I’d like to add my welcome to you all and thank you for joining us for what I hope will be an interesting day. I’m not really sure how I got landed with the presenting in the morning slot, I think it might be because the real power behind GoodPractice wanted the live podcast to be the grand finale instead of the report launch … and, indeed, who am I to argue with Ross Garner.
Look, before we start I thought I'd address the elephant in the room. I am incredibly conscious that I am a guy about to introduce our latest report which is all about 70:20:10 and Charles Jennings is in the room. Like most people, however, I thrive under a sense of expectation and pressure so I guess that's good?
That does lead us neatly onto an obvious question that some of you may have. Or, at least, a niggle in the back of your head.
In a world where there’s already a plethora of content about 70:20:10, is there really a need for yet another report into 70:20:10?
To what end and for what purpose?
The answers to that lie in a bit of history, some context surrounding the conversations happening around 70:20:10 and some very pragmatic analysis.
But before we do that, I thought it would be useful to get a picture of the sentiment in the room towards 70:20:10.
I have a very quick survey for you to complete just to share some of your views on 70:20:10.
So, thank you for sharing that. I always think it’s useful to get the perspective of people in the room before digging into the results of any research.
I’m going to provide some of that context surrounding 70:20:10 and why we wanted to have it as the focus for our latest report. To do that I’d like to start by sharing a personal experience that’s I think helps explain.
In January 2007, I read Informal Learning by Jay Cross. Some of you here may be familiar with it.
I remember feeling after I read it the first time that it answered questions I hadn’t quite figured out I even had yet. For some time, I’d been dissatisfied with the models and structures that were part of how learning and development was traditionally being delivered in organisations. And here was Jay explaining why I’d been feeling that way.
There was a world outside of formal learning interventions. And it was possible to support it, nurture it and help people in ways that didn’t involve a more more of the same catalogue of courses. Informal Learning highlighted in stark terms that we had been concentrating too much on just one way that people learn how to get better at their jobs. And much of the work we do at GoodPractice has been informed by that insight in one way or another.Very shortly after that I came across the the 70:20:10 framework and the work of Charles and it was something that began cropping up in conversations with clients. One conversation in particular sticks in my mind.
Every now and then I get involved in discussions with prospective clients. Usually I'm kept in my nerd bunker but despite the best efforts of the team; sometimes I escape. On this particular occasion, the client was looking at our Toolkit as part of a suite of measures they were introducing to support their managers and they were big fans of 70:20:10. Which was great, because we’ve always thought the resources in the toolkit are a great way to provide informal, just-in-time support to people while they are actually working.
But this conversation took what felt like an odd turn. The client was adamant that they wanted every single resource in the toolkit to be categorised as to whether it was part of the 70, part of the 20 or part of the 10%.
Was this How to Guide on delegating effectively part of the 70, the 20 or the 10?
Was this interactive assessment to help identify potential areas for improvement with your interview skills part of the 70, the 20 or the 10?
Was this template to help structure your thoughts about succession planning that could be used in a workshop part of the 70, the 20 or the 10?
And as the conversation continued, it became obvious that what our potential client planned to do was very strictly impose those ratios on how they provided development to their managers. No matter how experienced or not their audience was, 70% of the time they devoted to their development was to be experiential, 20% was to come from learning from others and 10% was to come from formal learning interventions. It was incredibly rigid and lacking in nuance.
That’s an extreme example, but I’ve had other conversations over the years that have felt very similar. Rather than being an insight to open up thinking, 70:20:10 was sometimes talked about as another prescriptive model to implement. And that’s not progress: it's just moving from one overly prescriptive approach to another.
I think it’s useful when thinking about 70:20:10 to consider the criticisms it’s garnered over the years. That very prescriptive perception of what it means for actually running an L&D function or actually delivering an intervention is one of the main ones.
But there are others …
Many people who believe that 70:20:10 is a useful tool for transforming learning and development in organisations will say that it’s not about the numbers.
And yet, the numbers are right there. They're in the in the very name of the model. If it's not about the numbers, someone needs to speak to the subeditor responsible for the headline.
I called it a model just then, but is it a model?
What exactly is 70:20:10?
Is it a model? A framework? A recipe or formula? A description of how people learn naturally?
I’ve seen it, and I'm sure you have as well, described in all kinds of ways, often torturously, which could suggest that it’ could be as much the source of confusion as it able to offer clarity.
