and then designing/developing the gap content when what they had already didn’t fit the bill.

And I’ve never seen the ideal solution fall out so neatly as 70-20-10, but I have it seen pretty much the reverse. And many of my designs of Learning Paths called out for those same varied approaches … guiding the Learning via Formal and Informal means down a path to Performance Competence development.

And – ONLY IF – the upside to Performance Impact made it worth addressing. Sometimes the modules of modular content did not seem worthwhile. Not everything needed to be formalized. 

Note: those Knowledge/Skills determined to not be worthy of Formal treatment – were left to Unstructured OJT – also known as Informal Learning. “Oh, they’ll figure it out.” … and … “We’re not spending another nickle on it.” … and … “They’ll ask their neighbor.”

And most of the time these decisions to let it go – to leave it to unstructured on-the-job learning – seemed to me like reasonable business decisions … to leave some of the K/S Requirements to “less-than-Formal” means and to “completely-Informal” means. 

An aside: Many times – one of the key things that the Learning Path Analysis/Design Team – and even the Project Steering Team – wanted – was a face-to-face forum, annually if not quarterly – where people could share their questions and seek information and instruction.

That was one of the varied approaches of several the Design Teams I’ve worked with. It was interesting to me that that mechanism was often seen by the Master Performers engaged in the effort as something highly desirable. Social.

It Doesn’t Begin With The End In Mind

It – 70-20-10 – is a prime example of promoting the Cart Before Horse – IMO.

It is either a prescription – or a suggestionbefore having any understanding via some sort of analysis/diagnosis … of the current state’s performance context requirements and results, and the specific gaps from goals or ideals, and without understanding the worth or value of those gaps, and then an estimate of any reasonable upside performance potential – for making an investment in dollars and time to address any, or all of it …

Sometimes your context requires an estimate … in advance … of the potential ROI … for comparison purposes. Especially if doing one project over another is the larger context for you – because there just aren’t enough Resources to go around to meet every need regardless of their comparative worth. Not for a good steward of shareholder equity.

So … to avoid investing in Learning with little hopes of a return … or of a sufficient enough rate of return – depending on your local requirements for same – ya gotta understand the Context. The “as is” and “could be” gaps of the context.

The Performance Competence Requirements “context” that is.


Where is the Analysis of that – in 70-20-10?

Is it analysis or assessment agnostic? Can it get along without any data at all?

And what data do I need to determine what goes into which bucket … the 70 … 20 … 10? 

Note: Data that I’ve been collecting in 30+ years of Instructional Analysis of Performance and Performers and then designing Instructional Courses or entire Curricula – T&D Paths/ Learning Paths – it’s my view that some jobs need widely different “methods and amounts” of Instruction and Information – for the Learner to participate in and/or access – to develop the Performance Competence they require … than the 70-20-10 model prescribes or suggests.

The 70-20-10 Model’s Source

The 70-20-10 model itself is based on an “As Is” or “Current State” opinion survey (self reported) of 200 managers – about their personal beliefs as to how they learned. Hmm.

Small sample size of such as a huge domain … management. Hmm.

And again … it’s their Current State … and seemingly assumed by most to be the same as the Ideal State already. Hmm.

That’s seems like so very little – to go on – to over-generalize – for everybody else – that this is close to what is needed – IMO. Hmm.

Maybe there is a worthy upside – or – maybe not.

The ROI for Improvement to the Levels of the Master Performers

Model Suggests Averaging or Rounding

And Round Numbers always make me suspicious. Even the 80/20 Rule.

An aside: I liked that Deming used 94% when stating which problems (deviations from goals) where attributable to THE SYSTEM and therefore to Management and therefore not the individuals or teams. Management.

And now 70-20-10 seems like a fit – to some in the field – for every job -management or non-management, high risk jobs and lower risk jobs.


Astronauts and Jet Pilots and Waiters and Bus Boys?

Computer Systems Administrators and Cafeteria staff?

Which is my segue to…

One Size Does Not Fit All

One size fits all … Not.

Each Performance Context Is Unique – either just somewhat or lots – in the requirements for Products/Services in their marketplace.

Then, their unique Processes for Development and then Delivery of those P/Ss might be unique – somewhat or a lot.

The Inputs required and available might be unique – somewhat or a lot. And the other Environmental Resources required of the Processes, and then the required Human Resources to use/manipulate those Environmental Resources within the Process to deliver – or make Accessible – the Products/Services – might be unique – somewhat or a lot.

Note to self and others – always look to the Process first – and its adequacy in meeting the demands of its Stakeholders – before jumping on any Learning Bandwagon.


If Learning is the Answer – What Again Was The Problem?

How does a 70-20-10 framework – specific targets or general guidelines – assist with any of that?

It presumes too much IMO.

