Published in Winter 2023
Training. When you read the word, what image first comes to mind? Take a moment and really consider it.
If you pictured a facilitator leading a live or virtual session, you’re not alone. Most workers — including learning professionals — associate “training” with formal, structured experiences in the classroom environment.
In a way, that’s surprising, since the majority of learning each week happens informally, while an employee is “in the flow of work.” What’s more, research has found that this continuous learning, which usually occurs organically and without a facilitator, is more important to workers’ performance than formal training programs.
As the above visualization exercise suggests, changing mindsets in your organization is the first step in maximizing training benefits. When learners recognize the advantages of continuous learning, their conception of “training” is transformed — and the organization’s culture follows suit.
The Other 39 Hours
Consider the average work week. An employee might spend around one hour in formal training or professional development, either in-person or virtually. But is that really the only time that training is enabled? Not at all!
The remaining 39 hours of that learner’s workweek provide an enormous opportunity for them to participate in on-the-job, continuous learning. The first step to helping them seize this opportunity is to see day-to-day activities through the 70-20-10 lens.
You’ve no doubt heard of “70-20-10.” Those numbers have created quite a stir in the training industry in recent years. Unfortunately, the buzz rarely includes information on how to leverage the model these numbers describe.
At its core, 70-20-10 is a simple formula that suggests the optimal mix of settings for employees to learn. It states that learners should obtain:
- 70% of learning from on-the-job, continuous, experiential workplace experiences.
- 20% from social interactions and learning with others.
- 10% from formal, structured, educational programs.
Understanding each category is the first step to developing a culture that values — and benefits from — continuous learning.
The Benefits of 70-20-10
When effectively implemented, the 70-20-10 method:
- Enables continuous learning, which will happen at the right time and place when it is most needed.
- Maximizes the time employees spend on the job because they are learning in the flow of work.
- Ensures employees learn from relevant, meaningful experiences.
- Fosters engagement by providing variation in learning methodologies.
- Gives learners greater freedom to select their learning experiences, including elective learnings and upskilling opportunities.
- Enhances the organizational learning culture as employees begin to adopt a growth mindset.
- Helps reduce formal training costs.
Leveraging the 70-20-10 model can help to promote continuous learning in the workplace, but where do you begin?
Rebalancing for Continuous Learning
While 70-20-10 is suggested as the optimal balance, it’s important to note that learning will look differently across organizations. To create the right balance of learning for your organization, assess your organization’s current ratio of formal, social and on-the-job learning. You may find a need to reduce focus on structured, facilitated learning experiences and shift attention to learning on the job and from social scenarios.
You may be unsure how you can successfully encourage learning that seems inherently unstructured. At its core, the key to facilitating workplace learning is twofold. First, it involves ensuring relevant content and tools are readily accessible. Second, it means promoting a safe, collaborative environment.
You can support informal learning by encouraging individuals to:
- Take advantage of performance support materials (e.g., checklists, job aids, flow charts and scripts).
- Participate in asynchronous forums.
- Engage with pop-ups, chatbots and predictive technologies.
- Shadow/observe a colleague on the job.
- Adopt search engines/search functionality to locate content.
Incorporating Social Learning
Social learning occurs when employees learn from and with each other. It is a powerful way to make learning on the job a reality. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since human beings are social by nature. What may be surprising are the unique advantages of social learning.
- It can take place 24/7, synchronously or asynchronously.
- It can happen face-to-face either in a live environment or virtually.
- All employees can participate.
- It encourages collaboration and cross-functional partnerships.
Coaching, mentoring, role-plays, group discussions and online learning communities are all great examples of how to promote social learning. No matter how you decide to boost social learning, it’s a good idea to start with a few select opportunities and then assess how to expand.
Don’t worry too much about whether opportunities fall under the 20% or 70% bucket of the 70-20-10 model. The key is to create a comfortable environment where participants feel safe asking for help, discussing their setbacks and failures and sharing knowledge and best practices.
Real-world Tactics for Continuous Learning
There are many ways you can support a culture of continuous learning and set employees up for success. Consider the following as you develop your program.
Adopt Learning Technologies
- Partner with human resources (HR), compliance and information technology (IT) as you assess your organization’s readiness for innovative technologies.
- Consider incorporating tools that offer real-time feedback, ready-to-use content repositories that can be leveraged across departments, or automated chatbot services that offer FAQ support.
- Beta-test new technologies with a pilot group to refine your processes and organically create champions before rolling them out to the entire organization.
- Partner with leaders to ensure they understand the “why” behind the program.
- Gain alignment on the importance of this culture shift.
- Explain the impact of their positive attitudes towards the program.
- Implement a top-down approach in which senior leaders champion and disseminate the program.
Empower and Motivate Employees
- Provide a teaser video or communication plan to show employees the “why” behind the initiative.
- Communicate with encouragement.
- Empower employees to hold themselves accountable for their learning.
- Create a safe and comfortable learning environment.
Link the Program to Performance Development
- Tie continuous learning to yearly reviews and evaluations.
- Consider an “activity tracker” for employees to list their workplace learning activities.
- Ensure employees are encouraged to freely discuss their developmental goals.
- Find ways to recognize workplace learning.
Provide the Right Tools
- Ensure relevancy in everything you create by partnering with subject matter experts (SMEs).
- Deploy each solution at the right time through the right avenue.
- Establish easy-to-search repositories for quick access.
Champion the Process
- Take ownership of the process.
- Act as a positive change champion to drive the culture shift.
- Create advocates who can positively impact the rollout.
5 Steps for Implementation
You are probably familiar with ADDIE or a related instructional design methodology. The good news is you can employ a similar process for rolling out a continuous learning program.
As you review the following steps, reflect on a specific role that you support from a training standpoint. Consider each step and how it might apply to that role, also shown in Figure 1.
Step 1. Analyze the Role
Start by conducting a job analysis, task analysis and content analysis. This will equip you to determine what “good” looks like. Then identify performance gaps and what you are trying to solve for. Your answers will lead you to the next step.
Step 2. Design the Journey
Map your learning journey by considering the knowledge, skill and behaviors you need to address; your deliverables; the required tools; and how you will evaluate success. Gain subject matter expertise as well as leadership buy-in and, if required, approval from HR/compliance.
Step 3. Develop the Solutions
Build out your training materials. Depending on your organization’s needs, this may include a wide range of materials, such as performance support documents, microlearning playlists and reinforcement guides, to name just a few possibilities. Be sure to partner with SMEs as you develop these solutions.
Step 4. Implement the Program
When deploying your program, consider sending out “awareness” materials, such as teaser videos. Equip leadership to assist during implementation and beta testing of your rollout. It can be a good idea to conduct a formative evaluation along the way, rather than waiting until the end.
Step 5. Evaluate and Refine
Implement your measurement plan to determine trends by surveying learners’ reactions, observing and interviewing participants to identify gaps and gains, and analyzing available data, including pre- and post-work samples. Note any needs, refine the program and repeat the process from Step 1.
Figure 1. Continuous Learning Program Implementation Plan
As you develop a continuous learning program, be patient. This type of initiative takes time. Start small and continually refine the program along the way. You will see the benefits are worth the investment!