Thursday 29 December 2011

Through the 70:20:10 Looking Glass

This is the second of three posts adapted from articles written for Inside Learning Technologies & Skills magazine. The original has been published here.

The third article will be posted here a little while after it has been published in the magazine for the Learning Technologies Conference and Exhibition in London 26-27 January 2012.

In the first article in this ‘Alice’ series I focused on the changing world of work and the evidence that workplace learning is usually more effective and efficient than formal learning. I also spoke of the need for learning departments to ‘join the dance’ (like the lobster in Alice) and develop new skills and capabilities so they can incorporate learning outside classrooms into their armoury, along with the development of structured learning.

In this article I want to turn to the ‘how’ of change and transformation in organisational learning and look at one specific approach that many organisations are finding useful to help them adapt to meet changing requirements and demands – the 70:20:10 framework.

As with the first article, I’m going to call on some insights from Mr Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) for some help.

Who Stole The Tarts?

imageAt the beginning of his account of the trial of the Jack of Hearts (it was he who stole the Queen’s tarts) Carroll describes a fundamental truth about the frailty of human memory.

Alice had never been in a court of justice before, but she had read about them in books. The twelve jurors were all writing very busily on slates. ‘What are they doing’ Alice whispered to the Gryphon. ‘They can’t have anything to put down yet, before the trial’s begun.’

‘They’re putting down their names,’ the Gryphon whispered in reply, ‘for fear they should forget them before the end of the trial.’

Maybe we can all remember our own names (although my wife tells me I could hide my own Easter eggs..) but the truth is that humans forget things quickly unless they’re learned in context.

We have known for a long time that learning works best when it takes place within the same context where the learned skills, practices and behaviours are to be used. Dr Hermann Ebbinghaus demonstrated the importance of context for memory as long ago as 1885. From his research, and from the research of others, we know that if learning and context are not tightly coupled, and if we don’t have the opportunity to put what we’ve learned into practice as soon as we’ve learned it, we will forget a significant amount very quickly (Ebbinghaus’ figures suggested a forgetting rate of around 50% within the first hour).

Also, if we don’t have anyone to turn to for help and support once we’re back in the workplace we often simply continue on doing what we did before we attended a learning event. I’ll discuss this last point in some more depth in the next article when I’ll look at the role of managers in organisational learning.

So it’s not surprising that with this reawakening of an understanding for the need for context in learning over the past ten years, much of the sheen has been rubbed off training for which we need to leave the workplace to attend. Of course away-from-work training and development serves a purpose. But that purpose is being seen as an increasingly narrow one.

Prior to the turn of the millennium the world of training was much simpler. If you worked in an organisation with commitment and budget devoted to employee development you discussed your development needs with your manager at the annual appraisal meeting and agreed the courses you would attend during the following 12 months. If you were in middle or upper management tiers, you did the same but called it ‘management development’ or ‘executive development’ and sometimes wrapped coaching and other activities in too. The courses for these groups were designed and delivered along the same lines as those for individual contributors. They were often just more expensive and usually run in a delightful green and leafy hotel or centre in some exotic part of the world, or in Surrey if you were based in London. Today the world of learning is a much more complex endeavour needing more than courses as the solution.

Continuous Learning is Becoming the Work

image‘But then’ thought Alice, ‘shall I NEVER get any older than I am now? That’ll be a comfort, one way – never to be an old woman – but then – always to have lessons to learn! Oh, I shouldn’t like THAT!’

For many people, particularly those that earn their living with their heads rather than their hands and those that work in the knowledge industry, learning and work are becoming intertwined.

In order to improve the performance of our work we need to embrace a culture of continuous learning. This means viewing our work as a series of on-going learning experiences, continuously reflecting and improving as part of our daily activity.

A focus on continuous learning is leading the death of the out-of-date idea that formal training and development programmes are the principal answer to the challenge of improving performance in the workplace.

