Wednesday, 20 August 2014

It’s Only 65% !

Adam Weisblatt's imageThe results of yet another 70:20:10 survey were published recently.

The researchers (possibly on work experience) declared that “50:26:24 is the average learning mix in most companies right now”.

The report of the 50:26:24 survey went on to say:

“It’s widely accepted that the 70:20:10 model is the most effective learning blend for business, but getting to that perfect mix can be a challenge. It’s early days and we’ve got a long way to go, but when we crunched the first numbers on our new study, we could see that the current average mix of training in the L&D industry is actually:

  • 50% via ‘on the job learning’
  • 26% through ‘informal training’
  • 24% from ‘formal training’”

A few things flew off the page from this survey and hit me square in the temple. The comments below are not intended as a blanket criticism of this specific survey, but it did get me thinking about a number of misconceptions of what the 70:20:10 model is really about. It also got me thinking  about approaches to organisational learning in general.

Learning ≠ Training

Although the terms convey basic concepts, there seems still to be some confusion between the meaning of the words learning and training. This confusion is not isolated in surveys such as the above. It is a common problem and underlies many of the barriers that organisations encounter as they strive to develop and implement effective learning strategies.

‘Learning’ covers a much wider range of activities than training. Learning is a process not an event. Learning is something we’re doing every day.

Training describes a structured set of events that when designed and assembled carefully can provide an effective way to help people accelerate learning (learning = behaviour change). However the words training and learning are not interchangeable.

This may seem a small point that most of us have ‘got’ and don’t think about, but it’s important. The term ‘informal training’ for example is meaningless. Whereas the term ‘informal learning’ as Jay Cross describes it, is extremely meaningful:

“.. the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider."

Jay wrote the seminal book on Informal Learning.

70:20:10 is Not About the Numbers

J.Potts-1The 70:20:10 model is not about percentages or numbers and there is no universal ‘right’ ratio.

70:20:10 is a model that describes the way adults in work generally learn.

So why use the numbers, then?

The numbers are a useful reminder that the majority of learning occurs through experience and practice within the workflow (the ‘70’), through sharing and supporting others, conversations and networks (the ‘20’),  and that a smaller amount of overall learning occurs through structured training and development activities (the ‘10’).

70:20:10 is not a recipe to be used slavishly. The numbers are a simple framework to drive change and help people focus beyond structured learning interventions to where most of the learning happens (in the ‘20’ and ‘70’).

I wrote about ‘the numbers’ on this blog back in June 2012. What I said there still holds.

Every organisation that uses the 70:20:10 framework will have individual needs and contexts.  The way they support learning and development will be particular to them. If you’re in a high compliance environment it’s likely that your people will be required to spend more time on structured training (whether this has an impact or not is another issue altogether). If you’re working in a highly innovative and creative environment it’s likely your learning and development will be skewed more towards the social and experiential types of development. So the ratios describing how people learn in a large compliance-driven organisation are likely to be different from an agile start-up. How we support learning and building high performance should reflect these differences.

So if you’re supporting effective learning and development in a high compliance context, then you’ll need to be aware that the ‘best’ ratio for your organisation and the individuals will be skewed by regulatory needs. If you’re supporting effective leaning and development in an environment where agility and innovation are at a premium then you’d better be prepared to support higher levels of collaborative and ‘trial-and-error’ learning – in the ‘70’ and ‘20’ zones.

'Training Types’

The 50:26:24 survey categorised three distinct and separate ‘training types’, described in this way:

“Current research suggests that the ideal training mix is 70% On the Job Training, 20% Informal Learning and 10% Formal Learning.”

I found this a strange categorisation.

Now I’m not sure if I’m over-reacting to this approach, or I simply don’t understand it, but ‘on the job training’ suggests structure and intention to me. The ‘training’ word gives that away. But then the input for this survey asks for the ‘current learning mix’ and offers ‘on the job’, ‘informal’ and ‘formal’. On-the-job learning doesn’t have to be structured and intentional. Most isn’t.

I don’t want this post to be a criticism of an individual survey design, but I do think that the designers of data-gathering surveys such as these need to think about the terminology they use carefully. In my mind ‘on-the-job’, ‘informal’ and ‘formal’ are not three mutually exclusive categories.

