The 70-20-10 model was developed in the 1980s by researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership to describe the sources of learning for successful managers. It holds that 70 percent of their learning should come from hands-on experience, 20 percent should come from others (such as social learning, coaching, mentoring and collaborative learning) and 10 percent should come from formal training.

Because the model is 30 years old, and was developed for managers rather than all learners, experts believe it should not be used as a strict framework for learning but rather as a general guideline. More recent research has found that in general, across industries, roles and even countries, employees tend to learn new knowledge, skills and abilities through a new ratio.

However, even this mixture should be considered a flexible guideline rather than a strict rule. In fact, a better way to talk about sources of learning is an OSF (on-the-job, social, formal) ratio, which may vary depending on the industry, organization and learners. The OSF ratio also depends on effectiveness of training, team performance, size of the organization and tenure of the learner. For example, if an organization doesn’t offer effective formal training, employees will use their social and on-the-job experiences to learn out of necessity. On the other hand, in smaller companies, there are fewer employees to learn from, so employees will likely rely less on social learning and more on formal training to develop the skills they need to perform their jobs successfully.

Based on the OSF ratio, L&D organizations should continue to ground their training on experiences, optimizing on-the-job learning for each employee. That said, each source of learning interacts with the other, and formal training is still an important way to convey knowledge and develop employees’ skills. What’s more, especially in a multigenerational workforce, employees will – and should – continue to learn from each other. By developing formal training that facilitates on-the-job and social learning experiences, organizations can help make sure their employees are maximizing their learning opportunities in every area of their work life.

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