There’s other challenges as well.
The foundations of where the numbers come from is a bit shaky. The most cited original study was by Lombardo & Eichinger but that study was a self reporting survey of around 200 executives asking them how they believed they learned how to do their jobs.
There are justifiable concerns about the self reporting nature of that study and, also, the sample. Senior leaders are, in the main, more experienced managers. They’re not at the novice stage of their career and one thing we are sure of is that the more expertise you gain in a domain, the more you benefit from informal learning experiences and the less you get from formal learning.
There are good reasons to suggest that when you’re looking at an early career or novice population that the ratios of 70:20:10 are misleading to say the least.
Then there’s how it positions formal learning. It can, and in fact has been, argued that the framing of 70:20:10 diminishes the importance of formal learning. Especially for audiences that require some base skills to get going or where the stakes for failure are high.
It’s a cliché, but you don’t want your surgeon blundering their way to expertise. Formal learning can help circumvent the more catastrophic novice errors and help improve the time to competence. By positioning it as a minor element of the whole, you risk belittling its relevance.
So there are legitimate reasons to be extremely wary of 70:20:10. It’s easily misconstrued, it can lead to an overly-simplistic view of how learning supports development and risks apathy when it comes to formal learning.
Just out of interest, how many of you in this room have at least some sympathy with those criticisms? If you do, can you raise your hand.
[PAUSE AND RESPOND]
Once again, then, why bother to investigate 70:20:10?
Well, one reason is.
It. Is. Everywhere.
For whatever reason, 70:20:10 has a meme like property and it’s transmission medium is the minds of L&D professionals. Conferences, professional publications, professional qualifications from some of our most respected bodies.
70:20:10 is out there and seemingly being adopted at ever increasing rates.
Whenever we’ve done any research that we’ve shared more widely, I’ve always been candid that part of the reason we do the research is to help us as a company. The main reason for doing the manager focussed research of recent years has been to build better products that help them to perform.
The report we’re releasing this morning has a different focus.
And that focus is you. Most of the people in this room. People responsible for delivering L&D into mid-to-large sized organisations.
Our products and services don’t exist in a vacuum. We can’t just build really great things that help people at work.
We have to build really great things that help people at work that also deliver the results employers are looking for and, crucially, you will buy on behalf of your organisations.
And to do that, we need to understand your context, what’s influencing your thinking and figure out ways to help you achieve your goals. So, for this report, we’ve turned our attention to how 70:20:10 is actually being used in practice, bearing in mind all the criticisms that have been made about it. Not the idealised form that may be presented in some forums, but looked at from the perspective of people who actually have to make it work in the real world.
Unlike some fads in L&D, 70:20:10 has shown remarkable staying power suggesting it’s much more than just a fad. But we also have some empirical evidence that influenced our decision as to why to look at 70:20:10 in particular.
Since 2015, we’ve released three reports sharing primary research we've carried out into the target audiences for our products.
And I will admit to being more than a little bit proud of this work. I genuinely think it’s added usefully to the overall corpus of information out there to help L&D professionals hone their thinking and their approaches.
But there is … another one. Another report that's out there.
Now, I wouldn’t say this this was the ugly child of our research reports but it’s not quite the same as the previous three. New Perspectives on 70:20:10 is a report summarising the best we could find from secondary sources. It was our way of offering a useful primer on what 70:20:10 is and how it can be used to inform new approaches to L&D.
Quite honestly, it’s a good report but, in my opinion, not as groundbreaking as the primary research reports.
But, there’s a dirty secret that we have been aware of for some time and heavily influenced the direction of this morning’s report.
The 70:20:10 report is the most popular one that we've produced.
This is a breakdown of the downloads of each report since 2015. And as you can see, the 70:20:10 report is almost twice as popular as the next most downloaded report.
It’s been out for slightly longer than some of the reports we've published though, so we also looked at downloads just from the last year.
It’s been downloaded about as often as our most recent report into managers perceptions of learning technologies despite that report benefiting from an official launch and all the activities over the last year to promote it. Presentations at conferences, through social media channels, webinars, articles in Training Journal and all the rest.
There is something about 70:20:10 that gets the attention of L&D professionals.
So, another 70:20:10 report?
Absolutely. Because we have very strong signals that it’s influencing both the thinking and actions of L&D professionals working in mid-to-large organisations that, quite frankly, but our products.