In place of event-driven learning we are seeing two things happen:

Firstly, many structured programmes are quite rightly extending into the workplace. Both pre-learning activities and experience and support and coaching back in the workplace are being integrated with formal away-from-work events. Most business schools and many in-house programmes now do this as a matter of course.

This represents an evolutionary rather than a revolutionary approach. There’s no doubt it is a step in the right direction but I don’t know if we can adapt to our rapidly changing world by taking a series of small steps rather than a few large ones.

Secondly, along with developments in technology we’re seeing increased interest in, and focus on, ‘informal’ learning approaches – ways we can support our colleagues’ learning and development as part of their daily tasks. Out of this trend have emerged new, or newly-revised, learning approaches – eLearning, social learning, workplace learning, on-job coaching and mentoring, mobile learning, and performance support to name a few. Together, these all provide greater flexibility and increased access to information and knowledge resources.

Informal learning and social learning are no doubt stealing the tarts. But there is no point attempting to introduce new informal and workplace learning approaches without a clear plan and a framework.

70:20:10 the Looking-Glass House

image‘And if you’re not good directly,’ she added, ‘I’ll put you through into Looking-Glass House.’ Then Alice began looking about, and noticed that what could be seen from the old room was quite common and uninteresting, but that the rest was as different as possible. For instance, the pictures on the wall next to the fire seemed to be all alive…’

The 70:20:10 framework is just a little like Alice’s Looking-Glass House. It helps organisations to take a different view of the way learning and development can be approached. It moves focus to where most of the ‘real’ learning happens – in the workplace - yet retains some on the elements of formal, structured learning where it works.

At the outset it’s worth dispelling a common myth about the 70:20:10 framework.

A Reference Model, not a Recipe

The basic 70:20:10 framework

70% 20% 10%
Learn & develop through experience Learn & develop through others Learn & develop through structured courses & programmes

The 70:20:10 framework is a reference model not a recipe. If you adopt it for your organisation you will need to apply the principles of the framework to your own context. For some organisations experiential learning (the 70+20 parts) may be the best approach for virtually all learning. For others, for example where compliance and proof of compliance training activity is critical, a greater focus on structured courses may be necessary.

The lesson here is not to become stuck on the exact ratios and percentages like a rabbit in the headlights . Everything will depend on context.

The Background to the 70:20:10 Approach

image‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ 
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

The research most often referred to as the origin of the 70:20:10 model is often misunderstood and misquoted.

Morgan McCall and his colleagues at the Center for Creative Leadership in North Carolina carried out surveys with accomplished and high-potential executives and asked to them to describe key developmental events in their professional lives that made a difference to their management effectiveness. The results suggested (and reported the 1996 book ‘The Career Architect Development Planner’ by McCall’s colleagues Michael Lombardo & Robert Eichinger) that ‘the lessons learned by successful and effective managers are roughly’:

70% from tough jobs
20% from people (mostly the boss)
10% from courses and reading”

The point about this data is that it’s a rough extrapolation of the survey data only and the data collection methodology probably doesn’t hold up to robust academic scrutiny.

That, however, is no reason to dismiss the framework out-of-hand.

When these findings are put together with the growing number of other studies and surveys that have drawn similar conclusions[1] it becomes evident that most of what people learn (or retain and put into use) is learned as part of doing their work, not through formal training. Earlier work looking at adult learning carried out in the 1960s and 1970s by Alan Tough, now emeritus professor at the University of Toronto, also revealed the 70:20:10 pattern.

Additionally with the recent rise of social media the ability to learn with, and from, others has become much easier. So the rough 20 percent of ‘learning through others’ will no doubt increase in many cases.

However, regardless of the fine detail of the 70:20:10 model, and regardless of industry, worker age, technique or individual learning style, it is clear that most adult learning is balanced heavily towards experiential learning.

The basic principle of the framework is that it provides a structured approach to de-focus on event-based learning and re-focus on the broader aspects of organisational learning, principally the experiential elements. It helps approach the challenge of building an environment and encouraging a culture to support efficient and effective learning and development provision in an integrated way. We all know that learning is essentially a rather ‘messy’ business that varies from person to person and from organisation to organisation. The 70:20:10 framework helps build an operating model to manage it.

