From NextLearning 2016: Does the 70:20:10 learning model hold up in practice?

• 4 min read

From NextLearning 2016: Does social and informal learning work in the typical workplace?

Docebo’s Dubai-based team recently had the opportunity to share our outlook on the state of the cloud learning management system with attendees at the NextLearning 2016 conference in the Netherlands, and how social and informal learning can be addressed in any organization to foster a successful learning strategy at every stage of employment.

Below, Docebo’s own Daniel Rongo expands on the relationship between informal and social learning for an experiential training environment, and whether the 70:20:10 learning model holds up in practice.

Introduction and learning in general

I’d like to begin with a seemingly straight-forward question: How exactly do people learn? How do we increase our understanding of the subtleties of the world around us, and improve as a result? The answer to this question is at once incredibly simple, in an intuitive way, and is a huge source of insight for academics and professionals the world over.

In general, if educators can successfully categorize the models and habits of learners, it follows that they will be able to better adapt their knowledge delivery format (in lessons and training) to maximize their effectiveness.

This is huge, because it can be adapted to almost any learning environment. Imagine the benefit to schools and universities, with students absorbing and retaining more complex knowledge for longer time periods, without requiring a more intensive effort on the teacher’s part. More concretely, in corporate settings, such an improvement would have game-changing effects on training programs and workshops: making them faster, cheaper and more useful for all parties involved. This leads to a more satisfied and more productive workforce. How many corporate initiatives can claim to do those two things at once?

Key findings in recent years tell us that the way we learn is not dependent on the content, nor on the context of the learning; not in any significant way at least. A combination of standardized models and individual heuristic adaptations make the approach similar for most modern humans.

It’s surprising then, that for such a central and core issue, relevant to multiple spheres of contemporary society, relatively little effort has been put into fully developing the field. However, thanks in no small part to the technological revolution we are living in right now, new channels and tools have been created and developed that can make better use of the findings about human learning.

Informal learning

So, let’s ask ourselves again. How do we learn? Well, most studies agree that there are 2 main channels through which we discover new information: informal learning and formal learning (you’ll see why I put them in that order in a minute).

Formal learning comes from traditional settings: standardized, structured and deliberately set up learning programs and tools. These are what we traditionally think of as learning environments: classrooms and lecture halls and training sessions.

Informal learning, on the other hand, is nothing like this. For starters, it happens all the time, even when we aren’t actively thinking about it. It comes from our experiences, and from watching our peers and colleagues, learning from their experiences as well. Informal learning is what our brains find useful in our day-to-day life, and decide is worth keeping handy for the future. And, most of all, informal learning is practical, with a clear use (or framework of uses) in mind. This is why we absorb and recall it so easily.

Having said this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I am slightly biased towards informal learning, when it comes to finding effective and innovative solutions to tackle educational and training environments. Of course I’m biased: we all are, after all!

The 70:20:10 learning model

It would seem that academia agrees too: the 70:20:10 model goes more in depth by categorizing the relative importance of different sources of learning in our overall capability development, with particular emphasis in a corporate training setting. It does this by pitting three sources of learning against each other in ratio format, from the most important to the least. After extensive research, this simple model is what comes out:

  • First and foremost, with a huge 70% of our entire knowledge coming from it, is experiential learning. This is when trainees “get their hands dirty” on the job and enhance their understanding in first person. This type of learning is fundamental and very easy to achieve, since our brains work wonderfully at remembering precisely what particular skills helped us in the past, and will focus on those same skills going forward. It is also much cheaper for a company to allow employees to learn this way, since fewer specialized tools are required.
  • Secondly, with 20% is social learning. This happens via natural interactions among colleagues. For example, Peter might ask Jane how to best format a table using design software, and learn from her own experiences. Even more easily, Peter may simply observe Jane while she is formatting a table, and gain the fundamentals from that, letting his own experiential trial-and-error fill in the rest. Social learning is another strongly natural process hard-wired into our brains, which means that strong-hand attempts to influence it from above are generally useless or counterproductive. To gain the maximum benefit from it, companies should make sure to hire the right mix of people and provide a safe and encouraging work environment and culture.
  • Finally, as you may have guessed, comes formal learning, with only 10% of the total. This is where companies can get involved the most, by choosing a combination of workshops, learning systems and timeframes to reinforce the right capabilities at the right time. It is also the most costly method for companies, and it’s not guaranteed to work every time for every employee.

Docebo is consistently ranked a top learning management system for social and informal learning among organizations that have adopted the 70:20:10 learning model for employee, partner and customer training. Get started right away and try out the entire suite of features, free for 14 days.