So we’ve gone right back to basics. The report we’re releasing today is a qualitative piece of research with three areas of enquiry.
The first is how learning leaders think about 70:20:10.
To what extent are they actually applying the principles of 70:20:10? Do they rate it? Do they share the concerns that some of the critics of 70:20:10 have raised? How does that influence their actual practice?
Secondly, if they are using it, how?
What material difference is it making to the activities of the L&D function they lead? How are they positioning and communicating changes in their approach to the wider organisation, if at all? To what extent is technology being used to support any changes they’re bringing to L&D activity?
And finally, are there any approaches that are common across organisations that seem to be doing this well that might predictably lead to greater success if adopted elsewhere?
Basically, can we draw any conclusions about what good looks like when it comes to embracing 70:20:10 as a way to instigate change to L&D in organisations.
Now, if that sounds like it’s a much more qualitative approach than you might be used to hearing from me then you would be right on the money.
Jo Cook from Training Journal got an advanced copy of the report and asked:
Where are all the graphs and stats I'm used to in a GoodPractice report!!?
(Two exclamation marks, one question mark …)
This is a qualitative approach, albeit with the kind of rigor that you might hope for from a GoodPractice report.
So before sharing some findings and then getting some much needed input from you, I'd like to share what we did.
We conducted in depth interviews with 25 learning leaders.
These interviews were semi-structured in that we asked the same series of pre-determined questions with branching follow up questions that varied depending on their responses. Interviewers were given discretion in probing for answers or pushing for specifics.
We wanted to get rich conversational data from the interviews but keep the conversations focussed enough so we could look for common themes across them in the analysis phase.
The interviews were carried out by both our in-house team of researchers and our partners at ComRes who we were delighted to work with once again for this report.
To ward against extreme bias in the sample of people we spoke to, we deliberately set out to select across a range of industries and sectors. So we defined our participant criteria before conducting the study. To do that, we used the Russell Global Sectors classification to create a list of sectors to target and recruited participants from those sectors.
This chart shows the sector spread and you’ll see we managed to recruit participants from across eleven different industry sectors.
You’ll also see we have a more significant sample from Financial Services. The reason for that is we wanted to identify, as much as possible with a qualitative study, whether there was any variance within sectors as there was across them so we picked one sector to dig deeper into.
This was also a more international study than we have done in the past.
We’ve found from previous research we've done, from analysing usage across our products and from operating across these global regions as a company that there isn’t much variance in the challenges L&D functions face and their ambitions to improve. One of the reasons for that is a consequence of globalisation: ideas and approaches transmit much more quickly than in the past. Or to put it another way, there is more in common across organisations in westernised economies than there are differences.
One final thing you may be wondering about with regards to the composition of the participants and that's how many of them are GoodPractice clients. If we only interviewed our own clients, there would be a significant skew in the sample and it really wouldn't help anyone. Only 8 of the participating organisations are GoodPractice clients.
So, the participants are recruited and interviewed.
The interviews were recorded, transcribed, checked for accuracy and then pored over and analysed for common themes and differences in a rigorous way.
You’ll see here that involved putting Stef in a small room without windows for a few weeks.
This led to a campaign on Twitter to free Stef from her prison …
Unfortunately for Stef, the campaign consisted of a single tweet and so she was forced to stay there until the job was done.
But the results, I think, were well worth it … to me, if not to Stef.
** I'm kidding, she's right there. She goes back to her box tomorrow **
So this is the end result of all that work. An in depth piece of qualitative research, 25 learning leaders from organisations across 11 industry sectors across 4 global regions.
We’ve been methodical in how we’ve approached it and we think we’ve identified some really useful and pragmatic themes that can help to inform your approach and take into your organisations.
However, as with all our reports, I want you to bear in mind the limitations of what can be taken from this report.
Unlike some of our previous reports, this is a qualitative piece of research. While we’ve been careful in how we’ve selected our sample, the sample size is small.
This is the kind of research that should act as a starting point for further investigation but it does give you the kind of insights that you can take into your own organisation. You just need to be more careful in validating those insights than you would if we had reached a more significant sample.
It’s also the self reported viewpoints of the learning leaders we spoke to. When we’re talking about success here, we’re reliant on the perspective of those L&D leaders. We haven’t validated those beyond challenging for specifics during the interview process. We did find, however, that the people we interviewed were aware of the subjective nature of some of their claims and were careful in qualifying them where appropriate.
