Keeping Your Hands Dirty

One thing that I greatly appreciate about working for the Guild is their strong desire to stay close to organizational learning and the learning industry. Many of us engage in side opportunities in design, elearning development, consulting and speaking in an effort to stay close to our roots. This is pretty progressive considering that often those who rise to management levels lose touch with the work they once did and as such can lose the faith and trust of those under them.

Staying in the game is important.

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70:20:10’s Identity Crisis

Since my last post, “What’s the Problem with 70:20:10?” I have been fortunate enough to engage on Twitter, in face-to-face conversations and responded to a slew of comments on my blog. Additionally #LrnChat featured the topic last night which further helped me see what people are thinking about 70:20:10. All have led me to believe how and to whom we present 70:20:10 can help or hurt it’s opportunity to impact organizations.

Last night’s chat asked the important question – is 70:20:10 a Model? Framework? Concept? Approach? Other?

I am left thinking that 70:20:10 is not suitable as a model, a model can be defined as a “simplified version of something“. So yes, one could accurately say 70:20:10 is a model of organizational learning but the connotation that we can’t control creeps in and too many, “model” implies something we build, something we scale, a representation to emulate. This is where things go wrong as 70:20:10 becomes something applied or an approach. It’s also my opinion it’s not inherently a framework (although that’s the best way to support it).

At my last employer I was asked to create a Corporate University. I chose to work within the concept of how learning happens at institutions as opposed to creating the traditional “training center.” I presented 70:20:10 to the organization as a fact and supported this through an internal survey that confirmed the raw percentages. I put forth the assertion that learning at University happens in classes, the commons, and the library (as well through ones creative work). I then worked to reframe my role to be more a performance consultant, working with managers and changing mindsets around training first beliefs. And then put social at the center of our organizational learning. You can read about it more here and in Clark Quinn‘s book Revolutionize Learning & Development: Performance and Innovation Strategy for the Information Age.

For me then I think 70:20:10 is best presented as a principle. More specifically as an organizing principle like that of Wirearchy, it’s foundational relation which 70:20:10 compliments. A principle is a basic truth, and Jon Husband, the man behind Wirearchy, describes an organizing principle as:

“…something that holds true across a system, and is defined to address the essence of the system; not a solution or method or best practice.”

Why is this important?

Wirearchy, as an organizing principle “informs the ways that purposeful human activities and the structures in which they are contained is evolving from top-down direction and supervision (hierarchy’s command-and-control) to champion-and-channel.” Similarly 70:20:10 informs the ways we can and should support today’s work-learning structures. With the vast majority of our learning in organizations directly tied to our work (70) and the interactions we have with others around and about our work (20) a shift to champions and channels is needed.

If 70:20:10 is presented as a model to L&D, then you are at best going to get blended learning and at worst an argument. However, when presented to the right audience as a principle it is positioned as a natural law, something that can’t be dismissed as much as it must be dealt with. Organizational leaders and managers (the right audience)  can approach the 70:20:10 principle like an archaeologist and not an engineer; 70:20:10 needs to be unearthed not created.



Disclaimer, I am not a 70:20:10 expert, just a curious practitioner having engaged in organizational design efforts emphasizing 70:20:10. It’s my assertion that a new business, those on the long tail, cannot lose sight of this principle and if looking to transform a traditional organization around work-learning then a Re-Image should be considered. For 70:20:10 expertise I strongly suggest you look at the seminal work of Charles Jennings who consults with organizational leaders on 70:20:10 strategies and also see The 70:20:10 Forum, an organization that provides detailed pathways and resources to help individuals advance organizational change.

What’s the Problem with 70:20:10?

70:20:10 seems like common sense to me. Just glance around your work environment and you can see that this IS how people learn. The majority (+/-70%) of learning to do our jobs, about the culture, how to navigate the hierarchy or the best time to get fresh coffee in the break room happens through just doing it; the experience. Beyond that we watch others, interact with with them, get informal mentoring, etc (+/-20%). And lastly we gain some new skills and knowledge by completing periodic elearning modules and required courses (albeit aided by conversation and application (the 20% and 70% again). Yet I either get puzzled looks or a dismissive responses from people when I talk of 70:20:10 and the shift that needs to be made.

