Is 70:20:10 the Norma of the L&D world?

Norma is a statue that was designed in 1943 to represent the ideal female form. It was based on measurements collected from 15,000 young adult women. A Cleveland newspaper soon announced a contest co-sponsored by the Cleveland Health Museum, the Academy of Medicine of Cleveland, the School of Medicine, and the Cleveland Board of Education. To enter, a women had to submit her body dimensions. The person that most closely matched the “typical woman,” as represented by Norma, would be the winner.

The judges believed the contest would be close, however, less than 40 of the almost 4,000 contestants were average size on just five of the nine dimensions and none of the contestants came close on all nine dimensions.

While the Norma Look-Alike contest demonstrated that average-size women did not exist, a study conducted by the U.S. Air Force at about the same time revealed there was no such thing as an average-size pilot (men). Note: the full story for both Norma and the pilots can be read at, When U.S. air force discovered the flaw of averages (thank you Stephen Downes for the link).

70:20:10 is similar to Norma and the Air Force pilots in that they are classifying groups according to their averages on certain measures (known as typing). The 70:20:10 study was conducted in the 1980s by asking successful executives how they learned (and we can pretty much conclude from this that the study was mostly composed of white men whose ambitions were to climb the hierarchical ladder to a top executive position).
Form ever follows function. - Louis Henri Sullivan in 1896.
Sullivan's quote implies NOT that there is a greater importance of function over form, but rather that the two are intricately linked together. In addition, function is decided before form. For example, an office chair with a straight back used form first; otherwise, the back would be curved to fit the human spine (function). Once you know the function, the form can then be designed to fit it.

Thus, designers who use the 70:20:10 model are designing for form first (how white men before the Internet thought they learned). And to make it worse, there is no function in the 70:20:10 model as the model does not tell you where you are or what to do. . . it only tells you three numbers that stand on their own.
Design communicates on every level. It tells you where you are, cues you to what you can do, and facilitates the doing. - Jeffrey Zeldman
Now compare the 70:20:10 model to the Full-Spectrum Learning model. The 70:20:10 model points you to the past, while the second gives you two heuristics to guide you in your design and points you towards the future.

Do you design for the past or the future?

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