My View Re: The Reference Model 70:20:10


Note: I recently read an online article/critique of 70:20:10 … and a response from one of the chief proponents of this reference model … Charles Jennings.

As the graphic above suggests … these are my opinions.

Yours may vary.

As a Reference Model … It Gets In Its Own Way

And that’s the Shame.

While it actually represents something I am in total support of – other than the use of numbers – the fact that it takes a blend of learning modes and media – something I too have been promoting, writing about, presenting about – since the early 1980s – the numbers get in the way IMO.

70:20:10 simply gets in its own way.

Especially for a reference model.

There are many definitions of this model/framework/thing … here is mine thanks to Ryan Tracey (you’ll see why later).

My definition of 70:20:10

A Reference Model regarding Workplace Learning with a focus on leveraging Experience, Exposure to others, and Formal Education.

So far – I like what I wrote. Except for … the numbers … in what is being defined here.

But first … what’s a Reference Model?

Reference Model (from Wikipedia)

A reference model in systems, enterprise, and software engineering is an abstract framework or domain-specific ontology consisting of an interlinked set of clearly defined concepts produced by an expert or body of experts in order to encourage clear communication.

The model – and what I’ve read about it – which isn’t as thorough as it could be … but I tire of chasing windmills at times – doesn’t do enough to suggest, what it means to suggest – that a blend is required.

It’s kinda that simple.

Here is a video providing an overview.

… In Order to Encourage Clear Communication

From a Response to the online article:

“I feel this article has missed the fundamental point of the 70:20:10 reference model.

There is no ‘magic number’ organisations should be striving for in their learning strategy. The point is that we all learn most of what helps us do our jobs well in the ’20’ and ’70’ spheres – as part of our daily workflow.”

If the first thing one needs to do with one’s Reference Model is dismiss it – that’s a problem. That’s the lead in the video above too.

It’s really just a branding mistake – so it is recoverable IMO.

Why is it a mistake? Because of the key audience for this message – for one thing.

Executives have known about SixSigma for over 30 years now. They generally get that it represents an improvement process to improve variation in both process and products/services. Executives live by the numbers … rightly or wrongly.

It’s a number … SixSigma. It carries the meaning of a number … something measurable.

It means: Only 4 mistakes out of a million opportunities at success/failure.

Oh, by the way, the brakes on your airliner are produced at higher quality levels … somewhere I read they were at 9 sigma, or was it 12 sigma? Mo better than SixSigma. In case you are reading this just before landing.

I suggest that you not throw out numbers unless you mean numbers.

It’s that simple.

And while we’re at it … don’t toss out acronyms that sound cool bit mislead. ROE as an example. Pardon the digression … another windmill.

Clear Communications – Not

Prospect: “And your 70-20-10?”suggests what about learning….?

Proponent: “No, just ignore the numbers. It’s more about less formal and more social and experiential learning.”

Prospect: “Ah. The 10 and 20 and 70…?)

Proponent: “No, just ignore the numbers. It’s not about the numbers”

Prospect: “Hmm.Why use numbers … if it’s not about the numbers?

Proponent: “It’s simply a reference model. It means to suggest that we all learn most of what helps us do our jobs well in the ’20’ and ’70’ spheres – as part of our daily workflow.”

But Is That Even True?

“…we all learn most of what helps us do our jobs well in the ’20’ and ’70’ spheres…”

I don’t think so … not all alone … not without 3 critical ingredients IMO.

“The ‘numbers’ and ratios are not some type of target. Nor are the categories – experience, exposure to others, and formal education – a way to separate learning. They are, in fact, a way to extend our thinking about learning and improving performance as a continuum rather than as a series of courses or programmes. Creating cultures of continuous development.” – Charles Jennings

But But

The 3 Most Often Missing Ingredients in the 70:20

  1. Advanced Organizers – prepare the learner for what is to be learned and how that fits into the bigger picture of the job. Would generally be needed by the new-to-the-performance type learner. Experienced performers might not need these – unless in totally new content/performance areas.
  2. APPOs – application activities: authentic practice with valid and timely reinforcing or corrective feedback. This does not happen on the job all by itself. Orchestrating this is the job of management – not L&D IMO.
  3. Reinforcements – to combat the Forgetting Curve – should the job itself not provide valid and timely reinforcing or corrective feedback, this too needs to be Orchestrated.

Formal Bolted onto the Front end and Back end and inside all of those Informal & Social & Experiential & Sink-or-Swim “learning experiences” … that are truly unavoidable … after all it is the job … which are not “learning experiences” in the sense that learning for improvement occurs … all by itself. No no.

See below about Deliberate Practice.

Advanced Organizers

Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em. And why that’s important. But don’t get too bogged down with detailed explanations of what and why. Just a taste. And then spread that message out as required … to avoid cognitive overload.


APPOs – Application Exercises, follow INFOs and perhaps DEMOs in my mental and physical design template. Here is an example. See the far right column.


APPOs usually are in 4 parts:

  1. Overview & Objectives of the APPO and perhaps a demo
  2. Procedures/Rules/Guides
  3. Do it – the APPO – w/ Feedback
  4. Review It and Reflect on it in the Debriefings

And sometimes you follow up an APPO with another Appo … into the breach once again… as the example above suggests.