Charles Jennings, the leading authority on 70:20:10 has been speaking, writing and consulting for years on the topic. His organization, the 70:20:10 Institute, and organizations such as the 70:20:10 Forum are making headway in helping people move to a 70:20:10 framework. As for me, I think it is exactly what’s needed for the 21st century organization and here’s why:

It’s the answer to complexity
The world and world of work, markets, technology are changing constantly. Adopting permanent approaches, structures and tools makes no sense. Best principles not practices are needed today, agility and speed win. 70:20:10 reduces friction on the workflow by allowing learning and work to be more closely tied.

It’s simple
70:20:10 requires no new software, training or infrastructural changes. It’s a mindset shift from compliance, completion, attendance and direction to support, enablement, guidance and modeling. Once we let go of industrial era approaches to performance improvement, we see that those were artificial structures that often created unnecessary layers. 70:20:10 is ultimately about paving the cow path not creating new roads.

It’s not about learning
If you go by the numbers, about 90% of 70:20:10 is in and around work. 70:20:10 is about work getting done better, faster and more efficiently by making work more visible and encouraging people to connect and collaborate. It’s about reflection and thinking about the work being done and being conscious of the new understandings gained through doing the work.

It’s about autonomy
In a world of ever-change, a 70:20:10 framework doesn’t dismiss the importance of hiring right but it adds the requirement that new hires need no hand-holding. As adults that, if offered freedom to explore, connect, question and contribute, they will. 70:20:10 also doesn’t dismiss the value of training, rather it ensures that it’s not the default response by organizations to performance problems with the additional (and futile) burden of trying to control and measure learning.


However, for the same reasons 70:20:10 is the right approach, it’s the reasons why it’s not right… right now. And here’s why:


It’s the answer to (future) complexity
Talk around 70:20:10 is like talk around Climate Change – most people don’t act because there is no urgency. Discussions of dangerous weather projections, increased drought, floods, coastal area issues, etc are all “future talk”. Climate change hasn’t really effected us and it’s impact has yet to hit people in the wallet so therefore the status quo remains. Likewise only the most progressive are preparing for changing markets and processes. Most organizations however are in a “If it don’t look broke, don’t fix it” mode and 70:20:10 looks like a solution seeking a problem.

It’s (too) simple
People can’t let go of the numbers. Others use terms like Education, Experience and Exposure to reframe the discussion so we aren’t nitpicking about percentages but even then that still arguably makes it simple, and simple is often suspect. We live in a data driven world and frankly the hard data on 70:20:10 is often in question. Finally, all to often, leaders fall in love with tradition, packaged solutions, and plug and play. 70:20:10 is none of these. Its a principle and at best a framework that guides but doesn’t dictate. But people don’t buy principles, they want to buy features and functions and packages wrapped in poetic hyperbole, falsely leading to a belief that if there is a lot to it, well then -there must be a lot to it!

It’s not about learning (but it’s about learning)
It’s really not about learning it’s about performing but since the word learning is at it’s core, there is a disconnect. Executives hear learning and subsequently push it out to L&D to “implement” and systematically and wrongly spun into some form of blended learning solution. It’s not about implementation and it’s certainly not about L&D! 70:20:10 is no more about L&D than Social Media is about Marketing. The former, an organization-wide strategy. The latter, an organization-wide tool. 70:20:10 is suffering the same drag as “social media” does; seen by most as a push marketing vehicle.

It’s about autonomy
Organizations are still very much “command and control” centers. Managers are still expected to task manage not guide and support, leaders dictate, HR demands compliance. A strategy built on a cornerstone of letting go is not only foreign, it’s threatening. The vast majority of 70:20:10 is about self-direction, trust and moving freely outsides of an organizational and technological hierarchy. Few organizations are ready for that.


The issue is that its a problematic answer to a problem few recognize. People trust their gut or common sense until it butts up against an immovable object like tradition. And breaking through traditional beliefs and mindsets has never been quick or easy. Historically speaking most major change took a long time to become the new norm. Change, real change that is sustained, is evolutionary not revolutionary and it happens as Euan Semple says “one conversation at a time.” I’m confident 70:20:10 will ultimately be adopted… in many forms, under various names when people and organizations recognize it’s reality and the pain of the status quo is unbearable.



Learning in 2024: Same As It Ever Was

The eLearning Guild posed the question of: “What will learning look like in 2024?”  Of course I could be snarky and say well, learning is learning and that’s an internal process that’s been the same for thousands of years… but I know what they mean – How will the external influences on learning be different in 10 years.

