Once upon a time, there was learning-as-we-knew-it. But since COVID-19 hit, workplace learning has undergone a revolution.

In 2020, many companies around the world had to quickly adjust to the often unfamiliar fully remote work environment. Similarly, training and learning and development (L&D) departments had to adapt their classroom-based or blended learning initiatives to fully online programs. This shift to remote working and learning has left me wondering: How is this “new normal” affecting the seminal 70-20-10 model?

The Tradition and the Decomposition

The 70-20-10 model was developed over 30 years ago by Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger, researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership. It was later published in the book “The Career Architect Development Planner” (1996).

According to the model, learning happens in the following three ways:

    • 70% from on-the-job experience (e.g., doing a challenging task)
    • 20% through relationships with other people (e.g., coaching or interactions with co-workers).
    • 10% through formal courses (e.g., an instructor-led training course).

This framework was originally applied to leadership development, but organizations now widely adopt it for a variety of topics and for employees at all levels.

Both blessed with longevity and cursed by criticism, the model has received widespread scrutiny over the years. Most recently, Training Industry produced a report that suggests an up-to-date breakdown.

Social Learning in a Socially Distanced World

Exact percentages aside, and focusing instead on the three main types of learning — experiential, social and formal — it’s evident that the remote workplace and preponderance of online learning are having an impact, especially on the social component.

Before 2020, a contact center adviser might have sat next to two experienced specialists, one on each side, providing countless learning opportunities. A middle manager might have had spontaneous interactions with a senior leader as they met at the office canteen for a coffee beak, providing free inspiration (plus caffeine).

Nowadays, all of this social learning is impossible — or, at least, severely hindered — due to the virtual setting. The adviser needs to have the time, opportunity and medium to listen to an exemplary call from a colleague, and the manager has to make the effort to proactively contact his or her mentor. There can be repercussions on both the speed of learning and on motivation.

Even coaching and feedback sessions (whose essence remains the same) and networking events (which are almost unrecognizable) have had to be reshaped to suit new logistics and difficulties.

Carpe Diem

At a time when social learning is hitting an unprecedented low, we can and should elevate formal online training interventions and eLearning in ways we could never have imagined last century.

Now is the time to seize the opportunity and harness the latest technology we have available: from learning management systems (LMSs) to manage learning programs to artificial intelligence (AI) to personalize them and from microlearning and gamification to tools that improve digital communication and engagement (e.g., chat, breakout rooms, “raise hand,” spotlight mode, emojis, polls, etc.).

It looks like the percentages of the 70-20-10 model will continue to evolve.