First Steps with the 70:20:10 Framework

There are a number of important factors you need to think about before you embark on using the framework in your organisation.

Step 1: Work towards developing a ‘results-led’ L&D culture
The 70:20:10 framework widens L&D’s focus and activity from building and maintaining catalogues of courses, programmes and curricula to managing workscapes (work/learning environments) and supporting learning experiences in the workplace. Although, of course, some resource and effort will need to continue to focus on the former, the vast majority of L&D’s work within the 70:20:10 framework will be involved with supporting experiential learning in the workplace.

For this to happen, L&D thinking and mind-sets need to move from ‘inputs’ (learning) to ‘outputs’ (impact and change in the workplace and helping people ‘work smarter’). As such L&D culture, the behaviours and attitudes of learning professionals, needs to reflect this change. L&D teams need to buy into this new thinking. You may need to build an internal change management process for your L&D teams to make sure everyone has taken this step.

The framework also places new demands and responsibilities on learners. They will need to accept greater accountability for their own learning as the environment evolves from one of “push” teaching to one of “pull” learning.

Step 2: Establish a robust engagement approach
Because the 70:20:10 framework moves L&D away from any ‘order-taking’ activities – by always looking to implement the fastest, smartest, most effective solutions to help people do their jobs better – you will need a robust, consistent and efficient engagement process to use with the executives, managers and team leaders across your organisation. It is important, whichever engagement approach you build or adopt, that it is consistent. A manager who engages with L&D to help her solve one business issue should expect the next engagement process to be identical, even if inputs and outputs are very different. This helps build confidence and relationships.

Step 3: Build an effective governance model
‘Governance’ defines the structures, systems, practices and processes that are put in place to ensure the overall effectiveness and accountability of the L&D function. If you plan to embed 70:20:10 thinking and practices it is important that you bring your organisation with you on the journey. Creating a governance council or board populated and led by key stakeholders is the first essential step to achieve this.

Step 4: Ensure you have the right L&D skills
I mentioned the need for new L&D skills in the first article (‘Croquet with a Flamingo’) but it needs reinforcing here. The 70:20:10 framework places very different demands on learning professionals from those that they may have been used to in the past. It demands they extend their repertoire beyond formal learning design and delivery. As such you will need to ensure your L&D team has the skill and experience to work with your stakeholders to create environments that facilitate learning and that they can design learning powerful experiences. Step away from content-centric learning design and into experience-centric design.

Some Actions for L&D to Deliver Results through 70:20:10

Below are a few practical actions L&D organisations and Learning professionals can take to deliver results through the 70:20:10 framework.  Of course there are many more. There is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach. If you are ever offered one, run away as fast as possible. Every solution needs to be driven by the needs, context and nature of your own organisation.

Support the informal learning process

Help workers improve their learning skills

Create a supportive org. culture

Provide time for informal learning in the workplace

Explicitly teach workers how to learn effectively

Establish a budget for informal and workplace learning

Create useful peer-rated FAQs and knowledge bases

Support opportunities for meta-learning

Support innovation and help make small failures ‘OK’

Provide places for workers to congregate and share experiences

Share ways others have learned topics and subject areas

Incorporate informal learning into the heart of your L&D strategy

Supplement self-directed learning with mentors and experts

Enlist learning coaches to encourage reflection

Position learning as a growth experience and not something that workers need others to ‘do to them’

Build networks, blogs, wikis, and knowledge bases to facilitate discovery

Explain the ‘know-how’ and ‘know-who’ framework to facilitate a shift from ‘know-what’

