In a couple of recent posts both Ben Betts and Clive Shepherd casts their doubts about the usefulness of 70-20-10 model and wonder if it's confusing the issue. You can read their posts at The Ubiquity of Informal Learning, and Beware who's selling informal learning.
I tend to agree with them, but before I begin I want to add that if you think I'm anti-informal learning, then please note that I wrote a post defending informal learning and it was Tweeted quite heavily. In addition, I've seen in the comments of these posts and others that if you challenge the idea about the usefulness of the 70-20-10 model then either you don't want to understand it, you clearly don't get it, or you see it as a threat to your job. If this is what you really think then you may talk-the-talk of informal and social learning learning but you walk-the-walk of a lecturer—“it's my way or the highway.” I have no patience with these attitudes because they are simply attacking people rather than their ideas.
While some proponents of the model insist it is non-prescriptive, both Ben Betts and Clive Shepherd saw the model as being “prescriptive.” I saw it as being prescriptive. Jay Cross saw it the same way as he wrote in one of his posts, A model of workplace learning,“The 70-20-10 model is more prescriptive. It builds upon how people internalize and apply what they learn based on how they acquire the knowledge.”
Even the Center for Creative Leadership, where the model was developed, write that the 70-20-10 model is indeed prescriptive:
“A research-based, time-tested guideline for developing managers says that you need to have three types of experience, using a 70-20-10 ratio: challenging assignments (70 percent), developmental relationships (20 percent) and coursework and training (10 percent).”
The 70-20-10 model is a prescriptive remedy for developing managers to senior and executive positions. Parts or perhaps all of the model may be useful for developing other professionals. However, by no means is it a useful model for the daily learning and work flows that takes place within organizations because it is being applied in an entirely different context that what it was designed to do. When people see numbers applied to a model they normally assume a couple of things: 1) that it is fact based, and/or 2) this is the way it is supposed to be.
As Will Thalheimer noted in one of his posts, adding numbers to make a model look more authentic makes it both bogus and dangerous (see People remember 10%, 20%...Oh Really?). I can attest to that because in some of my posts in the past I wrote that the formal to informal ratio was 30/70. People immediately commented and insisted it was 20/80 or 10/90. They seemed determined to lock the numbers in to an exact ratio—NO EXCEPTIONS! Even the model is begriming to look more like real ratios that must be adhered to because it is now being written as 70:20:10. Where will it end?
For more on the ratios see, 70-20-10: Is it a Viable Learning Model?