On Friday they sponsored a Twitter chat (#LRN2024) which got me thinking of how difficult it is today to predict what will be in 10 years let alone in 3 months.  However, regardless of technology and methodology changes, I simply see learning going the way of work.

As the way we work changes, learning will follow suit or better -flow more within the work. Work will continue to change of course due in great part to technological advances and that technology will ultimately automate many tasks. The automation and outsourcing of work will continue and create increased productivity but also reduce the need for certain jobs.  The jobs that will be needed will require more emphasis on cognitive skills.  So rather than look ahead, let’s do look back. And not just 10 years, humor me and think of where we have been as a species in say the last 10,000 years.

Thousands of years ago, during the Agricultural Revolution, I suspect the way most everyone learned was through Observation, Experience, Conversation and Reflection, what Charles Jennings has referred to as “Real Learning”. This learning was individually and independently organized, and happened in the work. The tools for learning were the tools of work. Learning was informal and social, an outcome of the work itself. Later, in the Industrial Revolution, mass production was the work model. People were appendages of their machines and like mechanical parts bolted on, people were bolted to seats for uniform training – which was then mirrored in the academic settings. The products of industry were identical and so was the education. Organized learning shifted to formal and consistent because the work was consistent. The formula was still the same but the mixture was different – Experience, Practice, Conversation and Reflection was mostly managed by others. The time for each dictated and directed by instructors not the individuals.

So again, the work is changing. Rather than consistent and uniform, the real work of people will be inconsistent and growing more complex. Mass production remains but with fewer people and more machines. Machines will handle the simple rote work. The work that requires training, slightly more difficult, is increasingly being outsourced and likely too will be automated. The work then that will really propel organizations tomorrow is creative work, involving critical thinking and problem solving. Fast changes requires fast learning and that can’t be supported by classrooms or elearning courses, it can’t. The learning to support this will be highly independent and individualized. It will again heavily favor social and informal. At it’s core learning will always remain with the same elements of experience, practice, conversation and reflection but like during the Agricultural Revolution, I see it more happening in our work and through and in the tools of our work. This will be critical, as the work of the future will be many people coming together for short periods and disbanding,  a swarming economy. The outputs or products and the collaborative knowledge will be equal in value as “learnings” will not reside in a summary document but in an ever evolving portfolio of various content types to be tapped into and continually added and edited.

Learning is still and will always be an internal process. What will change most will be where the dependency resides; no longer on the organization outside the work but once again upon the individual in their work.

You be the Performance Specialist!

Recently one of my favorite researchers/thinkers in the area of workplace learning, Jane Hart @c4lpt had a great series called The Performance Specialist: 3 case studies on her Blog. In it, she provided a performance situation, a typical training dept. solution and ultimately the hypothetical approach of a Performance Specialist.

This led me to a conversation with Jane via Twitter where I asked- might we not present the problem only and leave it in the hands of the readers to generate the solution … or role-play the Performance Specialist?

Well, needless to say I posted an idea on Google Docs and for one reason or another she didn’t receive it (I blame user error …me being the user).

Jane has much going on and I thought I could carry the torch a bit further. So, with a tip of my hat to Jane I present to you:


An Executive of an eyewear company is concerned by the lackluster performance of many of the retail offices in areas such as sales & customer service. The 4 member staff in each of the 300+ offices understands each metric and can see how they are performing by having access to KPI’s through a highly visible, office specific Intranet report system that updates daily.

However, the struggling offices don’t seem to have the skills needed to improve.

The Training Department is called in and suggests that the organization leverage Webinar technology to conduct synchronous training sessions with key staff members over a period of weeks. In addition he suggests the team design and develop asynchronous elearning simulations as a continuous reinforcement tool. Finally he suggests a small team of experts be sent into each region to conduct weekend training sessions in the critical areas.

The Executive has concerns. He’s concerned about incurring more costs and pulling the L&D team off several other projects will cause delays in other areas. He also knows having office teams work on a weekend is demotivating. And finally, he is aware of the 5 Barriers to Effective Learning in Organisations (Barrier # 3 to be specific) as presented by Charles Jennings, and therefore asks the Performance Specialist to explore the issue.
The Performance Specialist …

OK, here is where you can jump in. If you were the Performance Specialist, what would you do?