Conduct a learning culture audit

Use smart technology to make it easier to collaborate and network

Calculate the lifetime value of a learning customer’ to L&D

Add learning and teaching objectives and goals to job descriptions

Encourage cross-functional gatherings

Encourage leadership of these gatherings from amongst the group

Encourage learning relationships and professional communities

[1] Incuding studies by: Loewenstein and Spletzer for the US Bureau of Labor Statistics; A 2-year study involving Boeing, Ford Electronics, Siemens, and Motorola by The Education Development Center in Massachusetts; A CapitalWorks study; and a 2010 survey by Peter Casebow and Alan Ferguson at GoodPractice in Edinburgh.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Learning in Wonderland: the untapped potential of workplace learning

This is the first of three posts adapted from articles I have written for Inside Learning Technologies & Skills magazine. This article appeared in November 2011.  The second and third articles will be posted here a little while after they have been published in the magazine.

I’ve taken Lewis Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ as a theme for the series. The illustrations here are Sir John Tenniel’s marvellous originals.

Why ‘Alice’ you may ask?

Well, the Alice story is all about growing up and developing and learning but at the same time seeing the world in very a different way. In Alice Carroll (Charles Dodgson in real life) also stretches imagination and gets the reader to think ‘out of the box’.

The Alice story is also about seeing some standard practices as rather silly and arbitrary and understanding that there are always alternatives in whatever you do.

Alice had to face the challenge of continual change and contradiction. The world was changing before her eyes at every turn and almost every encounter she had in Wonderland presented her with contradictions and contradictory characters. She could only navigate if she kept her wits about her at all times.

The three articles focus on strategies and practical steps that learning and development professionals can use to help extend learning beyond the classroom and into the workplace.

This first article looks at the changing world of work and the fact that workplace learning offers at least as much, if not more, than formal learning in developing workforce capability. It also looks at the skills Learning and Development professionals need to support workplace learning. The second article examines the 70:20:10 framework in some detail as a means of transforming organisational learning and ‘balancing’ formal and informal learning. The final article discussed the vital role of managers and why learning organisations need to forge strong links with their key stakeholders.

Down The Rabbit Hole

clip_image002‘What is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversation?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit ran close by her.

There was nothing very remarkable in that; but when the Rabbit took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet…..

Many of us know the story. Alice, burned with curiosity, followed the White Rabbit across the field and down the rabbit-hole into a world where not only did she shrink to a fraction of her normal size but where her perceptions of ‘normal’ were continually challenged and nothing was quite as she had previously understood it.

Today’s world of work is very much like Alice’s rabbit-hole.

In the past 30 years nearly everything in our working world has changed. On the technical front first Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and then Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau have changed our world for ever. Together with the telecommunications revolution, the technical changes brought about by these and others forever broke the richness-reach trade-off[1]. We no longer had to opt for either richness in our working and learning environments or the ability to have great reach. We could have both. Time and geography became bit-players in our ability to reach our workers and help them find ways to develop the attitudes, behaviours, skills and capabilities they need to do their jobs well.

The technical revolution also released us to take responsibility for our own learning development. Although, of course, most of our learning has always occurred through our experiences and the opportunity to practice as well as through our conversations with others and the opportunity to reflect and improve the way we do things. Formal education has some impact, but it is in the minority in terms of real learning.

Learning From the Mock Turtle


‘I couldn't afford to learn it.’ said the Mock Turtle with a sigh. ‘I only took the regular course.’ ‘What was that?’ inquired Alice.

‘Reeling and Writhing, of course, to begin with,’ the Mock Turtle replied; ‘and then the different branches of Arithmetic – Ambition, Distraction, Uglification, and Derision.’

‘And how many hours a day did you do lessons?’ Said Alice. ‘Ten hours the first day,’ said the Mock turtle: ‘nine the next, and so on.’ What a curious plan!’ exclaimed Alice. ‘that’s the reasons they’re called lessons’ the Gryphon remarked; ‘because they lessen from day to day.’

Just as the Mock Turtle’s curriculum and lesson planning seem strange and illogical to us, the communications and technology developments over the past 30 years have also seen off the old idea that learning is something that gets done in classes and through defined curricula. The information revolution has also seen off the idea that knowledge is power.

