Employees receive the information they need to do their work effectively from a variety of sources. Created in 1987 by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), organizations have used the 70-20-10 model to understand how employees acquire the knowledge they need to perform. CCL’s research found that leaders gain 70% of their knowledge from on-the-job experiences, 20% from social learning, and 10% from formalized learning events and programs.

Training Industry, Inc. revisited these numbers in 2017 to discern whether this ratio applies to the modern workforce 30 years later and to account for varying ratios across industries and job functions. The research found that, generally, 56% of learning occurs on the job (O), 25% occurs in social (S) interactions, and 19% occurs in a classroom or formal (F) learning setting, resulting in an updated OSF ratio.

In March of 2020, the coronavirus pandemic forced a large portion of the workforce into unfamiliar work-from-home scenarios, calling into question whether these ratios look the same and whether some of these forms of learning are sustainable in a dispersed workforce.

Now, states are operating under varying degrees of social distancing protocols and phases of reopening, but the reality that while people may want haircuts, a lot of them don’t want to return to the office. In a recent IBM survey, 75% of respondents said they want the option to work from home occasionally, while 54% would prefer to opt out of returning to the office altogether.

To some, working from home means no rush hour, added quality time with family and furry friends, and a more flexible schedule. Regardless of where you are in the journey to reenter the outside world, whether your employees will join you may remain to be seen. As a result, it’s important for you to know how they’re learning and to create and support new opportunities for development in their homes.

On-the-job Learning

Many employees may not be physically on the job, but they are still learning on the job from their home offices. “On-the-job learning is continuing to happen, but it’ll only be as effective as the tools and the support we put in place,” says Tiffany Poeppelman, director of LinkedIn’s business leadership program, a career rotation program for early-career employees to gain hands-on experience in multiple functions across the organization.

For effective on-the-job training (OJT) to occur in distributed teams, you must first be aware of the challenges remote work presents. For example, Poeppelman points out that early-career professionals and new hires are “not able to observe people live in a meeting. They’re not able to see them interacting with their boss or [see] how they show up.” Moreover, “opportunities to ask questions are dramatically reduced.” We rely heavily on these physical and social cues in the workplace, and organizations must adapt to help learners pick up on them from a distance.

Poeppelman shares that having a solid feedback loop, encouraging open and frequent communication, and implementing a buddy or mentor system are ways organizations can mitigate on-the-job learning challenges for remote workers. She says, “Having a culture of openness and transparency that comes from the top, where a learner can feel comfortable asking questions and candidly connecting with colleagues can be very powerful.”

Social Learning

While social learning also seems a bit less likely in our newly dispersed workforce, the reality is employees actually have fewer barriers to social learning. When you think of social learning, you may think of water-cooler chat, coffee-break conversations or a pit stop in someone’s office to ask a quick question. All of these interactions require learners and their colleagues to be in close proximity, but Fred Pinkett, director of product marketing at Absorb LMS, says, “Now that everybody’s out of sight, everybody has to keep everybody else in mind.”

“More distributed people can come together because of this” crisis, says Pinkett. “It puts a headquarters and a remote person on a much more equal footing than they were before.” In his experience at Absorb, Pinkett, who is based in Boston, says he’s had greater access to the people in the company’s Calgary, Alberta, headquarters now that everyone is working remotely.

Learning about and picking up on things like company culture and workplace dynamics can be hard for remote employees when a large portion of the team is in one physical location. However, when teams are distributed, social learning extends and occurs in a way “that you could only [experience] as a remote worker in … this new world where everyone is remote,” says Pinkett. With no one in the office, the physical barriers to social learning begin to dissipate.

Social learning doesn’t come to a halt because we’re no longer seeing each other in the office. “Overall, I think social learning changes a little bit. You have to plan it, [and] you have to know [whom] you want to address,” Pinkett says, but social learning can still occur in a quick virtual meeting or in the social feature of your learning management system (LMS).

Formal Learning

Most learners are familiar with online and virtual learning experiences. Formal learning’s shift to virtual started long before the global pandemic. However, COVID-19 accelerated the shift, as companies previously relying on in-person or blended learning experiences quickly realized they were no longer viable options.

But more organizations and employees — both furloughed and working — are seeking formal, online learning experiences to upskill and remain competitive in an unstable marketplace. McKinsey & Company’s Alok Kshirsagar, Tarek Mansour, Liz McNally and Marc Metakis note, “Whether the effort is reskilling at the business-unit level or a company-wide aspirational transformation, companies can’t simply push the pause button on critical workplace learning.”

There are new challenges to formal learning in a largely virtual and remote world. In an in-person classroom, facilitators deliver corporate training to an audience with whom they can engage and interact directly. When delivering formal learning to remote workers, it is important to remember that “the classroom does not translate to virtual one-to-one [learning]. The biggest challenge in virtual is not being in front of your learner,” says Kim Davis, CPTM, manager of clinical applications specialist and technical assistance center training at Sysmex America, Inc.

In a virtual setting, the training content and the training facilitator must do the heavy lifting when it comes to learner engagement. Davis says companies and their instructors must ensure they are “choosing appropriate engagement tools.” Polling the audience, facilitating discussion and encouraging active participation will aid learning leaders in transitioning formal learning to the virtual space.

As we adapt to COVID-19 and begin to imagine a post-pandemic world, we must also adapt and reimagine on-the-job, social and formal learning. One thing is for sure: Deliberate, intentional and thoughtful support of your learners’ unique needs goes a long way in each aspect of the ratio.

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