It presumes – or inadvertently suggests – that Learning is a primary solution when it may really be secondary or tertiary. It does not account for the incoming knowledge and skills of the target audiences – and that variance.

Wouldn’t that variance cause the numbers to vary?

It’s means versus ends.

Reminds me of a client who made sales calls internally proclaiming that they “Asked Why 5 Times.”

Their clients were generally not impressed – as THAT did not scream I’m here for YOU, and it’s all about YOU….

IMO – we need to be focused first and foremost on our Clients/Customers and their Stakeholders – and their Processes – IMO.

Learning – and other enablers of Processes (in my models) are secondary to the Process design itself.


Maybe fix the Process – and then make everyone aware of the changes, or knowledgeable about the changes or skilled in the changes. Whatever the situation calls for. As always – it depends.

How can anyone in L&D – or whatever flag you fly under – begin to discuss/promote a solution-set framework targets or guidelines without a full understanding of the situation – and the hard data and soft data that exists from within that Performance Context and its Performance Context(s)?

Premature? I think so.

And focused internally on ourselves, again, rather than on the customer and their situation and stakeholders and those specifics.

We shouldn’t care – nor forecast – what their solution looks, or “frames” like. Not before seeking to understand the context, current and near-or-mid term/future.

And again, how can one set of numbers be universally true … or universally true enough … to warrant promotion as a prescription or suggestion … or as a brand?

Reminds me of a former firm’s client back in the 1990s, Boston Chicken, and them needing to do a name change to Boston Market, once they decided to expand and sell meatloaf too.

Branding can communicate – as well as trap.

And if it’s not about the numbers, why use them at all? What value add do they deliver?

  • 70% – Learning via On-the-Job Assignments – Informal Learning 
  • 20% – Learning via Coaching & Networks – Informal Learning 
  • 10% – Learning via Training & Education – Formal Learning

To whose benefit is it to “get” this – and then go “beyond” getting this – to “applying” this?

If it’s to help the Learning Supply-side Community and/or the Customer-side Community understand that Learning How To Do The Job takes a mix of formal learning and informal learning – well, then, duh. Tell us something we didn’t already know.

If it is about helping the Learning Supply-side Community and/or the Customer-side Community understand that…

  • 1) we still need our budgets for the 10%, and
  • 2) the informal learning portions of 90% are under the control of you and your managers, and we in L&D cannot be held responsible for that

– is also, well, then, duh, thanks for your help.

Move along now. We all get that – that we the customer are mostly on our own here.

But then again, so what?

If Deming were to be believed, with his non-round number of 94% – that 94% of Problems were in the System itself – and that that was in the control of management – and that no exhortations, beatings, rewards or teachings/learnings of the worker force – was going to move any metric needle up – other than the expense needle – then why focus and promote a solutions-set framework?

Why not talk about how to identify gaps and then to address them – regardless of whether or not they have much to do with Learning.

Hint: Learning will be a portion, most of the time, for many of the Solution-sets.

New software required? New Policies required? New Regulations to deal with?

Will those require Learning – or Performance Support?

Maybe a Job Aid is needed – sometimes online – and sometimes laminated and taped to the desk. AS always – it depends.

Why Not Just Focus On Performance?

And let the solutions-set percentage chips fall where they may?

And then address those needs with the client – as a partner – partnering with all other enabler providers whose products and services are not adequate to the specific need of the targeted Process and/or People.


It’s not all about Learning. It’s all about Performance.

Help the client/customer figure out the desired state and the current state and then value the worth of addressing those gaps.

Address the worthy needs – gaps – with Learning – and Job Assignments – and Coaching – as that specific situation requires – after determining the other changes required to the other enablers of a future, ideal set of Enterprise Processes.

Here is my page of Foo Foo about 70-20-10 – here.


IMO – 70-20-10 is an unfortunate formalization of a general truism: that the learning required to achieve Performance Competence and then maintain it – will require a blend of means and modes – to be deployed and made accessible – including both performance-based Instruction (both static and dynamic) and Information (both static and dynamic).

The right blend/mix could be very different than this model suggests.

70-20-10 variances

The numbers could be exactly reversed and be exactly right for some Performance Contexts and its Performers given their incoming knowledge, skills and experiences.


Models in L&D 1

So … Drop the numbers.

Models in L&D 2

Focus on enabling and measuring worthy Performance.

Who could complain?

70-20-10 CS not FS

Please don’t consider some other group’s “current state” as the appropriate target for your future state for each target audience you address.

That would not be good stewardship of shareholder equity. IMO.

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3 comments on “70-20-10? … As Always – It Depends.

  1. Pingback: L&D: Outcomes in Learning Should Lead to Outcomes Back OTJ | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

  2. Pingback: L&D: Enabling Better 70 in the Flipped 10-20-70 Model | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

  3. Pingback: L&D: All Learning Starts as Informal. All. 100%. | EPPIC - Pursuing Performance

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