In real life 'on-the-job' learning can be either informal (i.e. self-directed or non-directed) or formal (i.e. experiential development that is part of a structured course or programme).

‘Formal learning’ suggests learning that is designed and directed by someone other than the learner as part of a curriculum, course, programme, module etc. Formal learning can include on-the-job activities and learning, but not necessarily.

These three types of learning are not dichotomies (if one can have dichotomous trios). The world is not black-and-white.

Without any definitions of these categories (and I couldn't find any in this survey) I fail to see how respondents will provide consistently accurate input. Potentially leading to garbage in, garbage out.

Continuous Learning is the goal of 70:20:10

J.Potts-2The final point I would make is that focusing on ‘the numbers’ masks the fact that learning happens as a continual process and usually as part of the workflow. 

That’s a fact. We humans are learning machines. We can’t help but learn as we live and work.

Even when we engage in classes, programmes and structured eLearning modules as part of the overall mix to support and accelerate learning and performance improvement we don’t stop learning as soon as we walk out the door or finish the online recall test.  We continue to learn as we put our new knowledge or skills into practice. We continue to learn as we discuss challenges and options with our colleagues. We continue to learn as we try to do things a newer, better way.

Many organisations are using the 70:20:10 framework to help create cultures of continuous learning and to to build high performance. They understand that more formal learning is not necessarily better, and that by helping develop mindsets to exploit learning and development opportunities whenever and wherever possible they are much more likely to achieve their high performance aims.

(Thanks to Adam Weisblatt and Jim Potts for allowing me to use their 70:20:10 cartoons)

Images © Adam Weisblatt and © Jim Potts. Not to be reproduced without permission of the copyright owners.


Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Learning in the Collaboration Age


We may not have noticed it at the time, but the world of learning changed in 1990.

In November of that year British computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee together with his Belgian colleague Robert Cailliau proposed a project to develop the use of hypertext “to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will”…..

… the rest is history.

Over the next few years the Web turned technical networks into ubiquitous conduits for everyone to use. The Web reduced our need to hold detailed information in our flesh-and-blood memories as it blew away the barriers to easy access. The Web allowed us to reach out easily and establish connections with others that previously were impossible or extremely difficult to make.

And for Organisational Learning?

The Web has allowed us to totally redefine our traditional learning models. It has allowed us to reach beyond content-rich learning approaches and focus on experience-rich learning. It has allowed an evolution from ‘Know What’ learning to ‘Know Who’ and ‘Know How’ learning; and it has allowed the emergence from learning in the silos of our own organisations to learning with and through others across the world – easily and transparently.

The Collaboration Age

On a wider plane the Web has been the harbinger of the Collaboration Age. It has blown away many of the barriers to access and has reinforced the power and influence of collaboration and co-operation1 over silo mentalities.

In the Collaboration Age it is those who share and work together who are the winners. Those who hide behind organisational garden walls end up deep in weeds.

If we’re to succeed we must no longer just collaborate and co-operate inside the ever-softening boundaries of own organisations. We need to do so with others, in some cases even with our competitors. The rather ungainly term ‘co-opetition’ is being increasingly used to define co-operative competition, where competitors work together to achieve increased value at the same time as they are competing with each other. There is no doubt this is one of the ways forward to success.

In the world of talent, learning and performance the impact of the Collaboration Age is only now starting to take hold. The emerging understanding that invariably we need to work with others to solve problems is driving these collaborative and co-operative behaviours and, in turn, fuelling a focus on collaborative learning.
The Collaborative Age requires collaborative mindsets to drive collaborative learning. We can’t simply redesign content-rich courses and curricula and hope that changes will occur. We need new thinking, new approaches, and new strategies if we’re to fully exploit the potential.
However, we’re starting to see some fundamental changes happen in practical ways.
“If any one of us can find the answer to almost any question or problem we face almost instantly with a few clicks or a posted question, why should we need to learn and memorise all this ‘stuff’?
This question is being answered by re-imagining traditional learning approaches and defining new and sometimes novel ways for the world of learning and development to respond to today’s challenges.
Traditional Learning to MindFind
Although experiential and social learning have been around for eons, in the past most structured organisational learning and training has focused on knowledge acquisition and memorising. We filled them up with information and then assessed their abilities of recall. We still see it today in many classrooms and eLearning programmes.
This process is (still) generally referred to as ‘knowledge transfer’ and is both overrated and totally inappropriate for the post-1990 world.
The ‘knowledge transfer’ model of training is based a number of assumptions that no longer apply.
  • the assumption that information is generally static
  • the assumption that information or ‘knowledge’ is acontextual
  • the assumption that we work as individuals, so individual training and development is the best solution