Having said all of that, the report is bolstered by the insights and experience of people who are actually doing the job of running L&D in an organisation. It’s not the opinion of consultants or thought leaders who can just move on to the next client or conference. It’s a glimpse into what 70:20:10 means in practice to those working at the coalface.
Let’s see now.
Background and context: check
Why we wanted to explore 70:20:10 in more detail: check
What we did and why: check
Caveats and health warnings: check
It’s probably about time I shared with you what we’ve found …
I’m going to share with you six things from the report that I think are of interest.
These are the broad insights.
Now, the report is over 40 pages long and has over 11,000 words. I’m not going to summarise it all in a few slides so I would entreat you to read the full report once you get your mitts on it very shortly.
There’s an executive summary for those who just won’t get past the first few pages, but the real value is in the detail and the insights shared by the participants. Where possible, we’ve pulled out comments from the various learning leaders who participated in the interviews that were representative of widely held views. There’s a huge amount of good stuff just in the quotes.
However, I’ve picked out six areas that I’ve found most interesting.
I spent a bit of time earlier outlining some of the main criticisms of 70:20:10 and, to be honest, I shared many of those concerns going into this report. It was one of the reasons we wanted to explore 70:20:10 at the practitioner level.
But here’s what we found in the main. L&D leaders get it. They know about the criticisms. They understand the potential pitfalls. They know it’s ridiculous to rigidly adhere to the ratios. They’re aware of the danger of overly simplistic interpretations. They’re not going to relegate formal learning to some kind of L&D third division.
Now, that level of understanding may not exist throughout the L&D profession. There were examples of learning leaders who were overly focussed on the numbers. But they were a small fraction of the whole. Most of the people leading L&D teams in mid-to-large sized organisations, get the criticisms and have made a conscious choice that 70:20:10 has more benefits than potential pitfalls as a driver for change in their function. They mitigate the risks outlined in the criticisms but that doesn’t stop them from using 70:20:10 as a catalyst for change.
And they definitely are using it. There have been signals about this from other reports, our colleagues in Towards Maturity found in their report "The Evidence Behind the Numbers” in 2016 that 47% of L&D professionals believed their approach was shaped by models like 70:20:10. This report builds on that: we’ve found that L&D leaders are using 70:20:10 in concrete ways to drive change in their functions.
70:20:10 isn’t just making an appearance at conferences or in thought pieces. It’s being used to drive strategy in an increasing number of organisations.
Only two organisations we spoke with explicitly said they decided not to use 70:20:10 to inform their approach to learning and development. Even with that, some of that came down to the expectations that the senior management teams had of L&D rather than the direction they felt their department should be moving in.
And of the rest, more than three quarters are actively using 70:20:10 in some way to inform their approach, while for another 16% it is part of their current conversations and they’re deciding how to proceed. I’m hopeful that this report and insights from organisations further along their journey might be able to help with that.
What this means is 70:20:10 is here. It is being used. It is part of the L&D firmament and heavily influencing its shape across all industries and westernised global regions.
And it appears to be working.
I genuinely expected we would see more variation here. After all, the audience we targeted are people who are doing the work, delivering L&D to a diverse stakeholder group with often competing demands. But the overall view that’s emerged from this report is broadly positive.
We didn't have any examples of people who had made a start with using 70:20:10 and then pivoted away from it because it wasn't working.
Those using 70:20:10 to influence their approach are seeing significant benefits: a shift in how learning is perceived both within their teams and throughout the wider organisation.
A greater appreciation across the board in organisations that there is more to learning than formal classroom or course based approaches. That's resulting in concrete changes in both the design of interventions and the types of work L&D departments were doing.
70:20:10 has been for many of the organisations that we spoke to the catalyst for a shift to a much more modern approach to L&D.
Having said all that, I’d flag that many of these benefits are anecdotal. There’s no counterfactual here where we’re able to see what would have happened if 70:20:10 hadn’t informed the approach organisations took. The change may have occurred anyway. But we’ve found that organisations that are further along in their journey with 70:20:10 report greater benefits and more tangible results than those at an earlier stage, suggesting that perseverance pays dividends.
