70-20-10 : No longer applicable to online learning – and here’s why

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In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be heading on over to London then onto Berlin to speak at Online Educa Berlin. In January, it is at ATD TechKnowledge.  I mention the conferences because invariably I will information from either a fellow speaker’s mouth, or a vendor or an attendee, that frankly is inaccurate on some level, when it comes to e-learning, WBT and 70-20-10.   

“The Truth? You Can’t Handle the Truth”

70-20-10. First and foremost, the reason this is model has come to my attention (okay, I always knew about it) is that some vendors in our space are trying or actually doing it, pushing into the industry as a “this is how it has been – and now here it is”. 

Thus, there are folks who believe that the model is geared, heck is ideal for online learning.  I’m here to say no.

When I got involved with e-learning back in the late 90’s, I never saw it as a delivery mechanism nor an extension of learning.  Rather I saw it as the evolution for training, the next step if you will.

I still believe that and as future tech brings out more capabilities so will it across the board in our space.

E-learning (e meaning online) is an umbrella term – I cannot stress that enough.  An LMS is under e-learning.  You could argue that an LMS is a delivery mechanism and yes it is, but it has morphed into something more than that – saved for another post.

Mobile learning? A delivery channel. Courses? Delivery channel.   The point to all of this is that e-learning is not its own delivery channel and here is where I think people get confused when it comes to 70-20-10.

70-20-10 was created in the 80’s and it’s big magic super ping is the jobs related experience.

But the kicker here is the “hands-on”.

I’ve been at places (right before I tore it down and rebuilt) that were huge fans of 70-20-10, but really never hit the hands-on training.  Equally they failed often on the “real world” learning, instead utilizing OJT (which IMO has flaws) and in ILT never really got it. 

Sure the evaluations were high, but data shows that people will score high by attendees, because of the perception trainer will have their job impacted in a negative way, if the results are poor.

Getting back to the whole 70-20-10 item, you have to remember that back then ILT was the dominating factor and paper ruled.  CBT was starting to make an appearance and grew in the late 80’s, and especially the 90’s when computers were able to handle what was provided to them.

But anyone who tells you they were placing CBT online is misleading you.

I’d love to know how a 640mb course would work on maybe a 12.2K modem, which probably hit around 8kbs, depending on where you were in the world.

Ask yourself, how many training sessions did you attend where the 70 component actually happened.  Theory is nice, but real world and real time experience is superior.  And therein lies the problem, the whole issue.

It no longer applies to e-learning.

Frankly, it never did, but there are those who still hold on to their dear 70-20-10.

They show reports from various research firms, companies and grab info off the internet – “See this verifies that it is still in play. This shows that it still is relevant.”

Really?  Have they used it in e-learning?  Wait, more importantly, have they seen the majority of courses outputted by folks using some of the rapid content authoring tools?

Yes, you can create a very robust, course using some rapid content authoring tools (I’ve seen people who have and boutique firms achieve it), that includes the whole real world experience, but I’ve also seen a lot of static and boring courses.

The latter of which does not hit the 70 factor.

Yes it is a shame, but it is reality – you know “real world”.

Another issue I have with 70-20-10 is that it still follows the mantra of ILT.

Online learning is an entirely different beast.

Depending on the content (what you are trying to educate folks on in an online course), will decide, heck, drive the intended output.

Now, the 70 rah rah folks, will point to the fact that to take an online course, you need your hands – well, right now – sure, but in a few years? Maybe not.

VR if it takes off in online learning (and there are factors that need to be met), could change that.  Voice engagement with courses (voice being from the learner) will change that, and oh yeah, gesture free too.

The “20”

Learners learn from others via various activities, social being one of them. (There are others).

I wouldn’t say that a mentor, a coach if you will, truly matches that requirement.

A coach, should by definition at least from my take, be a one on one approach, one on one to gain knowledge, insight working towards goals and objectives.  One on one to me is most effective from an online standpoint, via a web cam session – in real time.

I know of a great product that I would use in my LMS, that is designed, IMO to deliver a great coaching experience (albeit they do not use it – product in that fashion).

And my take on how to find and select a mentor via Social Q/A is quite different than what the systems who have embraced it have done.

I say, let the learner ask the question, have three people who have agreed to be mentors/coaches (and have the actual knowledge and willingness to share).  After the question is posted, whomever answers first is the mentor.

The other two cannot respond.   Next, comes the delivery mechanism to build upon that. To make it work.

Answering a question or questions is one thing, delivering success or working towards that success is another.

A couple of vendors mention “Quora” as a great example of the whole Social Q/A experience.

Go on Quora and see if that is true.

I’ve seen all types of responses when people ask questions, and it gets back to the whole “if I don’t know”, how could I effectively respond?

Or, if someone told me or a read different things than it actually is, I’m unaware of that, and will respond.  Then you have others, who can be all over the place.

My take is to do it different. Change it up. Expand what is told to be impossible, and make it possible.  It can be done, but you – the vendor now – has to want to do it and invest in having it done.

Back to 20.   Does the above match the learning from others?

If the information whereas any learner can retort back is erroneous, and in this case we are talking along a mentoring line, are they learning or is disinformation being spread?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for learning peer to peer and it can be awesome, but having it from a mentoring standpoint, where so much is on the line – then no.

Reality on Social Engagement

I remember reading an article a couple of years back relating to blogs whereas people can add their own content to the blog (like a company blog) for higher social engagement.