We need to continually remind ourselves that we are forging our lives and careers in the information age and an increasing number of us are knowledge workers. As such, we need to think about how we navigate the oceans of information. The problem that our forebears suffered, a lack of information, has been turned on its head.

Access to Knowledge is Power

Knowledge was power when it was held by the few and dispensed to the many in a controlled and managed way. However the Internet, ubiquitous networks and Google put paid to that, just as in the 15th Century Gutenberg’s printing press put paid to the Church’s control over the written word.

A continuing explosion of data linked to improving search and improving filter tools has meant that anyone can now find almost any information they need very quickly. So, although knowledge may still be powerful, access to knowledge and the ability to turn knowledge into action by pattern-recognition, sense-making and clear decisions are now the real power.

Of course, finding information often involves finding not just inanimate bits and bytes, but the right people who are holding the information we need in their heads - the tacit knowledge repositories. So on the back of search engines there has been an increasing focus on the power of human social networks – both physical and virtual – as knowledge resources, too. There is no doubt social networks will continue to be seen as increasingly important and vital enablers and sources of knowledge for workers to help them do their jobs. Learning professionals need to understand this fact and develop their skill to utilise the power of these social networks through creating and exploiting opportunities to bring people together in time-and-space or virtually to share experiences and expertise.

The Lobster Quadrille for L&D


They are waiting on a shingle

Will you come and join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you won’t you, will you join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you won’t you, will you join the dance?


Over the past 20 years or so it has become increasingly obvious that leaders’ expectations of L&D’s role has developed considerably from thoughts of a training department carrying out ‘knowledge transfer’ (whatever that may mean) or providing individual employees and managers lots of content tied up with tight instructional design bows.

The expectation of many leaders now is that L&D departments will act as strategic weapons for their organisation in the delivery of their business objectives as fast and as comprehensively as necessary, but also as cheaply as possible.

Bearing this in mind, if L&D departments can support their organisational leadership teams in achieving their strategic goals then both will succeed. If they can’t neither will succeed. It’s as simple as that.

L&D needs to dance to the organisation’s tune - Will you, won’t you, will you won’t you, will you join the dance?

To do this L&D leaders must ensure their teams have the right skills and the right attitudes to deliver for their organisation. They also need to understand their limitations and when to let go of control.

To do this, they need to know first WHAT their organisation’s leaders actually expect of them – and then align those expectations. This involves working closely with leaders, understanding their requirement, and then providing innovative, fast and effective solutions. L&D needs to learn to dance in partnership with business leaders.

Croquet with a Flamingo: New L&D Skills


Alice thought she had never seen such a curious croquet-ground in her life; it was all ridges and furrows; the balls were live hedgehogs, the mallets live flamingos, and the soldiers had to double themselves up and stand on their hands and feet to make the arches.

The world of learning now is as far removed from what was ‘standard Training and L&D’ 10 years ago as Alice’s experiences on the croquet lawn in Wonderland were from the way she had previously played the game.

Many of today’s L&D professionals were recruited to design, develop and deliver classroom-based courses. Few have been recruited primarily for their business acumen or their consulting skills. Yet to successfully meet the requirements of an effective 21st Century learning service – supporting the organisation to deliver on its objectives as rapidly, as efficiently and as effectively as possible – the L&D department needs just those skills. If the L&D department doesn’t have the skills to develop a profound understanding of the business, its drivers, and its priorities, then it is almost bound to fail.

Then, if the L&D department doesn’t have the courage and skills to create innovative solutions and challenge leaders to work together to improve worker, team and organisational performance then will fail again.

L&D Skills and Capabilities

I have listed some key skills and capabilities critical for success in a 21st century L&D department  below. The list is not a definitive but these are the main capabilities that I believe are needed.

Any Learning leader or CLO should ensure they hire or develop capability in the following:

Business Acumen: If L&D professionals are to understand their stakeholders’ key drivers, and thus what success will look like, they need to have some basic knowledge of business finance including the ability to read and comprehend balance sheets and profit-and-loss statements.

