Flat Army: 3-33 Learning Model Verses 70-20-10

I have been reading Dan Pontefract's new book Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization, and can honestly say it is an excellent and insightful book for developing a collaborative and open leadership organization. The part that grabbed my attention the most is the section in chapter 9, Learning at the speed of need, which discusses the 70-20-10 learning model (while I have a great interest in all of Dan's topics in his his book, learning is my primary field of interest).

Dan notes that there is no empirical evidence that learning maps to the 70-20-10 model, even though practitioners often cite it as a fact. It was developed in the 1980s when command and control was at the heart of leadership—think of Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, and Roger Smith who more than likely thought that Learning/Training Departments were solely for their bidding and could offer very little for them personally. Thus the model is based on the the very thing that many learning and development practitioners are trying to get away from—hierarchy organizations. In addition, the model was developed before the Internet, thus it does not account for the numerous technologies that have aided formal learning, such as just-in-time learning, elearning, virtual learning.

I would also add that while some have pointed to Where did the 80% come from? as further proof that the 70-20-10 learning model is valid, when I researched the listed references on the page that give low percentages to formal learning, such as Raybould who proclaims that formal learning only accounts for 10% of the learning, I discovered that the authors provided no evidence at all. Such citations seam to imply, “I saw it on the Internet so it most be true.” On the other hand, the references that provide higher ratios for formal learning are the most evidence based.

The 3-33 Model

Dan provides what I see is a closer approximation of the learning ratios: 3-33, which stands for 33% the learning is formal, 33% is informal, and 33% is social. What is most interesting is that the research behind his model revealed that when the learners were asked to give the percentages on how they thought they learned, the numbers were very different than when the researchers actually discovered how the learners did indeed learn. This coincides with other research that indicates what learners are able to judge about their learning experiences (see Learner Self-Assessment Ratings).
3-33 Learning Model
graphic by Dan Pontefract

One of the other major errors of the 70-20-10 model is that it places reading in formal learning. Since when did reading a book become formal learning? Dan of course places it under the correct type of learning in his 3-33 model... informal. The 70-20-10 error seems to again coincide with the command and control culture that was most prevalent in the 1980s—the top leaders viewed writers as part of the elite who they could trust and learn from, while the learning/training functions were viewed as something to command and control, rather than trusted partners.

All in all, Flat Army is a very good book that deserves a special spot in in anyone's library who is interested in collaboration, leadership, and learning.

DISCLAIMER: While Dan and I have exchanged comments via blogs, I have no other interests in the book.

NOTE: While I seem to be kind of harsh on “command and control” it is mostly because of the audience I write for. I'm retired military so my real view of command and control follows the military view, which vastly differs from layman's and others point of view. See my writings on Leadership, Management, Command, & Control.

What are your thoughts on the two models?


Steve said...

Thanks for the review, Don. I received Flat Army in the mail a few weeks ago and haven't found the time to dig in.

The distribution of learning models are interesting. I think they are great conversation starters and can possibly serve as lenses for evaluating balance but I doubt the originators of these models intended for them to be infallible:) We have similar distribution models in HPT that can be silly when taken as gospel even if they might sometimes be right. Without situational awareness, insight, and a healthy dose of reality, these types of models can be a distraction.

I have a few models of my own that I use to start conversations about balance of services. One of these divides things people do to develop proficiency (broadly defined) and "self" into four layers...

- Life
- Life at Work
- Prescribed Experiences
- Support

...that fall across a scale of four separate verticals...

- Facilitated
- Team
- Individual
- Community


In my view, where someone gains a proficiency is less important than demonstrable ability to perform. It is helpful to talk about where we might be wasting energy and completely blowing the effort:outcome ratio but I think we might be missing an opportunity to "map the BEnome" whenever we talk about formalized services and where to apply those forces. People come to organizations with strengths and positive characteristics. How can we identify the fully and partially developed chains and build on those to 1) give folks opportunities to continue growth momentum and 2) make sure they are doing the right things for the organization?

Here's another model from PWC that I rather like as a thought catalyst and conversation starter:

In L&D Departments (I've started to mentally refer to mine as the "Encouragement and Support Department"), problems and challenges aren't one dimensional. Getting hung up on a single dimension causes a lot of rubbernecking. Until the next tidy single dimension comes along:)

Donald Clark said...

Hi Steve,
I quite agree with you that none of the models have nailed it as learning varies greatly across organizations. But one of the troubling aspects that I have noticed is the trend in the past few years to denigrate formal learning.

The 70-20-10 model is the latest example in that formal learning only accounts for 10% of the learning and to top it off, it includes reading. This does not jive with any of the respectable studies that I have read. In addition, it does not account with my own experience.

In your second link (the Twitter photo) the chart shows that "defined structured" (formal learning) learning accounts for 92% of the investments, but only returns 10% of the learning. Where do those numbers come from?

When I see numbers like that I want to see some type of evidence rather than some type of razzle-dazzle chart that totally confuses the discussion. Can you tell me what the numbers are based on (research or evidence) or where they come from?

