Exploring the Social in 70:20:10

dreamstime_xs_40197706We’re all getting used to the much-cited 70:20:10 model and once we’ve firmly acknowledged that we shouldn’t spend any time worrying about the precise ratios, we then need to dig deeper into the detail if we are to recognise where our organisations currently stand and how they need to evolve, if we are aspiring to offer a more balanced approach to learning and development.

Recently I encountered another take on 70:20:10 which has helped me to better analyse this whole topic area.

70:20:10 – as we know it

We can just about recite off pat the current model of 70:20:10:

  • 70% of learning is informal
  • 20% of learning is social
  • 10% of learning is formal

These percentages were based on one very specific piece of research into just one element of learning and development and so it’s not surprising that very few other studies have settled on the same ratios.  The key concept is to understand that all three learning approaches need to be nurtured to create a strong learning environment.

But even now, after years of working with this model, I often get myself into a muddle fathoming out what exactly falls into each category.  For example:

  • Formal learning is pretty clear cut, or so you would think. But then we have to consider e-learning and mobile learning.  Some argue that it’s still formal learning – and yes, it has generally been created using formal approaches to support what the organisation wants us to learn – but what happens when an individual wants a quick answer to something and an online course pops up on an intranet search?  It’s more an informal learning resource then.
  • Coaching is another clear cut example. It’s more social, isn’t it?  But then you see reference to very formal programmes of coaching aligned to other initiatives and you start to wonder if it’s not more formal than social.
  • What about online forums? Are they a part of social learning, or do we just restrict that to coaching and mentoring, or should they be a core part of our provision to support informal learning?
  • And finally informal learning itself. That is such a broad area, where do you begin?  The original data suggested this wasn’t actually that informal itself, but more guided activities back on the job.   Depending on how that was supported, that might even topple into social or formal.  We tend to include the concept of everyday learning on the job here and I think we’re pretty comfortable with this one, even though it’s the one that challenges us the most in terms of L&D’s role in something that just happens naturally.

Actually, as confusing as it can be, we probably shouldn’t get too hung up about it and just go with what feels right in our business; and most of the attempts to survey the balance of learning approaches in organisations do come up with their own results and categorisations.

40:17½:17.½:25 – the new 70:20:10

Then I discovered the work of research group, The Aberdeen Group, from last year (September, 2015), in their report “The New 70:20:10: The Changing Face of Learning”.  You may need to register for a free account to view this report.

Their study sought to usefully break down the social side of the 70:20:10 model into two areas and redefined the ratios as follows:

  • 40% of learning is experiential learning
  • 17.5% of learning is referential social learning
  • 17.5% of learning is relational social learning
  • 25% of learning is formal

Why do I like this approach?

  • Firstly, saying that 25% of learning is formal is probably a better overall percentage. They also formally include online learning is this category too, to which I’d add mobile learning as well.
  • Secondly, they address the conundrum of what exactly is “social”. Referential learning is their description of coaching and mentoring and also includes the giving of feedback, which provides an overt link to the role of ongoing performance management in someone’s personal development.
  • Relational learning refers to learning from others that takes place outside of any formal/semi-formal coaching and mentoring activities. Here we can also clearly place online communities and learning from others via our own internal and external networks.  They also add a dimension that this learning comes from taking part in “activities” with others, though I personally think we can be less concerned about anything too “formal” here.
  • Finally, in the place of informal learning, they describe experiential learning as not only learning on the job, but also from activities such as special projects and rotational assignments. This is quite in keeping with the original research findings that gave us 70:20:10.

I have brought together the above in the diagram below, which I hope The Aberdeen Group won’t mind.


I hope this new view on how an organisation learns is helpful to you.


Exploring the Social in 70:20:10

3 thoughts on “Exploring the Social in 70:20:10

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s