A few years ago David James Clarke III and I developed a model to address the failings of the first and second of these assumptions.  We called it MindFind. Inside the MindFind model we explained the migration of traditional learning to the find-access approach2.

Traditional Learning Approach
Find-Access Approach
The find-access approach is based on the fact that with today’s information explosion and the increasingly dynamic nature of information it only makes sense to memorise and ‘learn’ core concepts. These are the bedrock that will be needed for some time. Core concepts are likely to be unchanging, or change very slowly. They are the ‘Newtonian Laws’ of the domain or discipline. Core concepts will apply to most situations and it’s helpful to have them at hand (or in the head).
Then you need to familiarise yourself with the contextual job and project-related information. This is likely to change more frequently, so it is often a hindrance to have memorised it. This type of information is better familiarised. You know where it is. You are familiar with its nature and content, and you know how to find, recall and verify it at the point-of-need.
And ultimately, the majority of the detailed information or ‘knowledge’ we need at any time is not only ephemeral and in constant flux, it is very often contained in other people’s heads rather than being codified and held in structured documents and databases.  If you have learned the ‘Know Who?’ then you will be able to quickly locate and retrieve the detailed information.
The Power of Collaborative Learning
Over the past 15 years I have worked with the 70:20:10 framework and used it as a powerful tool to help organisations evolve their organisational talent and learning & development approaches from pre-1990 to present day practices. It provides a very good starting point to help make this move.
Collaboration sits firmly across the ‘other 90’ - the 70 and 20 (experiential and social elements) - in 70:20:10. We collaborate in our work teams while we learn through experience and practice. We collaborate when we share within and outside our organisations, and we often collaborate as part of our own reflective practices. In fact reflection is usually enhanced when shared with others.
Of course, the ‘10’ also provides great opportunities for collaboration.
Success in the Collaborative Age
We don’t need to go far to see tangible successes resulting from collaborative behaviours in fields than learning and development.
Year over year, Tesla Motors, Inc. has been able to grow revenues from $413.3M USD to $2.0B USD.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced in a press release and conference call and blog on June 12, 2014 that the company will allow its technology patents for use by anyone in good faith, in a bid to entice automobile manufacturers to speed up development of electric cars. 
In an industry (the electric car market) that was killed almost at birth by the the internal combustion engine and mass production of petroleum more than 100 years ago, Tesler has emerged as a shining light the second age of alternative-powered personal vehicles.
The driver for Tesler’s collaborative approach and decision to share its patents, usually the ‘gold’ for any innovative organisation, is obvious. In order to grow the market there is a mutual interest in sharing. This behaviour is successful not only for Tesler but for the industry as a whole.
The learning industry could take some lessons from Tesler.
Going Forward
In the global industry and profession of talent development there are many opportunities to adopt and exploit collaboration as a fundamental tenet of operation. In fact learning professionals owe it to the profession to build practices and platforms to not only help others exploit the benefits of collaboration, but also to collaborate themselves.
Without the adoption of collaborative mindsets, learning and development professionals and the entire industry that supports talent development will find themselves foundering and failing to join everyone else in the Collaborative Age.
1 Collaboration and co-operation are two distinct behaviours. My colleague Harold Jarche has written about the distinctions.
In networks, cooperation trumps collaboration
Extending Collaboration Toward Cooperation
2 I have written about the three categories of find-access model and how they align with the memorisation:familiarisation:on-demand model developed by Ted Gannon at Panviva in a past post