Brenden Carter, The Learning Hook said...

I often think of the well worn and industry popular 70-20-10 as the ‘90 ten’ - we work in the ten and must exploit the 90. But for me it's the concept that's important - not really the percentages: It's enough to be sure of that a considerable amount of learning happens outside of controlled and pre-planned formal settings, and as a result, our formal settings MUST plan to exploit the informal for actual change to occur.

Teachers know it right? - children learn as much in the playground as they do in the classroom.

I write about this a bit more here - http://www.learninghook.com.au/#!/page_Read_More - k but really great read on your blog - thanks. Love challenging the popular beliefs/status quo - makes me think about the upsurge in questioning of learning styles a few years ago.
Brenden – from The Learning Hook

Donald Clark said...

Hi Brenden, I agree with you to a certain point that the percentages are not all that important, however, when a percentage is based on invalid or no research at all, then I would say you are working in an imaginary ten and trying to exploit a false 90.

Steve said...

The largest reason I think there isn't research to support a prescribed balance is because there isn't a single formula that works in all contexts. Take a new recruit in the military. How much of their first 8 weeks is formal? Take that same recruit 20 years down the road. The number isn't the same. One example of many where you simply can't nail it down. Humans and work are both complex.

I don't think it's bad to use these as a conversation starter to help encourage evaluation and shifts away from activities that might not provide value toward activities, habits, and practices that might lend more value.

- Are our formal (depot level) training efforts as effective as they could be?
- Are there things we could do to provide opportunities for proficiency development outside of the depot level?
- Are things already happening in the field that we could boost with additional support and encouragement?
- Are there informal things that could be made better with some formalized support and resources?
- What if we didn't train this task? What if we provided performance support and orientation proximal to task performance? What would happen?
- What are we really getting out of initiative X?

Lots of questions that can and should be brought to bear to improve the stuff we do to help people be ready to perform the mission and produce value for the organization, the organization's stakeholders, or those the organization serves.

To use these numbers as some kind of gospel isn't helpful to striking the right balance. I don't think that's the way they were intended to be used by those that proposed the ratio.

Donald Clark said...

Steve, I agree with most of your last comment except for your last statement, "To use these numbers as some kind of gospel isn't helpful to striking the right balance. I don't think that's the way they were intended to be used by those that proposed the ratio."

The trouble is that as Dan Pontefract wrote, the people who first proposed the ratio did it for one specific context--leaders at the height of hierarchy organizations. In addition, the people who are now pushing it for all learning are treating it almost as gospel. Thus it has not become a conversation starter, but almost a hard rule.

Brenden Carter, The Learning Hook said...

Hi Donald - I understand the need for truth re: stats. If there's no hard evidence to substantiate the percentages, then they may be false. And when we think about it in this way – as hard and fast percentages that are gospel’, just hearing L&D professionals refer to 70-20-10 must create alarm bells. The white paper link at the bottom of this response looked into the literature and origins of 70-20-10 and also the impact and uptake of it by mostly Australian based businesses. I read this some time ago and what was of interest to me, and what I was seeing too, was that this language, 70-20-10, has ground swell, and it helps explain a concept (but yes, unfortunately it uses numbers instead of perhaps 'formal-informal-social/on-the-job'). A lot of what the businesses were doing with it and what they said was that it was a great way to introduce wider spread learning opportunities – I think particularly around mentoring and coaching – as a conversation starter. I’d be interested to hear about businesses and practitioners actually carving it up to the specific 70-20-10 – or a ‘hard rule’ as you say in response to Steve – admittedly, I’ve not met anyone that thinks this specifically about it – from what I see, it just sums up that a lot of learning takes place outside of formal settings; it’s really just becoming a common language for formal/informal learning, as opposed to practitioners implementing hard and fast percentage cut of points.

I think what it does is provide common ground to discuss what we do know as accurate: that better and longer term performance change happens when learning covers a campaign that exploits all areas of learning opportunities: socially, on the job, informal and formal. If you can only work in a small percentage of an organisation’s more formal training events, then try to exploit the rest – 90ten for me is just a very simple way to introduce a learning campaign discussion as opposed to an event - but I appreciate this may not gel with those searching and/or questioning exact percentages, or wanting a data driven model. In fact, if you think that way – the 70-20-10 brand is simply misleading as every situation to some degree requires a custom approach. I know when I discuss it, it’s not about somehow ‘carving’ up time, budget and expertise based on a cookie cutter set at 90/10 – more of the division of the learning solution/s comes from the performance needs analysis . There is plenty of evidence and research to suggest learning thrives in informal and on-the-job experiences – it’s a no brainer to exploit this in the formal events which we orchestrate and can effect – I agree though the language is perhaps wrong. If interested, here’s the link to the Australian White Paper I mentioned (nothing earth shattering there, but it sums up different businesses’ understanding and the practical and influential nature of the 70-20-10 concept) http://www.deakinprime.com/deakinprime/content/news/70-20-10-white-paper.aspx.