Note: You are usually raising the bar on follow-up exercises … sometimes dealing with The Situation From Hades. If that’s authentic. Although I usually hold off on TSFH until the 3rd round in any APPO set – by design.


Spaced Learning if you will. In case the performance is not often, is random, and there is nothing else in the job environment that will appropriately shape behavior. And … you may need to combat the natural discouragements inherent in the job. That happens.

Re: Deliberate Practice

Two excellent online articles from Patti Shank:

Science of Learning 101: What Kind of Practice Makes Expert?


Can We Get Deliberate Practice Through Regular Work?

Normal work, according to Ericsson, is not deliberate practice. He explains that we don’t necessarily get better during the course of doing our regular job because many of the factors discussed above aren’t present. Rather than improve, we simply do what we usually do. We aren’t inclined to move out of our comfort zone during these times, for fear of making mistakes and looking stupid. In fact, we are likely on “autopilot” because we can’t take the time to slow down and “practice.”

What’s more, receiving feedback while we are working is rare. Not surprisingly, deliberate practice at work also can be rare.

What Do You Know: How Fast Can We Achieve Expertise?


Ericsson’s research shows that deliberate practice makes the difference in how we improve our expertise in any skill. I’m discussing deliberate practice in another article, because it isn’t the type of practice we normally get in training—as you can tell from what Dominic is doing to improve. But maybe we could think about how to include more of it!

Ericsson explains what typically happens. We begin to learn something: tennis, guitar, candy making, active listening, a new authoring program, writing skills, whatever. We get training in the form of a class, books, or YouTube. We may learn up to a “Two A” level of performance, which equals “adequate and automatic.” (Automatic means we no longer need to use resources to do the work.)

Then two months or a year later, we’ve either forgotten (because our interest waned), or we kept going but didn’t improve because we didn’t focus enough attention on learning more or getting better. Over time, just doing the same thing at the same level of skill, our skills may even erode. In fact, his research shows that experienced professionals often have eroded skills for just this reason. Same ole, same ole does NOT equal better performance.

Work can be a learning experience – or not. It depends on the individual. We need to be careful about overgeneralizing everyone’s zeal factor. IMO.


Authenticity of the content and the context – of the informal learning learned – will affect transfer – for many – maybe 85-95% – is but one issue. Gotta keep it real – for transfer.

Your insights might not transfer depending on my prior knowledge – and you, my coach – and your inability to recall the details at more than 30% is another.

And let’s not even start about how learning/training just doesn’t get the job done. There are too many reasons for that here – but I’ve shared my issues before – here. Here is a key graphic.


When I think about 70:20:10 the Reference Model – it does not suggest solutions to any of the above – or let me reference any of these issues back to it cleanly.

It doesn’t fit like a glove.

Alternatives to 70:20:10

There are many. Here is a recent one I like…

Ryan Tracey proposes a different … and better IMO … Reference Model.

One that provides a better entry into the discussion of how to get a set of Performers from the current state to some definable … and measurable … future state … in my view.


Check out the comments to Ryan’s post.

My suggestion is still: Use something that doesn’t trip you up … in those important early conversations … by meaningless … or just problematic … numbers. They get in the way … and in the end they do not mean anything meaningful.

If asked – how would you answer this posed from your client?

Does it Apply at the Job Orientation Level – or the Task Level – or the Job Level – or the Process level – or the Function level – or at the Career Level?

The answer is yes … if … you don’t include any numbers.

Lose the Numbers and Convey the Requirement of Blended Learning Over Time

Putting numbers to it … even if you say the numbers are not important … is an unforced error IMO.

ReBrand … soon.

And if you subscribe to anything about the numbers having some measurable meaning … then that is indeed much worse … and I’d like to point you to this section of my web site: here.

And … Check Out The Debunker Club

Here. And specifically about this reference model – here.


What Have YOU Used To Convey the Essence of Blended and Extended Learning?


I first talk about measurable Performance Competence – as the end goal. At the level the client is interested in.


I talk in the language and experience of the potential client. And if I’m not sure – I need to fish around a bit to see what language resonates.

I sure won’t use numbers … or a reference model … that will distract from their Critical Business Issues. It’s not about me or my approach … until I can clearly demonstrate that I understand their needs and wants. Then it’s about the feasibility of selling and implementing that approach. When it’s time. Don’t jump that gun.

I then might talk about Curriculum Architecture Design, Performance Competence Development Paths (a Learning Continuum) of blended modes and media of content … including Instruction and Information (static and dynamic) including Job Aids/Performance Aids … and other aspects to improve performance first … and deal with learning as a support to performance.

Or I’ll probe further about their situation, their process issues, and the potential value of that – to address/resolve/fix … whatever.

And I don’t say no – as Joe Harless taught me and other so many years ago.

And I have been doing so, and sharing “how to” … go about this business of performance based ISD in an Enterprise context … and sharing about it using blended modes and media … since the early 1980s.

Please share your thoughts about this Reference Model … 70:20:10 … and my commentary here … in the comments section below.

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3 comments on “My View Re: The Reference Model 70:20:10

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

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

  3. Thanks for shout out, Guy.

    I must point out though that the 3E model is not my brainchild. I think it might be Harold Jarche’s?

    Anyway, you make some great points here, and as an advocate of Advance Organizers I say bravo!

    Liked by 1 person

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