Critical thinking and analytical skills: Analysing performance problems and identifying root causes requires logic and critical thinking as well as a robust performance consulting methodology. Many organisational issues presented as ‘training problems’ can’t be addressed by training or any form of structured learning. Typically they are due to poor processes, lack of tools, poor motivation (which in turn may be due to inadequate leadership or compensation that doesn’t meet expectations) or a myriad of other causes. Harold Stolovitch and others[2] suggests that around 75-80% of performance problems are not due to lack of knowledge or skills, but to these other factors. L&D professionals need to have the ability to sift them out.

Research skills: L&D professionals need enquiring minds. They need to continually research new approaches and determine what works and what doesn’t. They need to be able to validate and extract meaning from data in the same way any researcher would. Under-performance challenges are rarely similar. There is no ‘cookie-cutter’ that effectively addresses all learning requirements. Effective solutions require research, analysis and an innovative mind-set.

Communication and influencing skills: ‘Our world is others’ said Jerome Bruner, the greatest living educational psychologist. L&D professionals need to have high-level communication and influencing skills. Their role in the new world includes more ‘orchestration’ than delivery and their ability to extract requirements from stakeholders, explain the logic of proposed solutions, and work across a range of teams will require these skills in bucketsful.

Technology-savvy skills: Every L&D professional needs a good understanding of the art of the possible in terms of technology-supported learning and workplace support. The best way gain this is through experience and practice – using learning technologies and continually assessing the usefulness of particular tools. The days when learning technologies could be left to the ‘eLearning’ team are long past. An L&D specialist without a reasonable understanding of learning technologies is like a doctor without a reasonable understanding of the human body. In other words, not much use at all.

Adult learning skills: Every L&D professional needs to have a good understanding of how adults really learn, including influencing factors such as the inherent need for autonomy, mastery and purpose[3], goal orientation, and the impact of experience, practice, conversation and reflection on learning.

Good learning leaders will need to hire, develop and deploy these skills. They need to be constantly on the lookout for learning professionals that exhibit them and to re-align their teams so they have a good mix of skills to cover all bases in the world of workplace learning.

As it becomes clear to an increasing number of HR and Learning leaders that formal training is inadequate to develop the emergent practices necessary to operate and thrive in complex networked environments, so it will also becomes clear that these new L&D skills will acquire premium status.

It should be said that social learning approaches offer one important route to adapt in this new environment. Performance support and business process guidance offer other successful strategies. Each of these require not only new L&D skills, but new L&D operating models, too.

Take The Cheshire Cat’s Advice

clip_image010The real challenge for L&D departments is how to increase their success rate and deliver what is needed as fast, as efficiently and as effectively as possible.

Before they set out to do this every L&D leader needs to know where they are going. They need clear vision of what they want to achieve – the end-point they are aiming at – and the path, tricks and tools needed to reach there.

The Cheshire Cat explained to Alice in response to her question ‘would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to’, said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where – ‘ said Alice

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go’ said the Cheshire Cat.

As Alice didn’t know where she wanted to go, the Cheshire Cat advice was that she couldn’t focus or move forward. What she needed was a clear goal and destination. Once you do know where you need to go then what you need to do to get there will become clear.

The lesson here is that every CLO needs to have a clear well thought-out operational strategy (goal) that will support their leaders’ objectives as fast and as effectively as possible. In the 21st century that inevitably means very fast and very flexibly. It also means focusing on the ‘right stuff’. The right stuff is tangible outputs.

The next article in this series will look at approaches to transform organisational learning and to balance formal and informal learning for greatest impact.

[1] Evans P and Wurster T S, 2000, Blown to Bits: how the new economics of information transforms strategy, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, USA.

[2] Thomas Gilbert (1996), Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance; Geary Rummler and Alan Brache (1990) Improving Performance: How to Manage the White Space on the Organization Chart; James Pershing (2006), Handbook of Human Performance Technology.

[3] Daniel Pink (2009) Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us.