Another approach to implementing 70:20:10

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Written by Paul Matthews on 21 June 2016

I talk with a lot of people about 70:20:10, and a common theme that emerges is a strong desire to use the concept, and that is followed by the question, “but how do I implement it?”

And too often when I speak with people who are claiming to implement 70:20:10, what they are actually doing is little more than a blended veneer over what they were already doing anyway with their former approach to learning initiatives.

For many people, there is clearly a gap between wanting to use 70:20:10, and using it effectively. I think this gap arises for two primary reasons…

  1. A misunderstanding of the concept of 70:20:10
  2. A misunderstanding of the role of L&D in an organisation

The concept arose from an examination of how people learn what they know in relation to their job. That is, it is a model that attempts to describe learning as it is, and as it was before the model ever saw the light of day. And yet I hear the phrase “we must start using 70:20:10 round here”, or “we must get the 70:20:10 engine started”.

Here’s the thing; 70:20:10 is already happening around you. In fact, you don’t have to do anything at all to implement it.

Given that it is already there, and due to some innovative thinking and research, it is now visible, what we often call ‘implementing 70:20:10’ should probably be called ‘harnessing 70:20:10’. Now that we know about it and there is some level of common acceptance, we can start doing things differently to take advantage of it.

Having said that, the idea of experiential learning being the most common way that people learn how to do their jobs didn’t suddenly spring into being a few decades ago. In a sense, it really is nothing new. Here’s an analogy…

The concept of a flat earth was persistent right through to the 1500s and beyond, and yet there were scholars at the great library of Alexandria over 2000 years ago who were calculating the circumference of the earth based on the understanding that the earth is round.

ventually, people started to find a way to use this idea that the Earth is round. The most famous perhaps is Columbus who sailed in the opposite direction to find the ‘East Indies’.

So change your thinking from ‘implementing’ to ‘harnessing’, and notice how that starts to shift your idea of what would be useful to do within the context of 70:20:10.

Now consider why you are doing it at all. Why are you thinking about or seeking to encourage and promote learning? To what end? If you focus on learning as an end in itself, you will tend to get dragged back to traditional formal approaches to learning, and therefore wreak havoc with your attempts to utilise 70:20:10. So if not learning, what do you focus on?


When you look at the wider concept of performance and adopt a performance consultancy approach to investigate and diagnose the barriers to performance, you discover that learning is only part of a much richer mix that is required.

Learning may well be part of that rich mix of solutions and interventions, but you will find that much of what needs to be done in terms of learning to improve performance will be focused at the point of work, in the workflow. You will find yourself engaged with things like implementing performance support, and ways for workers to reach out in the moment to find out what they need to know in order to do the job.

Someone looking over the fence at what you are doing may well assume that you have taken a 70:20:10 approach to learning, when in fact all you have been doing is focusing on performance and making that your priority. A performance consultancy and diagnostics approach will inevitably lead to a suite of learning interventions that harness 70:20:10 without you having to think about the model itself.

If you want to ‘implement’ 70:20:10, then start with performance consultancy, and the road will take you where you want to go.

About the author 

Paul Matthews is the founder of People Alchemy and expert in workplace learning.

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