Despite the theoretical criticisms, in practice learning leaders are finding 70:20:10 a useful model to enact change. It's maybe time to get over the irrelevant debate about the specific ratios and work together on identifying approaches that lead to better results.
Not everyone we spoke with but a significant number of them have used a variation of 70:20:10 to get over that hurdle of the specific ratios. Removing the ratios from how they communicate a change in approach to stakeholders also removes the potential for them being misunderstood.
Of all the ways 70:20:10 is communicated, the three E’s (experience, exposure and education) is by far the most common. Indeed, even some of those who have communicated 70:20:10 explicitly using the ratios are now considering a shift to experience, exposure, education.
That's been one of the most clearest signals in this research. That we're seeing a significant proportion of people shift towards the experience, exposure, education branding and away from the ratios.
We had quite a spread in how participants in this study have been using technology to support and accelerate change. But one thing in particular was fairly widespread.
Everyone thinks that everyone else is doing really cool stuff with technology while they felt they could be doing more.
It’s almost like some kind of perverted, inverse above average effect. 93% of US students consider themselves to be above average drivers. It seems as if a majority of L&D leaders believe that they’re below average when it comes to leveraging technology to support learning.
But a great deal of thought has gone into how technology can be leveraged better to support a more holistic learning culture even from people who felt they were behind the curve.
There’s no doubt that there’s a desire to do more with technology but if you’re sitting there thinking that you’re behind in how much progress you’ve made to achieve that, you might be less alone than you might think. What differentiated those that *were* getting more value from technology, despite feeling they were behind their peers, is that they’re trying it out, experimenting with it and running serious pilot projects to figure out what works in their organisational context.
Which brings me to this final thought, which led to the title of the report.
For those not familiar with Darwin’s Finches, they’re a group of around 15 species of finch from the Galapagos islands first collected and documented by Charles Darwin during the second voyage of the Beagle.
The Galapagos islands are interesting for a number of reasons. Darwin described them as a “little world within itself” because they’re 600 miles from the mainland, the islands are spaced far enough apart that migration between them in incredibly difficult for the animals that live there and there are some important differences between the islands. So what you’ve got is this naturally occurring evolutionary laboratory.
Darwin’s finches are a group of around 15 species of finch spread throughout the islands. What’s remarkable about them is that each species has a very different type of beak that’s highly adapted to the food source on the island that it comes from. Some beaks are adapted to crack open nuts, some are suitable for digging out and eating insects and others are geared towards eating fruits.
It was one of the key signals that evolution led to adaptation to the environment. The finches’ beaks changed over time to help them survive on different islands with different food sources.
And that’s similar to what we’ve started to pick up in this report. 70:20:10 is a simple concept. At its very core it’s a reminder that there’s more to learning than just the formal interventions that L&D has traditionally concentrated on. However, this simple reminder has both staying power and the ability to shift mindsets.
In some organisations, learning leaders have decided to telegraph explicitly the ethos that’s informing their new direction to all their stakeholders, some have decided to approach that in a more subtle way, using it to inform an approach but not necessarily feeling the need to explain the background to stakeholders. Some only really discuss it within their own team, others have run roadshows throughout the company to get buy in from their audiences for new approaches to development.
Some organisations are using the ratios, some are using Experience, Exposure, Education and others have their on way of expressing the intent behind 70:20:10.
Learning leaders and their teams are adapting 70:20:10 to their context. They’re making choices in how to communicate it, who to communicate it to and how fast to scale it.
Evolution isn’t a single track process, as Darwin’s Finches elegantly demonstrate. One of the key elements of evolution is adaptation to fit the environment. Just as the beaks of Darwin’s Finches adapted over thousands of years to fit the food sources on the islands they resided on, so L&D leaders are adapting 70:20:10 to fit with their organisational context, taking into account the attitudes to development of their stakeholders, where they have been historically, how quickly they feel they need to change and where they are with their technology.
What you’ll get in the full report are indications of what many of those adaptations look like in practice and hopefully give you some ideas to adapt into your own organisations.
So, my job this morning was to whet your appetite for the full report and share some of the findings. But I’m sure by now you’re thinking: where do I get this rather splendid looking thing?
The team are just about to start circling round the tables with some special edition, foil printed copies of the report. These will be the only ones of this type of report that will get printed … because I saw the bill.
And while they are being handed out,
The Evolution of 702010 - Will L&D Survive or Thrive?
A very quick survey of the room …