The authors found that the whole premise back fired.  Initially there was a high response rate, but eventually only a few folks ever continued.  At a latter point, it was something like one or two people doing it.

What they found was that the initial idea seemed like a no-brainier, but in the end the same people continued usage while the rest left.

I should note that the company (I recall it was a F500), yanked the blog after seeing what was happening.

The article also went further on other social activities.

For example with the usage of wikis, they found the same folks who were committed to the blog, supported the wiki.

I believe it failed because engagement must be “active” and pro-active, not reactive.

And yet, here we are in 2015, about to roll into 2016 and our various social activities, learning activities online are all about re-active experiences (for the most part).

But it can be pro-active and it can be done after it has been posted, but it has to be more than engaging it needs to be interactive.

If you doubt me, check out that discussion board in your LMS.  Does every person respond?

Does the person who (if you are in higher ed), respond to not only everyone, but also on a set time and schedule or do they sometimes miss it?

Zinging back to the 20 and following the collaborative approach, again, it gets back to a level of commitment and types of engagement.

I’d argue that in many cases, it falls under the trap of small groups, whereas one is a leader, others are followers.   Some will be higher in engagement, than others and there are plenty of cases, whereas the leader has to use his/her weight if you will, to get a few of the engaged followers to do things (especially in Higher Ed – another reason why it needs an online overhaul).

Curation is the next big thing in 2016 and I surmise that some vendors will look to social sites like Instagram or Vine (actually, I take that back, many vendors have ZERO idea on the site) to use curation.  For me, its empowerment will have to be used via three mechanisms

  • Learner captures video via a device – could be mobile, or a digital camera or digital camcorder (yes, the latter two are still being used – and honestly, the video capture quality is significantly better)
  • Learner uploads video.  It can be shared with others, via groups, one person and/or some social location.  If it is of high value to the training experience and vetted accordingly on the back-end, I’d place it as a course for others to view.  I’d eventually add bookmarks thru chapters (once the technology is there- universally)
  • Learners either leave comments, including ranking/rating and/or add more video to build upon the original video – think building blocks
  • At some point the system will need to include a video editor (doesn’t have to rock the world), but it needs to be able to combine the video if you will
  • The administrator must have numerous capabilities on the back-end to make this whole thing work.  I mean there will be some companies who ban the whole upload and share video.  Others won’t.  Let’s not even get into the filters factor, which must be added – I mean Ralph might upload a video of himself in a way that is not meant to be on any site. I’m highly confident, you would not want that shared.

10 – Get it straight –

Let’s be clear, learners want personal development (soft skills training).

One of the main reasons they leave a company, is the lack of personal and professional development.

A good friend of mine, oversees training for a mid-size company (a little bit over 8,000 employees).  While he provides training for skills, compliance and other professional growth.  But, he included 100 courses on personal growth.  From Microsoft courses, to leadership to communication to a wide variety of topics.

What he found was that his learners were taking many of the courses. Not only that, but people who were not in X department or had X education, were taking the courses.

Best of all, the learners were truly utilizing what WBT (e-learning) was designed for, the ability to jump around within the course and focus on the areas of interest to them.  Gaining knowledge, build upon that, synthesize it and expand.

I’d say take a look at your professional development courses.

Are your learners really having the opportunity, let alone using it?  Sure you could say, “Ahh, here is the proof of 10%.” I’d say, “Ahh, here is the proof that the design was horrible and the requirement of linear learning set up the course to fail.”

WBT works best even in professional development when learners go to the areas of interest to gain that information.

Not, when they just click each page in order to finish the course by a set deadline.

BTW, this equally applies to the “70” piece, since the linear approach ties directly to it, rather than what online learning was designed to do and why WBT (web based training) can be quite successful for any form of content including higher education, corporate, government and education, itself.

Bottom Line

70-20-10 was designed based upon a theory that worked best in ILT (with various folks).

It pushed the idea, IMO, for OJT to add the “hands-on experience”.

But the idea that “hands-on” experience in ILT, whereas each learner gets to write on a card or post their responses on a whiteboard or large sheet of paper, is not, by any stretch “hands-on learning”.

With online learning, everything changes.

Yet here is the thing, people will take 70-20-10 and morph it or mash it or squish it into a training and learning box and say “See, it applies to online learning.”

That is the easy way to do it.

And here’s the thing, they are not only doing it right now, but others will follow suit.

Anything can be shoved into a box or premise and then someone says, “Look it aligns to it.”

But what does that really say?

When we know that ILT is not as effective as online learning.

When we know that social and collaboration is only as good as the entities (higher education, companies, etc.) allow it to happen – and allow their learners to be engaged and oh by the way, the learners are constantly engaged, constantly using it – and not just a sprinkle here or there, but steady and long term.

That’s a lot to write, but at the same time that is reality.

Real World as we say.

Not theory.


I should add that already some people are getting confused or assuming that my take is 70-20-10 as piece by piece to future tech.  Nowhere do I say that, nor do I believe that.  Future tech – is a delivery mechanism under that thing, uh, oh, yeah e-learning – which is online learning.

And this article is about the folks who are envisioning a 70-20-10 world within online learning. Well, I envision a world where space aliens run sorbet franchises, but I’m not seeing that happen in my lifetime and nor should we see or want to see for that matter, 70-20-10 in the e-learning environment. 

E-Learning 24/7

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