The Other 90% of Learning

Serving enterprise customers

(This appears in the August 2012 CLO magazine. They changed the title on me.)

Knowledge workers learn three to four times as much from experience as from interaction with bosses, coaches, and mentors. They learn about twice as much from those conversations compared to structured courses and programs.

The shorthand label for this viewpoint is “70:20:10.” 70% experiential, 20% coaching, 10% formal. It’s a handy framework to keep in mind, particularly when someone mistakenly thinks all learning is formal. As Charles Handy has written, “Real learning is not what most of us grew up thinking it was.”

Like Moore’s Law that describes the exponential growth in the price/performance of chips, the 70:20:10 framework for learning is the result of observation, not something scientifically proven. Like Moore’s Law, it’s also an approximation — give or take a little depending on the context.

My partners and I at the Internet Time Alliance have talked with hundreds, if not thousands, of managers about workplace learning in general and 70:20:10 in specific. It resonates with them. They nod their heads in agreement that the numbers square with their experience.

This raises a question. Why do training departments and CLOs spend so much of their time and resources on the 10% when there is plenty to do to up the 90%? I think it’s a legacy from an earlier time.

Training was simpler when the world was predictable, progress was slow, and the task was teaching people how to do their jobs. Today’s world is a kaleidoscope, information is a tsunami, and workers face novel, complex situations every day. The only way to keep up is to work and learn with others.

In fact, learning is no longer separable from work. People need to learn on the job, not apart from it. They need to learn in real time, not a month before. What’s important is tacit knowledge, the know-how that’s taught by experience as opposed to the know-what that is written in books or a syllabus.

Training used to be for novices, aspiring managers & leaders, technicians, and certification for compliance. Today the rate of change makes us all novices at something. People whom we’ve habitually overlooked, those workers with know-how and experience, have to learn every day, too. We cannot continue to neglect them. From a talent management perspective, it’s no longer acceptable to overlook pre-hires and alumni either.

What can you do?

Increase the effectiveness of experiential learning (the 70%) by packing more varied experience into the workflow. Encourage experimentation, delegate stretch assignments, provide opportunities to apply new skills in real situations, involve people in challenging projects, and rotate assignments.

Increase the effectiveness of coaching (the 20%) by recognizing the vital role of managers and supervisors. They need to provide informal feedback and work debriefs. Encourage them to help people learn through membership in teams. Facilitate group discussions. Make them take responsibility for helping their people grow.

Increase the effectiveness of formal learning (the 10%) with immersive, interactive learning that applies directly to the job, by providing simulations and game-based learning, and by offering learning in digestible chunks via multiple convenient formats. Focus on improving the overall learning ecosystem. Support learning experiences in the workplace and concentrate on what it takes to meet organizational objectives rather than running workshops.

Learning is social. We learn more from our co-workers, our bosses, our customers, our partners, and our friends than from our teachers and books. Improve the ease of free-flowing conversation and you improve the quality of learning across the 70, the 20, and the 10.

Social software facilitates conversation. Chatter, Jive, Socialcast, Yammer, Podio, and other social networking systems simplify listening in and joining purposeful conversations. News always travels faster by the grapevine and now the grapevine is automated. Activity streams keep people informed in near real time. The organization’s cycle time speeds up. People can find other people in the know. Workers share discoveries and resources. Collaboration takes hold. Silos crumble.

This is not traditional training. It’s not solely HR. It’s about making the business better. It’s no longer just for our employees.

Successful corporations are becoming extended enterprises. The quality of what we deliver to customers depends on our entire business ecosystem, from resource extraction at the beginning of the supply chain to our ongoing relationships with customers.

Given that learning is the key to improving productivity, it’s in our interest to help suppliers, partners, distributors, and customers learn in optimal fashion, too.

We must invite them to learn with us and share in our experiences, benefit from our guidance, and share in what we know.

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